Sunday, June 30, 2013

Protests in Brazil and Chile

Patricia Rey-Mellén asks at Salon whether Chile will be next after Brazil with regard to national protests.

Student revolts became viral in 2011, and have continued at a low intensity since then. For the first time now, other sectors of society have joined in the cause. Copper miners protested in Calama, north of Santiago, where they blocked Chuquicatama, the biggest mine in the country. Similar events happened in El Teniente, south of the capital. In the coastal towns of Talcahuano, San Antonio and Valparaíso, fishermen kept over 2,000 boats on shore.

The dynamics are different from Brazil. In Chile there is a well-defined protest movement that has been around for several years that is trying to spread, whereas in Brazil it is almost the exact opposite, with a quickly mobilized and ill-defined movement that has already spread.

What Chilean students need to do, then, is to attract more people with their own grievances. This gets more difficult when the protests are violent, though in both Brazil and Turkey it can help if the state is seen as the more violent partner--at least right now, though, I don't get the sense that Chileans believe that yet.

There is an electoral difference as well. Today Chileans go to vote in presidential primaries, and they will have to address the protests directly. Michelle Bachelet is the favorite, and is popular, so her political job will be to pre-empt those connections. Rest assured she has been watching Dilma Rousseff closely to see what seems to work and what doesn't.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Rafael Correa and the Media

Rafael Correa is angry that he cannot control how the media frames the Edward Snowden saga.

Correa contended that the news media at first welcomed Snowden's leaks about secret U.S. programs to collect phone logs and Internet emails but later suggested the actions were treasonous.

"What a joke!" the president said in a tweet. The media, he said, are "making everyone forget the terrible things that he denounced in front of the American people and the entire world."

He has a right to be annoyed that Ecuador is demonized by many in the U.S. for considering an asylum request (generating annoying headlines like this) but by doing so Correa intentionally became part of the story, and so the story shifted. As long as Snowden is on the run, then there are really two stories, and the more immediate will be about him being on the run.

Correa's anger at how his actions are portrayed in the international media are directly related to the new communications in law in Ecuador, whereby the state can punish journalists if they frame issues in a way the state believes is unfair.

Most likely Correa hoped to be framed as a hero of sorts, and that's not the treatment he's getting. His own government is even messing that up because when you release a safe conduct letter without approval, that becomes a juicy part of the story. The point, though, is that how he wants the issue framed is irrelevant. He does not get to control that part, at least not outside Ecuador.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Stephen King's Joyland

Stephen King's new novel Joyland is a perfect summer read. The setting is a small amusement park on the North Carolina beach in 1973, where a young college student--recently dumped by his girlfriend--from New England (there has to be some northeast connection with Stephen King) arrives to work for the summer, and becomes interested in a murder that took place there a few years earlier.

There are few storytellers as gifted as he is. The first half of the novel is more coming-of-age than anything else, with rich description of Joyland and its carnival employees. Devin befriends two other college students, then later a woman ten years his senior and her young son, who has muscular dystrophy. Since this is Stephen King, there are some ghosts thrown into the mix as well. Sounds ludicrous and corny? In his hands you believe it.

The novel gains pace in the second half (and for him it is short, coming in below 300 pages) as he digs into the murder and there are consequences, which lead to the final climax.

My only complaint is that there was no North Carolina in this book. Even one of the employees spoke with a Boston accent. There is nothing remotely southern about the southern setting. I think he wanted a beach, and it had to be far enough from New England to put distance between Devin and his ex-girlfriend, but keep it close enough for easy travel. So North Carolina fit the bill.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ecuador Out of ATPA

Well, well, well. Ecuador announced it is withdrawing from the Andean Trade Preference Act, which was the primary leverage the United States has over Ecuador. It is also going to make an announcement very soon on Edward Snowden.

It's a bold move, and one that carries consequences. The last time there was a lapse, Ecuador's exports to the United States dropped significantly (see this report, page 2-16). In 2011, oil was 92.7% of Ecuador's exports under APTA, with cut flowers second. Ecuador's oil exports overall have declined this year, so this is going to have an impact.

From a strictly political standpoint, it obviously means Ecuador is freer diplomatically to do what it wants. Stay tuned.

h/t Otto


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Snowden and Latin Americans

Stephen Kinzer, who has written some really interesting stuff on Latin America, goes off the deep end here. He argues that Latin American people love Edward Snowden so much that they will protect him.

In fact, not just a handful of leaders but huge populations in Latin America have decided that they wish for more independence from Washington. 
This is vital for Snowden because it reduces the chances that a sudden change of government could mean his extradition. If he can make it to Latin America, he will never lack for friends or supporters.
I'm not so sure this is true, or at the very least we (and certainly Snowden!) should not assume it to be true. It is hard for me to imagine that more than a tiny handful of people truly care about Snowden. If he goes to Ecuador, and at some point a conservative candidate wins the presidency, he or she will certainly calculate what extraditing him might get in return from the United States. Indeed, Anya Landau French hypothesizes that Cuba told Snowden not to stop there. For any president, Snowden is mostly just a piece of a strategic puzzle, and extradition would not be too politically costly at home.

Then things get flowery.

From Ecuador, Snowden could travel widely. Everything from the splendor of Bolivia's Lake Titicaca to the vibrancy of teeming Caracas awaits him. With luck, he might even be able to visit Guatemala in September to attend the grand festival being planned for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jacobo Arbenz, the reformist president who the United States deposed in 1954.

I also cannot see Otto Pérez Molina embracing Snowden and resisting U.S. pressure to detain him. Snowden means nothing to Guatemala. And I know that Kinzer wrote about Arbenz, but come on. Guatemala--along with all of Latin America--means nothing to Snowden. If he ever gets to Ecuador, he will probably be too terrified and prudent to start traveling around.


Corruption and Constitution in Brazil

For discussion of Dilma Rousseff's response to the protests, see Colin Snider, Boz, the Rio Times, and lots of others I am missing. I want to pose a skeptical question about the correlation between constitutional reform and reduction of corruption. There are lots of details still to be worked out, of course, but in my Latin American politics class I joke about "constitution-itis," whereby Latin American presidents too often feel that rewriting the constitution will cure more ills than it possibly can.

It is not inevitable that corruption will remain as pervasive as it is, but constitution writing is a very tricky thing. Alfred Montero* has written about the three "logics" of the Brazilian state:

1. It is both an arena for political actors to fight over authority and resources and a provider of resources to a broader arena of social and economic life.

2. The tendency for patronage politics to create ongoing political networks among individuals.

3. Patrimonialism.

Changing these logics is complicated, because they touch on electoral rules, federalism, executive-legislative relations, the courts, budgeting, and a host of other issues that go beyond what we typically think as being connected to corruption.

Rousseff's idea is to make sure the constitutional rules go from "paper to practice." But if this just means putting in some anti-corruption laws without changing the fundamental nature of the political system, then don't expect much change.

But there is hope. For Brazil, research suggests that electoral accountability can change corrupt behavior, audits can have an effect, as can party system competitiveness (on the flip side, though, Brazil has tons of parties but lots of corruption). In a sense, perhaps something much less grand than constitutional reform would be more effective.

More cynically, we could also argue that this is all smoke and mirrors anyway, a way for Rousseff to show--as so many presidents around the world feel the need to do--that she is doing "something" to deflate the protests.

*Alfred Montero, Brazilian Politics (Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 2005): 28-29.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Snowden, Maduro and Correa

I'm quoted in this Associated Press story on Edward Snowden. My basic take was that there was high risk for Nicolás Maduro and relatively low risk for Rafael Correa, since he'd already taken the step of protecting Julian Assange. Maduro, however, does not need this headache. (Of course, there is still no word on where Snowden is, so he could still end up anywhere!).

I was asked what risks Correa runs. The main one I thought of was the APTA trade preferences, which I think will not be renewed if Snowden really goes to Ecuador. But otherwise I am not sure the U.S. has all that much leverage over Ecuador. Ham handed sanctions could well end up making the Obama administration look petty and strengthen Correa.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Snowden to Venezuela?

According to one source, Edward Snowden is on his way to Venezuela. If this turns out to be true, and of course it may not, it directly contradicts Nicolás Maduro's rhetorical commitment to better relations with the United States. It will also be a slap to John Kerry, who was already taking flak from the right for talking to Venezuela in the first place. The Obama administration has been trying to remain above the fray in Venezuela, ignoring conservative complaining, but this could well change that.

Whether or not it is true, an interesting question is what happens to such individuals when the leaders of their host government changes. If Snowden ends up in Venezuela, what would Henrique Capriles do with him if he won the presidency? I guess Venezuela would ship him off to Cuba or somewhere for safekeeping.

At least Julian Assange can feel better about Ecuador, because the opposition there is in total political disarray.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Honduras Travel Warning

There is a new U.S. State Department travel warning for Honduras. It is frank, especially in terms of directly implicating the police in crime.

Members of the Honduran National Police have been known to engage in criminal activity, including murder. The Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases, and to deter violent crime. In practice, this means police may take hours to arrive at the scene of a violent crime or not respond at all.

Similar language was used in November 2012, but go back to 2009 and you don't see the reference to police criminal activity. This in part can help explain why 21 senators have called on the Obama administration to review its security aid to Honduras. At the very least, the administration has cut funds for police programs that don't work, but resistance to broader cuts may be presaged by the following bit from the warning:

The Honduran government is in the early stages of substantial reforms to its criminal justice institutions.

I don't know how long the "early stages" last. See Just the Facts for a survey of U.S. aid to Honduras. It's pretty small compared to aid to the rest of the region, but obviously Honduras is a small country and even "pretty small" adds up.
Here is Human Rights Watch's take on the police:

In December 2011, Congress established an independent body, the Directorate for Investigation and Evaluation of the Police Career, to evaluate police performance and remove officers implicated in corruption and criminal activity, including human rights abuses. As of October 2012, the unit had referred only two police officers—including a former director of the police criminal investigation division—to the attorney general’s office for prosecution for their alleged involvement in the escape of four officers accused of the 2011 killing of two university students. 

In June 2012, President Lobo established an independent commission consisting of three Honduran and two foreign experts to propose wide-ranging reforms of the police, the attorney general’s office, and the courts.

The Directorate for Investigation and Evaluation of the Police Career is the one the U.S. stopped funding.

This is a terrible situation. Sending more aid to a corrupt and violent organization only serves to exacerbate human rights abuses in Honduras. Cutting aid entirely probably means accepting the status quo because we cannot expect that action to prompt democratic reform. But is there any realistic way of sending aid that actually contributes to reducing police violence?


Explaining Protests in Brazil

People are scrambling to understand the massive protests in Brazil. Unfortunately, we tend to get a well-meaning laundry list of ills, so that inequality, growth slowdown, weak currency, and stock market drops are all mushed together as causes.

In academia, people have been working to figure this out. Why do people protest? Party fragmentation (a major issue in Brazil) can matter, weak institutions matter, economic liberalization (which happened quite a long time ago in Brazil, so timing is iffy here) can matter, as can use of social media. This is just a quick scattering of studies.

I don't have a great answer. But the research on protests should caution us not to focus excessively on conjunctural factors at the expense of structural ones. In other words, it is tempting to witness a protest, then just walk backwards to identify what conditions were present, then correlate the protest with those conditions. Just because an economy slows down does not mean people protest. Otherwise there would be far more protests than there are now.

It is also useful to keep relative deprivation in mind, and many news articles are at least hinting at this. Economic slowdown, inequality, etc. matter much more when people believe they should be doing better. This does not necessarily mean they are "middle class" hoping for better, which also pops up in media accounts. Rather, it just means that whatever their socio-economic level, they figure they should be doing better and at a certain point (timing is so hard to pinpoint) they mobilize. James Davies' famous theory of revolutions could shed light on Brazil. There is no revolution going on in Brazil, but if we take it down a notch to protests, then we are seeing years of growth/expectations followed by a sharp reversal.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rolo Diez's Tequila Blue

I am always on the lookout for good Latin American mysteries/crime novels in translation. Rolo Diez's Tequila Blue is one of the few I have disliked. The main character, a cop in Mexico City, is amoral and unlikeable, and I ended up not caring what happened to anyone, whether the crime was solved, or anything else. It was short, so I sped through rather than just set it down.

I suppose the intent was to immerse you in the corruption, the mordidas, the utter hopelessness of the police bureaucracy in Mexico. At least in this case, that could've been achieved just as well in a short story. Stick with Paco Ignacio Taibo II instead.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kristina Mani's Democratization and Military Transformation in Argentina and Chile

I read Kristina Mani's Democratization and Military Transformation in Argentina and Chile (2011) to review for Perspectives on Politics. That review will be much longer than this one. The journal requests (orders?) that submitting my review confirms that it "has not appeared nor will appear elsewhere in published form." I hit "publish" when I blog but I don't tend to think of this as really publishing. I also don't think that readers of the journal will glaze over when it comes to them because they've already read this review on my blog. That is especially the case because I am about to send it to the editor but it will not appear in print for some time.

But I digress.

It's a worthwhile book that succeeds quite well in creating a framework to understand the rivalry between Argentina and Chile by connecting domestic and foreign policies. And although I have some quibbles about how it can apply more broadly in the region, it is thought provoking in that regard, which I appreciate (and I tried to make sure they were quibbles rather than complaints that she hadn't written the book I would want, which is painfully common in reviews). Two key paragraphs from my review:

Mani’s tracing of the intricate process of confidence building is excellent. Given how harmonious relations are now, it is perhaps too easy to forget that 35 years ago Argentina and Chile came very close to war, after decades of distrust and disagreement over South Atlantic boundaries. Armed conflict was averted only after international mediation, most notably from the Vatican. After the end of military rule, civilian leaders saw international military cooperation as an integral component of an overall strategy of democratizing civil-military relations. Democratically elected presidents therefore pushed hard to make internationalism a reality. Mani carefully traces the decision-making process in each country as newly elected leaders dealt simultaneously with potential international conflict and domestic resistance.

And on broader applicability:

Mani very briefly contrasts the Chile-Argentina success with the continued controversies Chile has with Bolivia and Peru. In Bolivia and Peru, we might reasonably argue there are empowered veto players (a high level of nationalism) and low regime costs (the authoritarian era is far in the past) yet both governments are increasingly resorting to the International Court of Justice for disputes with Chile, which implies “impulsive internationalism” rather than a “impulsive statist-nationalist” strategy. What this might suggest is that the “regime cost” variable may not be as relevant as time goes on. The Bolivian military left power in 1982 and although the era of dictatorship was traumatic, by now there is no real fear of regression. However, Mani’s model argues that low regime costs should correlate with a statist-nationalist response.

If you study civil-military relations or international security in Latin America, you should check it out. I hope First Forum Press (part of Lynne Rienner) publishes a paperback version to make it more accessible. Otherwise you will have to go to a university library or shell out $55. Such is academic publishing at times.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Law Enforcement and Citizenship

Normally you figure that law enforcement officials care enforcement. Apparently that is not true. Here is a story about a North Carolina sheriff who opposes immigration reform. He claims that it does not do enough for enforcement, but you dig slightly deeper and see the real reason.

Of the bill's provision regarding a pathway to legal employment/legal status, Page said the National Sheriff's Association takes the position that "under the conditions and provisions of a guest worker program, persons here illegally must come forward and delare [sic] themselves to the United States government.  The illegal individuals can then take the steps necessary to achieve legal status under a guest worker program.  Under a guest worker program, U.S. Citizenship cannot be obtained."

This is problematic. First of all, at what point did the official positions of sheriffs center on citizenship rather than just law enforcement? Second, if they did think there was a link between citizenship and crime, then they should be aware that naturalized citizens commit fewer crimes than the native-born. As I've argued  before, the crime problem is not about immigrants per se, but rather immigrant assimilation into a terribly violent and often unhealthy culture in the United States.

In short, this view is both uninformed and is very likely simple racism. We don't want more of "them" because based on my narrow views, "they" are dangerous and I do not want "them" around.


Venezuelan Hunger

Manuel Rueda published a story yesterday about the FAO giving an award to the Venezuelan government for its efforts to reduce hunger. The story was pretty sarcastic:

Despite going through food shortages that are so severe that people line up for hours outside supermarkets for basic staples like corn flour and chicken, Venezuela is making big strides in reducing hunger. Or so the UN says.

Two interesting (well, to me at least) and unrelated points.

First, food shortages and hunger reduction are two different issues and should not be lumped together. Lines for food may mean your government is inept, but it does not mean that you are starving. And when the UN talks about hunger, it means starving. Not "I'd prefer something different for dinner but can't because there are shortages" but rather "I have nothing to eat for dinner." This doesn't excuse the shortages, but rather separates them from the idea of getting nothing--or very little--at all.

Therefore it is an empirical question. Are fewer Venezuelan truly going hungry now than in the past? Through ECLAC's website, I was able to quickly generate this:

So yes, Venezuela has greatly reduced hunger. And yes, Venezuela has shortages.

Second, Manuel Rueda is on Twitter, and his story generated a discussion there. I still really enjoy the long form of blogging, but increasingly I find that Twitter is the place where interchange happens. The 140 character limitation is indeed, a limitation, but at the same time it forces you to get to the point quickly, and you can have pretty rapid discussion (as happened yesterday).


Monday, June 17, 2013

Resource Nationalism in Mexico

It has been in the works for quite a while, but it is still a big deal when the Mexican president declares that Mexican oil will no longer be a state monopoly.

Seven decades after his party seized fields from the predecessors to Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Pena Nieto is preparing for the return of international oil companies to arrest eight years of decline in crude output. An opening would probably be broad, from offshore drilling to shale fields similar to those that have revived the U.S. petroleum industry, Pena Nieto said.

This is an area rich for analysis. Lázaro Cárdenas' nationalization of the oil industry in 1938 is a landmark in Mexican political history, akin to the no re-election tradition that came out of the revolution. The debate to come will tell us a lot about the left in Mexico. Is it pragmatic, willing to take some privatization to--supposedly!--generate more funds for the state? Or will it assert itself more? Can it? This assumes that the center and right are generally willing to bring in more foreign presence, though maybe there are pockets of nationalism in the PRI or PAN (just as there are conservative currents of resource nationalism in other countries, even in Chile, supposedly a bastion of purely capitalist values).

It is also very reminiscent of the ideological flexibility of Peronism, where Carlos Menem did just about the opposite of what his party's founder/namesake would've done. In that case, of course, his policies actually prompted a return to Peronist traditions under the Kirchners. Peña Nieto's proposal is less radical than Menem's project, but the issue of party tradition is not trivial.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Venezuela: Using State Coercion to Force Love

This is one of the weirdest story I've read this year*, and the first where the Venezuelan government sounds like the Republican Party in the United States, with a fervent desire to tell women what to do in their private lives. In an effort to promote breast feeding, there is a proposal to ban formula bottle feeding. Yes, ban it. Except in special cases as approved by the health ministry.

Odalis Monzon, from Venezuela's ruling Socialist party, said the proposal would "prohibit all types of baby bottles" as a way to improve children's health.

"We want to increase the love (between mother and child) because this has been lost as a result of these transnational companies selling formula," Ms Monzon said.

I'm pretty much speechless--there's nothing that increases love like state coercion! This is not only authoritarian but also unworkable and unenforceable. The black market for formula will skyrocket, thus prompting even more illegal activity.

To be fair, there is crazy legislation proposed all the time at all levels in the United States, with no chance of passage. Hopefully this falls into the "nutty legislator mouths off and is quickly mocked" category. I can't wait to see the debate.

* the Maduro bird thing probably will always win for weirdest.

h/t Evren Celik Wiltse on Twitter


Friday, June 14, 2013

We Need Better LASA Resolutions

I just received two proposed resolutions from the Latin American Studies Association. One is on Bradley Manning, which is pretty much irrelevant to our organization, and yet it calls for an end to bases in Honduras, which is irrelevant to what happens to Manning. Who wrote this stuff?

The second is about Obama's foreign policy toward Latin America. It is a kitchen sink thing with a number of poorly made arguments and about ten different issues all mixed together.

Resolution on Obama Policy
Whereas: The Latin American Studies Association (LASA) is the largest professional association in the world for individuals and institutions engaged in the study of Latin America and the Caribbean. With over 7,000 members, forty-five percent of whom reside outside the United States, LASA is the one association that brings together experts on Latin America from all disciplines and diverse occupational endeavors, across the globe. For decades, LASA members have spoken in defense of democracy and human rights in the Western Hemisphere and in support of peaceful and respectful relations among states in the region. 
Whereas: President Obama’s policy toward Latin America has so far failed to fulfill the hopes engendered by his appearance at the Summit of the Americas in 2009 that the United States would strongly and consistently support democracy, human rights, social justice and national sovereignty; and 
Whereas: the embargo of Cuba has not been lifted, despite the unanimous call by the members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to end it, Cuba is still listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, and travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens remains severely restricted; and 
Whereas: the Obama administration has demonstrated persistent hostility toward progressive governments in Latin America, particularly toward Venezuela and Bolivia, and has pursued close relations with governments with poor human rights records, such as Mexico, Colombia and Honduras; and 
Whereas: the militarism of Plan Colombia and Plan Mérida and the deployment of the Fourth Fleet have been reinforced with the increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and construction of new military and police bases as part of counter-narcotics policy, especially in Central America; and 
Whereas: a number of current and former Latin American presidents as well as significant civil society organizations in the most affected countries oppose current U.S. counter-narcotics policies as ineffective and counterproductive with devastating consequences for the civilian populations; 
Therefore be it resolved that: 
1.) The Latin American Studies Association urges President Obama to reduce the U.S. military presence in Latin America, to reverse the militarization of U.S. regional and border policies, especially counter-narcotics operations, and to suspend or reduce aid to military and police forces in countries with on-going human rights abuses, especially Mexico, Honduras and Colombia; 
2.) The Latin American Studies Association urges President Obama to normalize relations with Cuba, including eliminating as many travel restrictions as possible by executive order, making the certifications necessary to end Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, and actively working to obtain Congressional lifting of the embargo and restoration of full freedom of travel for U.S. citizens to Cuba; 
3.) The Latin American Studies Association urges President Obama to fully respect the sovereignty of Venezuela and Bolivia and to actively pursue improved relations, including resumption of full diplomatic relations; 
4.) The Latin American Studies Association urges President Obama to reject all direct and indirect United States participation in or support for actions or policies that undermine democratically elected governments in Latin America. 
This resolution will be mailed to President Barack Obama, all members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, Secretary of State John Kerry and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times.

I dislike lumping tons of unrelated things together. Get one issue alone and drive it home. Even if this is approved, it is a jumbled mess, with parts of it perhaps written a very long time ago. Anyway, some specific comments:

1. I actually agree that we need to end the Cuba embargo, and have written so a million times, but CELAC should not be cited as a reason, since even within Latin America it is not viewed as terribly relevant. If there was a well-worded resolution about ending the embargo and getting rid of the ridiculous terrorist label, I would love it. So why can't the LASA wordsmiths handle that?

2. The Obama administration is not terribly hostile toward Venezuela. John Kerry is talking to the Maduro administration, and all the rhetoric of the Bush administration is long gone. It is fair to say that Maduro's statements are 1,000 times more crazy than anything Obama says. Questioning the outcome of the election is not unreasonable. In any case, the U.S. isn't doing much to Venezuela's sovereignty, or Bolivia's for that matter. Was this written years ago? Point #3 should just be removed entirely.

3. They mention the Fourth Fleet. There was a flurry of discussion about this in 2008, but I can't find anything more recent. Is this really a 2008 issue in a current resolution? Remove that and don't mix up Plan Colombia, the Mérida Initiative (even calling it Plan Mérida is pretty loaded) and Central America. These are all different issues--militarization is a real concern, but the contexts are better addressed separately. In particular, I think Honduras should have its own resolution that specifically tackles the unique problems there.

4. Resolution #4 is pretty much incomprehensible. Don't support anything that's akin to anything indirectly or something that's indirectly directly undermining democracy. That should be removed and replaced by something very specific and direct.

As a combination, then, these resolutions are not worth passing. Looking back, I see I blogged about annoyance at a resolution in 2008. Mike Allison has also cringed. In 2012, a similar set of resolutions failed to pass because only 12% of the membership voted, and 20% is required. This should have alerted the authors to the need for refinement.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Talking to Maduro

The Washington Post editorial board is miffed at John Kerry. Why? Because he had the audacity, the sheer gall, to chat with the Venezuelan Foreign Minister and to suggest it might be a good idea to have ambassadors. Somehow this is taken as a ringing endorsement of Nicolás Maduro. A "lifeline" even! I guess Kerry's words will make Venezuelans forget they have no toilet paper.

This demonstrates how far we've descended in diplomatic terms.  For all the Ronald Reagan glorification, people seem to forget he actively engaged with the Soviet Union, including meeting personally with Gorbachev in 1985. Later, they even signed treaties, even though Gorbachev didn't do exactly what the U.S. wanted. Nobody mistook this for Reagan's approval of the Soviet regime.

Venezuela today doesn't even qualify as an adversary, much less an enemy, yet dialogue gets criticized from the right. Kerry wasn't even agreeing to anything beyond normal diplomatic ties. It is self-defeating and nonsensical to label basic diplomatic dialogue as endorsement of a particular government.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Great Op-Ed on Commodities

I complain a lot about op-eds, but I am glad to report there is a great one, written by El Salvador's former Finance Minister Manuel Hinds.

These graphs show why you should not be surprised when seeing that Latin America is going down after having gone up at record rates for almost 10 years. What has changed is not policies, but the variable that traditionally determines the region’s rate of growth: the prices of commodities.  The graphs also show the superficiality of common economic commentary. The relationship between commodity prices and GDP growth in Latin America has been known for centuries. Yet, for almost a decade the mainstream press commentaries ignored the evidence and attributed the Latin American boom to superior economic policies, when it was clear that it was caused by the old, reliable predictors of growth in Latin America: commodity prices.

This is exactly on the mark, and similar to what I wrote just a short time ago. I am snagging this figure as well, which sums it up visually:

Will any analyst listen? This is how Latin American economies have been run forever, and although the reliance on commodities often gets brief mention, somehow it never gets the dedicated attention that it requires. Instead, we get a boom and hear about how great things are and what great decisions policy makers are pursuing, and then the boom ends and everyone seems surprised.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Juxtaposition: Peru

U.S. Embassy in Peru, 2005:

We share many of Rospigliosi's concerns regarding Ollanta Humala's rise in the polls and the possibility that the latter will establish a strong pro-Evo pro-Chavez political base following the 2006 elections.

U.S. President of the United States, 2013:

Peru is one of our strongest and most reliable partners in the hemisphere.  We have a strong commercial and trading relationship.  We cooperate on a wide range of security issues, including our counter-narcotics efforts.  And we spent most of our discussion focused on how we can further deepen this important bilateral relationship. 

This isn't new, but always striking. I think many in the United States are still waiting for Humala to announce that all this moderation was a joke and proclaim himself a chavista.


Taking Your Leak in Latin America

Now this could get interesting. Julian Assange, currently a long-term resident of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, tells Edward Snowden to go to Latin America:

"I would strongly advise him to go to Latin America," Assange told CNN's AC360 Monday night. "Latin America has shown in the past 10 years that it is really pushing forward in human rights. There's a long tradition of asylum."

Three points come to mind.

First, it doesn't seem that harboring Assange has hurt U.S.-Ecuadorian relations all that much. They were strained already, but after a Wikileaks controversy the two countries sent ambassadors and this was not affected by Assange. So taking Snowden is not automatically a huge risk. At the same time, I'm not sure what any given country would have to gain. Rafael Correa actually had a personal stake because some of the leaked cables were about him. Maybe Nicolás Maduro would want to champion someone criticizing the U.S. government, though at the moment he is trying to improve relations.

Second, the "pushing forward in human rights" is not so simple. There is progress in pursuing court cases for past abuses during military governments, but with regard to media freedom--obviously important to Assange--there is regression in some countries and the region as a whole is dangerous for journalists. As many people noted last year, despite Latin American governments voicing sympathy for him, they would not be so kind to one of their own citizens leaking classified information.

Third, he's right that there is a long tradition of asylum, and in fact I think that would make an interesting research project. During the Cold War, for example, Venezuela and Mexico were famously open to leftists being attacked in their own countries. In the late 1930s many Jewish refugees headed from Europe to Latin America. Less admirable was the flow of Nazis to Argentina, or ousted dictators trying to find somewhere to live (e.g. Somoza in Paraguay or Stroessner in Brazil).


Sunday, June 09, 2013

U.S. Trade with Latin America: Why the Whining?

There are so many arguments out there that the United States is "ignoring" Latin America. Heraldo Muñoz, who I respect very much, just published an op-ed arguing U.S. exports to Latin America "have receded during the last decade."

This just isn't true. Let's take a look at some sources.

According to the Congressional Research Service:

Between 1998 and 2009, total U.S. merchandise trade (exports plus imports) with Latin America grew by 82% compared to 72% for Asia (driven largely by China), 51% for the European Union, 221% for Africa, and 64% for the world.

According to the Census Bureau, trade with Central and South America is at an all-time high. In 2012 the U.S. hit its highest monthly amount ever (over $16 billion) and every year see growth.

According to the United States Trade Representative, the U.S. has free trade agreements with 20 countries around the world. More than half (11 of 20) are with Latin America.

Meanwhile, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, in 2012 Latin American exports to the United States grew 3% compared to only 1% with Asia (after a big surge the year before).

I could go on and on.

So there is no evidence that the U.S. is ignoring Latin America in any way. However, it is true that Latin America is trading more with the rest of the world. But this is good. If Latin America is growing, the economic pie is growing, and that's good for everyone. The U.S. policy goal should not be dependence or exclusion--it should be prosperity. The U.S. sells more, China sells more, India sells more. Why is everyone constantly complaining as if this signals some problem that the U.S. has to solve?



The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I highly recommend Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which apprently now is being made into a movie. The main character Christopher is a 15 year old with Aspergers. He's high functioning but has severe sensory issues and lack of empathy.

I actually thought it was a mystery--a neighbor's dog has been killed and he is going to find out who did it. But that "investigation" doesn't go very far and instead the novel is really about understanding Christopher's view of the world but perhaps even more importantly, how the rest of the world--especially his parents--deals with it. From the perspective of a parent of a chile with Aspergers (though not nearly as severe), it succeeds in every way for me. I gobbled it up in half a day.

Adults constantly get annoyed at Christopher for his behavior, even swearing at him, not realizing that it corresponds to a clear logic. The problem is that logic is not immediately apparent to anyone except people who know him very well. That puts a strain on his parents, though without spoiling anything I will say that some of their reactions are a bit over the top.

But his navigation of new environments felt spot on. As he is inundated with new problems, he does his best to work them out according to his own logic, all the time largely unaware of how it affects other people. So as it turns out, the book is quite sad but he feels successful.


Saturday, June 08, 2013

Bring Back Latin American Debt!

Kevin Gallagher argues that the United States needs to make Latin American countries more indebted to it. Way, way, way more indebted, in fact, because since China is throwing tens of billions to the region, and therefore the U.S. should do as much or more than China.

For too long, the United States has relied on a rather imperial mechanism – just telling Latin America what it needs. Compare that with China’s approach: It offers Latin America what it wants (in the form of financing and trade from China)

This just puzzles me. For many years the United States did what it could to shovel money to Latin America, which went further and further into debt. That did not happen because U.S. policy makers told presidents that is what they needed. It happened because corrupt presidents saw it as a way to keep clientelist structures in place without any apparent cost.

What the U.S. ultimately got in return was economic shock that produced conflicts which in turn led to the election of governments that were either wary or openly antagonistic to the United States.

If the U.S. were to start lending on a massive scale, this would not necessaraily happen again. But at the very least it should signal caution, and lending with the sole logic of keeping up with China seems the definition of throwing that caution to the wind.


Friday, June 07, 2013

Biden and Latin America

Nice to see this from Joe Biden:

As leaders across the region work to lift their citizens out of poverty and to diversify their economies from commodity-led growth, the U.S. believes that the greatest promise—for Americans and for our neighbors—lies in deeper economic integration and openness.

I like the explicit recognition of how commodity-based growth is problematic. Historically, of course, the U.S. has loved that type of growth because it benefited greatly from it.

At the same time, however, he was praising free trade agreements, which in fact create an incentive to use economies of scale to produce commodities. In other words, free trade alone doesn't lead to diversification. Interestingly, Biden also began the op-ed by praising...flower farms (though, to be fair, he mentioned small businesses).

In general, though, this sort of recognition of basic facts about Latin American development, so long absent in U.S. policy, is welcome. And while all kinds of pundits decry the lack of "leadership" in U.S. policy toward Latin America, in many ways this recognition is more valuable than creating grand plans to "lead" something.


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Tolerance for Homosexuality in Latin America

Really interesting article in the Washington Post, based on a Pew Research Center report, about tolerance of homosexuality. Latin America is very tolerant compared to the rest of the world (especially less developed countries) and has become more tolerant over the past 6-7 years.

So why? On the surface, Latin America seems not to be an auspicious context for tolerance. It is heavily Catholic, though certainly not as much as in the past. The region does not have a history of protecting the rights of minority groups.

There is not a large literature on the topic, but there are indicators that we need to look at the groups pushing for change. Jordi Diez argues in a recent Comparative Political Studies article that we need to focus on well-organized social mobilization. Omar Encarnación argued in a 2011 Journal of Democracy article that the answer lay in the political strategies of activists, especially in terms of framing gay rights as human rights. There are political and cultural obstacles, but activists are finding ways to navigate them.


Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Immigration and NC Republicans

I may be beating a dead horse, but I find the Republican Party's internal debate on immigration reform so fascinating. Here is an op-ed about North Carolina by a former Republican County Chairman. It is specifically aimed at opposing driving permits for undocumented immigrants, but once again brings up the logical fallacies that plague restrictionist arguments.

The main problem is this:

Voting for amnesty and other liberal immigration policies does NOT increase Hispanic votes for Republicans. 
Voting for amnesty and other liberal immigration policies, however, significantly diminishes non-Hispanic conservative support for Republicans.

The first is questionable, and the second is demonstrably wrong. One the first point, remember that George W. Bush got plenty of votes from Latinos, and the vote share went down only as the party became vocally anti-immigrant. Next, the critical issue for Republicans is not just gaining Hispanic votes per se, but rather making sure they actually have a base of support in 10-20 years. The share of whites in the population is decreasing, and alone cannot win national elections, especially at the presidential level.

Second, it is crystal clear that Republicans do support immigration reform. There is no evidence that I have to seen to suggest that "non-Hispanic conservatives" (read "whites") stop supporting the party as a result of voting for immigration reform.

It's like watching a car heading for a cliff, with some of the passengers arguing strenuously that putting on the brakes is a really terrible idea.


Monday, June 03, 2013

More on Immigration and Republicans

Phyllis Schlafly echoes what other conservatives have been saying, namely that the Republican Party needs to give up on Hispanics--including scuttling immigration reform--and focus entirely on white people. This is a suicidal strategy, but will it get legs?

Polls suggest caution. A conservative, but pro-immigration, group of organizations commissioned a poll showing overwhelming Republican support for the senate immigration bill. Other polls suggest the same. For the short term, the main question is whether the minority opinion in the party holds sway in the House of Representatives, since it seems clear the Senate is going to pass a bill.

For the longer term, this will matter for presidential politics, since Republican candidates feel the need to veer far to the restrictionist side to win the nomination, then find themselves at a serious disadvantage in the general election because of all the crazy stuff they've said on the record. This is a problem for a party that has won the popular vote for the presidency only once out of the last six elections. When you get back to the heyday of the three consecutive wins in the 1980s, you're talking about staunchly pro-immigrant Republican presidents (if you haven't seen this short clip of a 1980 Reagan/Bush debate, you should!).

One thing I have never seen is an anti-Hispanic argument that makes a case for the long term viability of the strategy. No matter how many more white people you can attract--and remember that plenty of whites are Democrats, Unaffiliated, or entirely apolitical--that pool is shrinking relative to the rest of the population. I suppose asking for logic is a fruitless exercise.


Sunday, June 02, 2013

Roberto Ampuero's The Neruda Case

Roberto Ampuero's The Neruda Case was billed as a mystery, and in fact is about the main character's first foray into private detection, but is enjoyable for reasons other than genre.

Cayetano Brulé--himself a Cuban--lives in Valparaíso, in September 1973 was contacted by Pablo Neruda to find information of a woman from his past with whom he had an affair and determine whether the child she had was his. From there the poet gives him money to make quick trips to Mexico, Bolivia, East Germany, and Cuba to find the woman's trail.

In general, I was much less interested in what he found out than the questions that arise as he investigates. One that comes up frequently is the balance between personal issues and political crises. How much should we care about ourselves when the world seems to be falling apart around us? People keep wondering that about Neruda as Brulé asks them questions.

He also meditates on detective fiction from reality. Neruda gives him Maigret novels to read as inspiration, but Brulé keeps thinking that the ordered world of France does not apply to the messiness of Latin America.

Another centers on the Chilean coup and its context in the Cold War. In many different ways Ampuero comments on the difference between the highly polarized Allende years and how so many ideologically driven people at the time lost all that by the 21st century. The descriptions of Valparaíso and Santiago in the days following up to the coup and then immediately afterward are engrossing.


Saturday, June 01, 2013

Warrior Dash 2013

Like last year, today I ran the Warrior Dash. The basic idea is that it is a 5K with fun obstacles, including crawling through mud.

This year was VERY different from last, which had three relatively easy mud/water obstacles to get through. This time there were only the dry obstacles until the mud crawl with barbed wire strung not far above the surface of the mud, which is always at the end. Last year I scooted through it because it was mostly water.

This year it was extremely thick mud, what Dr. Seuss might call Gluppity Glup, and it was impossible to feel the ground under you to get any leverage. I made the extraordinarily poor decision of going in the middle of the pit, which was the worst part. It was very hard to move, and many people were trying to bail out the sides. I had to wait several minutes for the guy in front of me, whose leg was stuck, while he waited for a group of men to yank him out. I made it through, but needed help to get over the lip and out of the pit. And I admit that toward the end my main thought was, "I want out of this goddamned mud!"

All of which might suggest that having a bunch of degrees does not mean you are smart. It was good exercise, though, as I believe I used very single muscle in my body. I definitely feel all of them right now.


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