Monday, September 30, 2013

Grand Plans in Latin America

Andres Oppenheimer wants grand strategy in Latin America.

By contrast, several of Obama’s predecessors often referred to their grand plans for the region during their U.N. speeches. But Obama, unlike former Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, has not proposed regional trade or investment plans with Latin America.

Read more here:

I've noted the problem with his logic before. Why are so many people so intensely focused on "grand plans"? There is no reason to assume that such plans are good for Latin America, and are not necessarily even good for the United States. George W. Bush had a grand economic plan that was so blind to Latin American realities that it soon died an ignominious death.

Oppenheimer seems to be saying that failure doesn't really matter. What matters is a symbolic gesture of Latin America's "importance," which in his opinion cannot be cultivated on a daily basis on the ground but rather must be based on a big announcement with big ideas. That the idea is poorly thought out, can never work, or is viewed with skepticism in Latin America, matters much less.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cuba Rents Baseball Players

A student pointed out this story to me by Anne-Marie Garcia and Peter Orsi. There is a long history of Cuban baseball players defecting to the United States. (In fact, Yasiel Puig or José Fernandez will certainly get the NL Rookie of the Year instead of the Padres' Jedd Goyrko. But that's another story). Now Raul Castro says Cuban players can essentially be rented to U.S. teams as long as they fulfill certain professional responsibilities at home. And, of course, pay taxes on their lucrative contracts.

I'll be curious to see whether the Obama administration opens the doors to this initiative, which requires waivers of some sort because the Cubans will not become permanent residents. They will simply be Cubans making money in the United States and sending a large amount of dollars back to Cuba.

Of course, this also higlights the authoritarian nature of Cuban immigration policy. You can leave the country only under certain specific conditions that benefit the government, and in this case presumably there are plenty of strings the governments can pull.

At the very least, it seems less like indentured servitude as the Cuban doctors in Venezuela (and, interestingly, my student's cousin, a Cuban dentist, was sent to Venezuela and then defected).


Friday, September 27, 2013

Voting and the Venezuelan Municipal Elections

David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz make a very interesting point about the December Venezuelan municipal elections. The opposition has been hammering on the fact that the presidential election was fraudulent. Henrique Capriles' completely failed regional tour was intended to broadcast that message and generate sympathy. Yet at the same time, they want to make the municipal elections into a referendum on Nicolás Maduro, which means basically accepting the fact that elections in Venezuela are worthwhile.

They argue that seeing the vote as a protest will bring people out, and that both sides run risks:

Thus the December 8, nationwide municipal elections pose a set of opportunities and risks for both sides. The Maduro government’s candidates will surely win most municipalities, but if it loses the national popular vote it will effectively have lost its first “plebiscite.” This would leave the opposition strengthened and in good position to seek a recall referendum on Maduro in two years. Maduro’s standing as Chavez’s successor would be seriously weakened and probably challenged by other leaders within Chavismo.

However, if Chavismo wins most municipalities and the national vote, it could be disastrous for the opposition. Capriles’ leadership would be questioned, and opposition voters would be demoralized thereby complicating an eventual push for a recall referendum.

True enough. But I think there is another risk to the opposition. How many times can you participate in elections while claiming they are fraudulent? I've argued before that boycotting elections is counterproductive. If you keep voting, though, then you do have to accept losing. I would expect Maduro and others in the government to make the most of that.

I wonder, further, to what degree the opposition is split between those who believe in the fraud and those who just think they lost. At what point do they splinter?


Thursday, September 26, 2013

No Doctrine is Great Doctrine

Foreign policy critics of Barack Obama are deeply concerned that he has no doctrine. For some reason we demand doctrines. Otherwise, we think, the United States is adrift.

From the Latin American perspective, however, we should be glad. U.S. foreign policy doctrines have always meant a coherent articulation of the abuse of sovereignty and/or human rights. No U.S. doctrine works out well for U.S.-Latin American relations.The Monroe Doctrine is an obvious case. Even the minority of 19th century Latin Americans who applauded the Monroe Doctrine were disappointed to learn the U.S. ignored it when it wished and did not protect them from European threats. The Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was not good for Latin America nor was the Olney Doctrine. The Mann Doctrine opened the door for supporting brutal military dictatorships, as did the Reagan Doctrine. To the extent that there was a coherent Bush Doctrine, it contributed to the most strained ties in decades. Having no Obama Doctrine is a relief.

We should applaud the lack of a grand strategy or doctrine for Latin America. Having good relations should not entail a rigid way of formulating policies. Inevitably, in large part because of policy makers' belief in U.S. exceptionalism, doctrines become finger wagging. Latin Americans are screwed up, doing things we don't particularly like, and so we need to impose solutions.


British Military & Argentina

There is one sure way to raise a stink in Great Britain, and that is to say Argentina is a stronger military power. At that point you don't just say the claim is inaccurate, but that it is a direct insult. Plus, we can whup those Argentines any day!

"To claim our military ranks below Argentina's is absurd and a gross slur on the calibre and capability of our troops. 
“Argentina struggles to get its ageing Falklands-era fighter jets off the ground even on a good day, and if any did reach the islands they'd be no match for the RAF's top-of-the-range Typhoons.”

Pretty pathetic, really, as it was clearly intended to stir up fears that Britain would lose if it went to war again over the Falklands/Malvinas. But fear is how you get nice, fat defense budgets.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Conference "Free Riders"

Someone just pointed this out to me from the Midwest Political Science Association conference webpage:

When the MPSA negotiates a contract with a conference hotel, the association receives free meeting space in exchange for a guarantee that it will use a specific number of sleeping rooms. If attendees do not use the required number of sleeping rooms, the MPSA must pay the cost for these unused rooms, which could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, the more sleeping rooms that conference attendees use, the more attractive the MPSA conference becomes to a hotel, and the MPSA can negotiate even lower room rates. In essence, the attendees who stay outside the conference hotels are "free riders."

WTH? It costs $90 for a graduate student and $180 to register for the conference if you do so early and stay in the hotel. They jack it up if you don't stay in the hotel. Meanwhile, the special conference rates for the hotels are all over $200 a night, even for a single. The only other option they'll accept is a hostel.

Whoever wrote that may have a very generous travel budget, but most people don't (and grad students often get nothing). Even a reasonably generous travel budget will be entirely blown very quickly. Considering people "free riders" when in fact they are just trying to make ends meet is excessive and insulting.


The American People and Immigration

One of the most overused phrases these days is "the American people" (let's say TAP for short). For every topic, there are completely contradictory assertions about what these mysterious creatures want. They are a bloc of people, us in fact, that all think a particular way about something. They are good, patriotic, people who reflect the good common sense of this country.

In the case of immigration, TAP believe everything. Just Google "'american people' immigration." They hate and love everything Congress is doing and not doing, and they especially like and dislike President Obama's policies. They think there needs to be a path to citizenship and no path. It's great, because Obama can talk about them but so can John Boehner. TAP agree with everyone.

In practice, of course, the definition of TAP is "people who agree with me," or "the people I hang out with." We could get a little more precise, look at polls, and say that a majority of TAP believe such and such, but that's not categorical enough for those who invoke the will of TAP and so is rarely used.

At any rate, I am fully convinced that TAP agree with me.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hot Topics in Latin America IR

For the 2014 Latin American Studies Association conference, I am Track Chair for International Relations. It's been time consuming but also enjoyable to read through all the paper and panel proposals, which I am not quite done with. I am seeing a few trends about hot topics in academic these days. These are not in rank order:

1. U.S.-Cuban relations. It never gets old! It does, however, get tougher to come up with novel angles.

2. Brazil's role in the world. This topic is definitely getting much more attention, and there are all sorts of different ways to approach it--regional, global, United States, etc.

3. China-Latin America relations. Lots of ways to look at this relationship too, which in my opinion for too long was dominated simply by how the U.S. could view it as a security threat.

One thing I don't see much is how Latin America IR generally fits into the broader academic literature on IR. That's too bad. A lot of the panels and papers are great, but a broader theoretical context could both contribute to the literature and provide us a firmer foundation for understanding what's going on in particular cases.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Assessing U.S.-Brazilian Relations

We all know by now that Dilma Rousseff is not coming for her planned state visit. We can characterize the responses more or less as follows, in no particular order:

1. It's a positive assertion of Brazilian sovereignty.

2. It's bad for the United States (just Google "Brazil snub"!).

3. It's bad for Brazil.

4. It's bad for both countries.

Curiously, at least from what I've seen no one seems to be saying that it won't really matter all that much. In part that could be because the Obama administration is trying to spin it that way--it's a "postponement" and not a "cancellation" and so maybe our instinct is to assume that the spin must be false.

What I'd like to see, though, is analysis of the concrete effects of state visits (or their cancellation/postponement). Do they matter as much as commonly assumed? They are, of course, highly symbolic, but technology makes communication easy without visits and there is a tremendous amount of lower level cooperation going on all the time no matter who visits whom.

For example, in 2009 the Japanese Prime Minister cancelled a state visit, yet as far as I can tell--being an informed observer rather than any kind of expert--U.S.-Japanese relations have not suffered long-term consequences. Are there other examples?

In short, we assume it matters because we all say it matters. We have lots of opinions, some very logical, about why it should matter but little empirical evidence to support it.


More Immigration Tea Leaves

With immigration reform it's all about the tea leaves. You can usually find two stories on the same day arguing opposite points about whether it will happen this year. It can simply depend on who you interview or focus on.

So you have the positive:

House Republicans intensified their outreach to Latino groups last week, offering renewed pledges that the House will deal with immigration reform this year. The effort has revived hope among advocates that a bipartisan deal can be reached to address the fate of the nation’s 11 million undocumented workers and students.

And the negative:

Two House Republicans who had been trying to craft a comprehensive immigration package said Friday they were dropping out of bipartisan negotiations.  
Their exit is a major blow to immigration reform efforts in the House but the so-called Gang of Seven have long struggled to release legislation. 

The default is pessimism. This really boils down to electoral calculations about the response of Latino voters. In particular, Republicans who are opposed to reform must be convinced that doing something they dislike in the short term in order to obtain long-term benefits for the party. In addition, those long-term benefits may not accrue to them individually at all if they live in districts without a growing Latino population.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Great Venezuelan Toilet Paper Conspiracy

This is not The Onion. It is the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, telling us that the government has temporarily seized a toilet paper factory in Aragua State, Venezuela. According to the government, the decision was made "al observar la vulneración del derecho en el acceso al rubro de papel higiénico."

Toilet paper conspiracies in Venezuela are not new. In 2007 the government accused the right of hoarding it to influence the constitutional referendum. Apparently that didn't work, but I guess the fascist toilet paper plotters have simply been biding their time. They know that, one day, Venezuelans will stand up and say that they're just not going to take this crap anymore.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Ending Isolation

Now this is troubling. Click for a bigger image.

Immigrants brought to one of the many private prisons in this country have essentially no rights. They are held months and months while their families do not know where they are and they do not have a lawyer. The fact that an organization to end isolation is even needed is really shameful. And this doesn't even come up in the broader immigration debate. It's just "enforcement."


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Migrant SES As Key to the Economy

The International Conference on Aging in the Americas is now done and I am heading home. There were a lot of really interesting talks. If there is one recurring theme that jumped out at me, it is that the socio-economic status of Latin American immigrants in the United States will be a major factor in the future economic stability of the United States.

First, if you are white and approaching retirement, you need them to fund social security.

Second, if you are white and approaching retirement, you need them to have money to buy your house from you.

Third, if Latinos are to be more engaged in the political system and to be active citizens, they need to be more educated. BTW, they also need to be citizens.

Fourth, if you don't want the healthcare system overburdened, then you need Latinos to be better educated, to have access to preventative medicine, and to be paying taxes.

In short, if we do nothing to address low levels of education and relatively high levels of poverty, then we will suffer any number of unintended but avoidable consequences that affect all of us directly.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

ICAA 2013

I am heading to the International Conference on Aging in the Americas. The title of my presentation is "The Train Has Left the Station: Latino Aging in the New South." It's really a paper of projections. We calculate a "low" Latino population projection, where migration into the South (state by state) will be the same from 2010-2040 as it was for non-Hispanics in the 2000-2010 period. The "high" projection is if migration was the same as it was for Hispanics in the 2000-2010 period. We then look at the potential political implications of each, with the basic idea that even low projections show considerable growth of the older Latino population by the time we get to 2040.

Of course, reality will fall somewhere in the middle. Researchers at UVA's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service actually just released some numbers. But the extremes let us see some interesting patterns even when they are unlikely.

Addendum: I realized I forgot to thank my Latino Immigration class, to which I gave my presentation last Thursday and which asked me some really good questions (not to mention pointing out a typo!).


Monday, September 16, 2013

Piñera's Feeling Sorry For Himself

Sebastián Piñera gave an interview to the Spanish paper El País and he is clearly feeling very sorry for himself. He is not popular and therefore is trying to figure out any way to blame things other than himself. Here are the main ones:

1. Latin America has always been center-left and people respond to that. This is flat out crazy and does not even fit Chile.

2. Socialism is about handouts so people like left-leaning presidents more. Meanwhile, Piñera says he asks people to take responsibility and that makes him less popular. This could have come directly from the mouth of Mitt Romney and is a common refrain. There's no evidence to support it, and plenty of left or center-left presidents are unpopular. There are also popular conservative presidents (just look at Alvaro Uribe).

3. Michelle Bachelet was more popular than him because of her personality. The only problem with this argument is that her approval ratings were very low for a while before they rebounded. I don't think it is reasonable to argue that her personality changed during that time. In general, though, he is seriously miffed about her current high approval ratings.

Sorry, man, but you're just not that popular.

h/t Otto on Twitter


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Allende and Latin America in 2013

Mark Weisbrot has an op-ed in Al Jazeera that is not terribly convincing. He argues that Salvador Allende's "dream" has been "fulfilled" because Latin America is "independent" from the United States. I can't help but get the impression this was thrown together hastily because the facts are not strong.

Here is a biggie:

But Allende’s dream of an independent Latin America has been mostly realised.  And the electoral road to social democracy (which he, like the current leaders of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela, for example, called socialism) is now possible.  

Two problems here. First, I think Allende would disagree with this. His vision of socialism was not the watered down version of 2013. It was a more radical vision that went beyond social democracy. Second, this "dream" was realized because Marxism--in part the Marxism Allende supported--lost the Cold War, and so the United States now cares much less (still cared a lot, of course, but much less) about such elections taking place because that brand of Marxism no longer exists. Not even in Cuba.

Next: "The region is now independent of the United States in its foreign policy."

This seems weak to me. Just a recent example is that Rafael Correa moderated his views on Edward Snowden because of a call from Joe Biden. The U.S. is very powerful and although it does not dictate terms in Latin America it still brings a lot of influence to bear. Weisbrot's evidence is only that Latin American countries put out statements that contradict U.S. policy, but there is a long history of that. Ever heard of Oscar Arias?

I am sympathetic to the argument that some Latin American governments have carved out political and economic spaces that did not exist before. But let's not overdo it, and let's not bring Salvador Allende into just to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Chilean coup. And let's not overstate where we are.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Alvaro Uribe on Democracy

Alvaro Uribe testified before the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House. The title was "Challenges to Democracy in the Western Hemisphere." It is pretty much what you would expect: ALBA countries are bad, most other countries are pretty good, and Juan Manuel Santos is a jerk for negotiating with the FARC.

One unstated but very clear theme is that "democracy" must involve "good investment climate." That is especially prominent in the brief discussion of Honduras:

In Honduras, the 2010 elections that followed the 2009 exile of President Manuel Zelaya, which resulted in the election of Porfirio Lobo as a Honduras’ new president, have allowed the country to undergo a reconciliation process among political groups and create a more stable investment climate. 

That's a warped view, to say the least, and it is not widely shared. Even conservatives who hate Mel Zelaya are not necessarily fond of Porfirio Lobo. Meanwhile, the Honduran way of attracting foreign investment has been to propose bubble cities that can help foreigners forget they're in Honduras.

The point is, though, that democracy should not have investment climate as part of its definition, though implicitly it often does for policy makers.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Call 800-Sabotage

You really cannot make this stuff up. Nicolás Maduro announced new plans for an organization under his personal command to combat the sabotage that is the sole cause of economic woes in Venezuela. To aid in this endeavor, Venezuelans should call 800-Sabotaje to report any nefarious deeds by the fascists whose sole aim is to destroy el pueblo. Francisco Toro has a nice allegory on all this. Conspiracy theories are coming at an almost frantic pace.

To deal with food shortages, he said Venezuela was buying $600 million worth from Colombia. You may remember it was only a few months ago when the government made a similar announcement. Imported food was on its way to create a food reserve, which I suppose was thwarted by the fascist pigs.

For all the close ties with Cuba, it's interesting that Maduro's response to the problems created by an overly centralized economy is to centralize it more, whereas Raúl Castro's response has been the opposite. And Cuba's economy faces an official and implacable economic block that Venezuela does not. It's really hard to see this resulting in anything good for Venezuelans.

Operators standing by.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why Not To Go Into Policy Jobs

There is a post at Duck of Minerva from an ABD who is working at a think tank in Washington, DC. As one of the commenters points out, it has even generated some Twitter criticism, including questioning whether it is parody. Sadly, it isn't, because it's depressing. According to the post, you need:

1. Work long hours (40 a week is not enough) and get no pay in an internship
2. Wear nice shoes
3. Pump out as much BS as you can in op-eds, etc. and never worry about quality
4. Claim confidently you are an expert even if you have read nothing on the topic

Sounds rewarding!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Chile, Las Imágenes Prohibidas

This is of course the 40th anniversary of the 9/11 Chilean coup. I don't have much to add to the plentiful amount of stuff out there, but wanted to share this documentary, Chile, Las Imágenes Prohibidas (this is the first part: others can also be found on YouTube). Very powerful stuff.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Nora Gaskin's Until Proven

I read Nora Gaskin's Until Proven: A Mystery in Two Parts because it was a murder mystery set in the fictional town of Piedmont, North Carolina. It is Chapel Hill, really, though I must say I didn't think of Chapel Hill much as I read it, perhaps because my experience was all about graduate school and the novel only just barely touches on its fictional university (though academia does make an important cameo in an unflattering way!).

I liked this book, and would recommend it with one caveat. First the good stuff. As the title notes, it has two parts: one set in 1963 and one in 2003. Both involve the murder of a young woman, albeit in different circumstances, but both with racial implications (and, in fact, homosexuality in the first part). What I particularly like is how she deals with race. She evokes not only the civil rights movement and all the prejudices that went along with it, but also how what we might consider sympathetic whites used race to their advantage when it came to protecting themselves in a court case. There is a lot of nuance there. It is a really good story about the south in that sense.

My caveat is the murder mystery part. Read it as fiction rather than as mystery because that part isn't so satisfying. There are two murders. Without spoiling much, one is unsolved and one is solved but without so much mystery. I may well be a prisoner of the genre, but I kept waiting for the unsolved one to be solved (and a key character of that earlier part of the novel never reappears).


Immigration and Syria

I was on local TV news* yesterday briefly talking about the effect of the Syria debate on the chances of passing immigration reform. I didn't necessarily look pretty but I got the basic point across. Things can change, of course, but the debate over Syria a) limits the amount of time there is for immigration given other pressing issues like the budget that will come first; b) provides skeptics of immigration reform a good excuse to kick the can down the road; c) probably makes it harder for President Obama to get Republicans on his side for two consecutive controversial issues; and d) possible means immigration reform will be delayed months because we'll start getting into primary season.

*FYI, Time Warner Cable seems to want to limit its viewership, so if you do not have a cable subscription you cannot even view the video. I was unable to watch it until I got to work this morning.


Sunday, September 08, 2013

Military Abuses in Venezuela

David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz have a post on military abuses in Venezuela. What immediately came to mind was the irony that Hugo Chávez and other army officers were radicalized in the 1980s in part because they were being pressured to attack civilians and resented it.

The question here, then, is whether all the incidents they catalog are unconnected. If they are, it suggests a serious lack of discipline and control, which is a problem but quite fixable. If there something more systematic, then the problem is obviously much bigger and eventually could lead to discontent within the ranks, not to mention among the population.


Friday, September 06, 2013


Want to go to New Orleans next March?

Call for Papers

61st Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies (SECOLAS)
Hyatt French Quarter Hotel
New Orleans, Louisiana
March 27-29, 2014

Proposal Submission Deadline: December 1, 2013

Conference Theme: “Latin America’s Global Presence”

The 61st Annual Meeting of SECOLAS will take place at the Hyatt French Quarter Hotel in New
Orleans, Louisiana, from Thursday, March 27 to Saturday, March 29, 2014. SECOLAS invites
faculty members, independent scholars and graduate students to participate in the conference
through panel proposals and individual paper proposals. Featured speakers will address the
conference theme. While papers and panels that incorporate this theme (broadly conceived)
are encouraged, they are not required.

Send proposals, including a 250-word abstract for each panel and/or paper and a brief CV (no
more than 2 pages) for all panelists, to the most appropriate program chair:

History and Social Sciences:
Stephen Morris
Political Science Department
Middle Tennessee State University

Literature and Humanities:

Uriel Quesada
Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies
Loyola University

Local Arrangements: Jimmy Huck, Latin American Studies, Tulane University


Iranian Trade With Latin America

I've written a lot about the overblown specter of Iran in Latin America, and here is another interesting note: trade with Venezuela remains low. Its three biggest trading partners are Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico (two of which the NSA is bugging the crap out of).

Thanks to a strong increase in trade with Mexico, that country now ranks as the third-largest Iranian trade partner in Latin America. It also ranks Iran's top market in Latin America. Mexico's Iran trade reached 133.8 million last year compared to only 9.97 million in 2011

That is not a part of the story you hear very often, since Iran's trade is supposedly a political ploy with leftist governments. Instead, you see the very economic reason Latin America likes Iran: it runs a big trade deficit, I assume soaking up commodities. If trade with Mexico grows, however, I would expect to hear assertions that it is all about hooking up with Drug Trafficking Organizations.


Thursday, September 05, 2013

Academic Conference Themes

I am on the Executive Committee of the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies (SECOLAS) and we are finalizing the details of the annual conference (March 27-29, 2014 in New Orleans). As always, this included a discussion about the theme of the conference. Every year I wonder why academic organizations bother.

As far as I know, they are pretty much ignored. Indeed, they are specifically crafted not to be too exclusive (why make some people feel left out?) so are so broad as to be close to meaningless. For LASA 2014 it is so long that my hunch is that it remains largely unread. I'm even a track chair for that conference and this was the first time I had read it.

From a practical perspective, everyone has their own line of research, and there seems to be no real reason to alter your conference paper to match the theme. This actually would be a bad idea because the theme is arbitrary and will not help you get your paper published eventually. It may do the opposite because your revisions become artificial.

So I am not sure why we keep doing it. Mostly we do because...everyone else does and so people somehow expect it.


Human Rights Pivot in Chile

The finger-pointing by the Chilean right regarding the dictatorship continues in a cascade. Roberto Thieme of Patria y Libertad is the latest example. Of particular interest is that everyone wants to claim they were opposed to the repression everyone knew was taking place.

“From the first day, I opposed the violations of human rights, this disgraceful and vengeful repression,” Thieme said, identifying late right-wing politician Jaime Guzman as the instigator of the abuses.

Two points:

First, these arguments are not terribly convincing. Silence is indeed one consequence of military rule, but it is not easy to swallow the notion that even those on far right (in this case even terrorist right!) were agonizing at the time over the treatment of people they considered enemies.

Second, these arguments demonstrate how powerful the human rights narrative has become. Even given #1, even on the right it appears to be important at least to be perceived as being concerned. That's an important step forward.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Traitoring Human Rights

Here's a pretty searing indictment of the military government by Chilean presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei, whose father was a junta member:

Sacar la voz no era fácil, porque usted en ese minuto estaba a favor del gobierno militar o estaba en contra del gobierno militar. Si estaba a favor, usted no podía hablar de los derechos humanos y si hablaba de los derechos humanos, usted era una traidora.

It is nice to hear this acknowledged by an UDI candidate (even if a bit weaselly) which comes on the heels of another prominent member of UDI rethinking the dictatorship. I wrote before that the presidential campaign won't be about the coup or Pinochet, which I still think is true, yet outside the campaign itself the right seems to be addressing the violence of the dictatorship more than ever before, even without feeling the need to criticize the left in the same breath. That is all to the good.

Yes, that is an improper use of the word "traitor" but I liked how it sounded.


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Splitting the Difference in Syria & Latin America

Dan Drezner makes a point about President Obama's Syria policy that related to an idea I've had about similarities between that situation and past U.S. policy toward Latin America.

The trouble with Obama's liberal desire to enforce the chemical weapons taboo is running up against his realist desire to make sure that Al Qaeda doesn't have a friendly regime running Syria. 

To be more specific, Obama doesn't want either the government or the rebels to win. Instead, he wants some seemingly moderate Syrian group to split the difference (I heard John McCain make almost precisely that point on NPR this morning). The comparison with Latin America is not perfect, but this should sound familiar to those familiar with U.S.-Latin American relations. Now, for the moment official U.S. policy is not regime change, but it doesn't take a genius to realize this is a goal anyway.

In the year or so immediately prior to both the Cuban (1959) and Nicaraguan (1979) revolutions, U.S. policy makers had finally decided that the dictators had to go. However, they did not trust the Marxist rebels who were on the verge of victory. So the U.S. tried to split the difference, seeking out moderates who were friendly toward the United States. Such groups did exist, but the driving forces of the overthrows were Fidel Castro in one case and the Sandinistas in the other.

In the Cuban case, the Eisenhower administration sent someone to talk to Batista:

The United States, Pawley later recalled, urged Batista "to capitulate to a caretaker government unfriendly to him, but satisfactory to us, whom we could immediately recognize and give military assistance to in order that Fidel Castro not come to power." Quoted in Louis A. Pérez, Jr. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, p. 311.

In the Nicaraguan case, a mediation team met with Somoza:

They noted the widespread sentiment in Nicaragua that peace would not be possible while he remained in power, and they asked whether he would resign to facilitate an arrangement between the Liberal Party and the FAO [Broad Opposation Front, the moderate opposition]. From Robert Pastor, Condemned to Repetition: The United States and Nicaragua, p. 105.

Unlike Assad, Batista and Somoza had enjoyed a cozy relationship with the United States for a long time, and only toward the end were viewed negatively. However, there is a similar dynamic because the dictators were viewed as distasteful while the rebels were deemed as potentially worse. Weakening the dictator opened the door for the rebels, who eventually--and not surprisingly--enacted policies the U.S. could not accept and thereby became "problems." The moderate opposition was drowned out and failed to gain political traction in the new revolutionary governments, or was simply forced out.

If the main power of the Syrian rebel groups come from those who are distrustful (or perhaps even antagonistic) toward the United States, then splitting the difference once again has little chance for success.


Spanish Migration to Latin America

In class today we talked a bit about the effects of economic crisis and migration. Someone brought up Spain, where youth unemployment is over 50% (!). This has increased emigration, and many Spaniards are going to Latin America:

Ecuador, Reino Unido, Francia y Alemania fueron los principales destinos de los emigrantes españoles en 2012, seguidos a mayor distancia de países como Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Brasil o Perú. De hecho, Ecuador ha ofrecido este año 5.500 puestos de trabajo a profesores universitarios y de primaria y secundaria españoles.

So much for the "developed" world! Interestingly, Ecuador is a popular destination both for Spaniards and, unfortunately, also for displaced Colombians (which is a humanitarian problem).


FARC Email

It was a bit surprising to check my email yesterday and find an email from the FARC, or at least from the account of its peace delegation. It was a canned email thanking me for my recent blog post on the negotiations (which, incidentally, is not complimentary but I suppose unlike many of my other past posts did not openly condemn the FARC, or the government for that matter, as I've done both) and encouraging me to write more. I can only guess that quite a few people received similar emails. I also can only guess that the NSA is loving me right now (the first thing my wife asked me was whether we'd soon be visited by the FBI).

This is part of an overall strategy of demonstrating moderation. There is no ideological war that has raged for decades, just a difference of agreement about social justice. I don't think the FARC has done anything like it in the past, and at the very least it is an indicator of how serious they're taking the current round of negotiations. How much people buy it is an entirely different story.

Havana, 2 september 2013.

Hello Dr. Gregory Weeks,

We have read your blog, which has pretty much (and objective) information about Colombia and the peace process. Thank you! We think the peace process and the struggle for social justice in Colombia needs international support badly. We hope that you will continue to support us in the future, not only during the present peace talks in Havana but also in the years to come when hopefully a peace agreement will be ratified and implemented in Colombia. We can offer you the following aids in helping to support us:

· RSS feeds that you can find at You could use one of those feeds to embed and publish on a special section of your website by use of a widget. And of course you can include our general RSS feed in your personal RSS-reader (i.e. Inoreader) to stay tuned about the peace process.

· We're on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ as well. Feel free to use those feeds, embeddings and links too on your website. If you do, we'll be more than happy if you link to our website on that spot as well.

· You can republish any article of which we have the copyright and that is published on our website But please let us know in advance and mention and link to our website in that specific republished article as well.

Thanks for your attention,


Monday, September 02, 2013

Halberstam's The Coldest Winter

What you immediately feel in David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War is anger. He is really ticked off at Douglas MacArthur, whose megalomania and hiring of lackeys led to the needless deaths of thousands of U.S. soldiers. He then blamed disasters on absolutely everything and everyone else rather than on himself. By the time you get to his firing (around page 600) you practically drip with disdain.

One of the great problems with Douglas MacArthur, something that had bedeviled those who had dealt with him for years, was that he did not always tell the truth...The truth posed a great dilemma for a man who always had to be right (p. 613).

I have read very little on the Korean War, but I suspect this argument is not terribly original. After all, MacArthur was fired and he is on record as saying such things as the Chinese would never enter the war, generally based on racism. But Halberstam does a great job introducing you to many, many people, some famous, some just privates following the orders coming from Tokyo (as MacArthur disliked going to Korea). The book is chronological and organized as very well-written vignettes. That includes Harry Truman, who had an aide go to the Library of Congress and get him information on how Abraham Lincoln had fired George McClellan.

It is a book squarely on the side of the soldiers, not focusing on the details of battles (though it does do that to a degree) but rather what they were experiencing, how they felt, how cold they were, how confused. I kept thinking of The Best and the Brightest because so many people were dying because of the decisions of political elites who thought they were much, much smarter than they really were. That, it sadly seems, just never seems to end.


Cuban Missile Crisis and Credibility

Following up on yesterday's post on credibility, here is a very interesting paper by Daryl Press (a professor at Dartmouth) which I see later became a book about how leaders assess credibility. He argues that prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union had bluffed several times and had not followed through with threats. Yet U.S. policy makers were unanimous in believing that Soviet credibility was very high, meaning that any wrong move and they would attack.

Why? Because assessment of power and interests is far more important. The Soviets might have been bluffing before, but that doesn't mean they would be bluffing now. In fact, Soviet credibility grew even as Khruschev bluffed all over the place.

In the case of Syria today, the Obama administration has made abundantly clear that it believes U.S. credibility is on the line. If we do not attack now when we said we will, then no one will believe us in the future. There is, however, simply no evidence or even logic behind this. The world knows that the United States, like the Soviet Union in the example above, will not hesitate to bomb just about any adversary for just about any reason, real or imaginary. We have plenty of examples just in recent years. Not following through with this one particular especially ill-made threat will not change that.


Sunday, September 01, 2013

Credibility and Use of Force

I've been thinking a lot about citing credibility to use force, and it's very troubling because for the most part it is imaginary. Instead, it invokes some sense of damaged manliness. HULK MUST SMASH OR LOOK LIKE WEENIE!

Now, before I go any further, let me say to those who invoke the memory of Vietnam, there is no thought of sending American combat troops to Central America.
If we cannot defend ourselves we cannot expect to prevail elsewhere. Our credibility would collapse, our alliances would crumble, and the safety of our homeland would be put in jeopardy.

--President Ronald Reagan, April 27, 1983. From Ronald Reagan, Speaking My Mind, pp. 155 and 160.

Does that sound familiar? I encourage you to go find that speech, which is filled with more inaccuracies and falsehoods than I could count. It's true that we only used "advisors" but we sure helped kill a lot of people.

And yes, I know the contexts are different. Obviously. But the credibility argument is terribly deceptive and dangerous.


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