Mike Allison's post made me think of figuring out what post got the most hits in 2015. It was a January post on rumors of a Venezuelan coup. Of course, it is also a reminder that rumors are just...rumors. From a blogging perspective, Venezuela is always a hot topic. I don't see that changing in 2016. I am not big on predictions, but I predict the biggest post of 2016 will also be Venezuela, and may well be something on executive-legislative relations.
What's also interesting is that reviews of academic books often get a lot of hits. I still get tons of hits for a 2008 review of Leo Chavez's The Latino Threat. Same goes for a 2010 review of Tim Henderson's book A Glorious Defeat (on the 1846-1848 war with Mexico). From the searches, I get the strong suspicion that the books are being assigned in classes and students are trying to find synopses and/or some ready-made analysis.
This is my fourth year as department chair, and not coincidentally my number of posts decreased for the fourth year in a row in 2015, down to about 5.5 posts per week. I don't have any particular goals in that regard--I just write when I get an idea and have time.
The big blogging news for 2016 is that in January I will have my 10th anniversary writing this blog. After an entire decade, it's still literally fun. In some ways, it's even more fun because I am so busy with administrative work--it feels good to carve out a little time during the week to do something creative and to focus on a topic of endless fascinating for me.
Happy New Year!
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Mike Allison's post made me think of figuring out what post got the most hits in 2015. It was a January post on rumors of a Venezuelan coup. Of course, it is also a reminder that rumors are just...rumors. From a blogging perspective, Venezuela is always a hot topic. I don't see that changing in 2016. I am not big on predictions, but I predict the biggest post of 2016 will also be Venezuela, and may well be something on executive-legislative relations.
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Granma just published a speech by Raúl Castro that focused on the economy and foreign policy. Some highlights:
--the U.S. is to blame for anything wrong with the Cuban economy.
--the U.S. is to blame for Cuban migration
--the right (read: U.S.) is to blame for the Venezuelan elections
--the right (read: U.S.) is to blame for the Venezuelan economy
--the right (read: U.S.) is to blame for impeachment calls in Brazil
--Cuba is a responsible citizen of the global capitalist economy
There was no "viva" at the end, and presumably no shouting. Just "muchas gracias."
Basically, you have all the normal anti-U.S. rhetoric while Castro continues to work quietly to normalize Cuba's relationship not only with the U.S. but also with the rest of the world (e.g. debt). All the references to Venezuela lead very logically to that broader normalization because the combination of oil prices and an opposition legislative victory mean Cuba must make things right with other global economic actors. And now.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Diplomacy is a delicate thing, especially when the relationship between two countries is not strong. If you actually want to strengthen ties, then intentionally angering the other side is self-defeating. Such is the case with Israel's decision to a) tweet the announcement of its ambassador to Brazil rather than use regular channels; b) choose the former head of a West Bank settler movement; and c) start pressuring Brazil publicly to accept him.
This is either a power play or the policy of a tone deaf government. Perhaps both. Regardless, it is a very bad move on Israel's part in a decidedly pro-Palestinian part of the world (and this is not about populism or ideology, but rather historical migration patterns). It just cements a negative image.
Monday, December 28, 2015
I read Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem, which is a remarkable book. It ties together the Chinese Cultural Revolution, physics, and contact with another civilization in space.
It's the sort of book you read and realize how incredibly intelligent the author is, so that you sort of marvel at some of the ideas. Without spoiling it, the narrative follows Chinese scientists who are trying to make connection with space aliens, and how people in general react to that. In particular, many people feel that aliens--sight unseen--must be superior to humans and could solve all the problems we are unable to solve ourselves.
More philosophically, it asks the question of how we would respond if we started to believe that we would all be killed within a few hundred years. Would that simply lead to mass depression and suicide? Or, as the characters think about it, what can bugs do when they know they'll be squashed?
Saturday, December 26, 2015
There is an infamous law in Chile providing the military with 10% of sales from Codelco, the state copper company. President after president has introduced legislation to derogate it, but all unsuccessful. Everyone talked about it ~20 years ago as I started my dissertation research on civil-military relations in Chile, and here it stands.
Could it possibly be venality that finally creates consensus? #Milicogate ("milico" is slang for someone in the military) is a multi-year (2010-2014), multimillion case of fraud, involving siphoning of the funds. In response, the Bachelet government announced it will propose reforms in 2016. The funds are shrouded in secrecy, which makes no sense at all in a democratic context. That secrecy predates the Pinochet dictatorship, incidentally. The entire structure of the law is from a distant era.
The army commander in chief, Humberto Oviedo, had to testify before a congressional commission, and is scrambling to convince legislators that such a thing won't happen again. Seems like a propitious time for change. The main challenge is to establish a new law that provides stable, long-term military planning, which has traditionally been the reason the right supports the law.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Here's an article in Foreign Policy about the "institutional civil war" brewing in Venezuela.
Last Wednesday, Diosdado Cabello, the head of the outgoing parliament, announced the creation of a new and unelected “Communal Congress,” whose members he then invited to convene at the parliament building. Soon after, Maduro rather ominouslyfloated the idea of transferring “all power” to the new body.
Here's my question. Over the past several years, both Cabello and Maduro have made all sorts of comments that have been labeled "ominous." Perhaps the most notable was the "civil-military union" thing. But for the most part, these ominous omens have in fact been leaders flapping their traps.
There is a lot of flap trapping going on, which is pretty inexcusable for people in the highest political positions of a country. It does mean, though, that their current statements must be measured by their past flapping. I have a hard time seeing an autogolpe happening in Venezuela. The election made clear that the domestic response would be violent, and the military has little appetite for such a scenario. I doubt a shadow congress will matter, even if it actually ever exists, but transferring power to it would be an autogolpe.
No elected official should make such anti-democratic statements. Oddly enough, though, they may well be a sign of weakness rather than true threat. Maduro is not having an easy time garnering forces to effectively block the opposition, so what he has left are incessant threats, veiled or otherwise.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Perhaps because they're trained to be critical, academics seem to love criticizing themselves and their profession. We're even at a point where someone who left academia but coaches Ph.D.s to get into academia asks whether academia is "good" and defends herself from those who say it's odd to coach people to enter a profession you left and don't think is good.
All of us bore the crap out of people by talking about our jobs, and because academics are more articulate than many other people, they are particularly adept at boring the crap out of people in this way.
Monday, December 21, 2015
I read Edward Dallam Melillo's book Strangers on Familiar Soil: Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection (2015) to review for Journal of Interdisciplinary History. It's a history of bilateral relations, and he paints a really interesting picture of how much California and Chile have influenced each other, but also how much of that influence doesn't get acknowledged. So, for example, the building of San Francisco during the Gold Rush had a lot to do with Chilean labor and agriculture, but few are aware of that.
That relationship is not always positive. A snippet from the review:
Chileans (like other foreigners, especially Mexicans) were also harassed, attacked, hanged, and lynched, all in the name of civilization. Indeed, the tone of the book tends toward the negative, where Chile gets the short end of the transnational stick. Californians brought wine knowledge and Monterey pines to Chile, for example, but that had all sorts of negative social and environmental repercussions. Californian academics in the 1960s celebrated scientific exchanges that took more than they gave (though, to be fair, they called for their termination after the 1973 coup). As Melillo notes, “Chile’s landscapes underwent profound transformations to supply the ingredients for California’s increasingly ravenous metabolic cycles” (200).
It would be interested to do an analysis of the post-dictatorship era. How much is that ravenous appetite still going?
The New York Times has an editorial calling for the end of the Cuban Adjustment Act.
This system has been a boon for human smugglers in Latin America and created burdens for countries from Ecuador to Mexico through which they move. It has also been used by Cuba as a pretext to impose strict controls on its people and prevented the American government from conducting the type of thorough security vetting that all other immigrants receive.
I was once asked by a reporter whether I thought ISIS could exploint Cuban
immigrants, and my answer was no. I don't see the security issue as critical, though from a strategic perspecitve it clearly could be used very effectively to gain some votes.
More importantly, the current environment creates a strong incentive for Cubans to come now, anticipating the policy will end. The human smuggling and dangerous crossings will continue. The Band-Aid should just be pulled off quickly, and Cubans treated like other migrants.
I've made this argument for years, and so far the Obama administration isn't listening. The State Department just released this statement:
One topic of particular interest this past year was immigration. U.S. policy, which has not changed, emphasizes the safe, legal, and orderly migration of Cubans to the United States. Both the U.S. and Cuban governments are concerned by the efforts of human traffickers to exploit the fears of some Cubans and to encourage a mass exodus to the United States. We are in regular discussions with Havana about how to prevent smuggling organizations from achieving their illicit aims.
Riiiiiiiiighhhhttt. Our "wet foot, dry foot" policy is the opposite of safe, legal, and orderly. It's a big fat mess and was made on the run 20 years ago. Of course, it's important for the administration to say it's a great policy right up until the moment that it gets changed. I get that.
So we're stuck for the moment, and that isn't good for anyone.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
From yesterday's Democratic candidate debate:
Mrs. Clinton all but accused her rivals of naïveté. “I think it’s fair to say Assad has killed, by last count, about 250,000 Syrians,” she said, adding that she had wanted to arm the moderate Syrian opposition years ago to avoid the creation of a dangerous power vacuum. “I wish it could be either-or,” she said.
This is a pet peeve of mine. When there is a civil war, U.S. policy makers seem to always convince themselves there is a third option between regime and radical opponents. We did so in Cuba in the late 1950s and again in Nicaragua in the 1970s. It is a way to signal to your domestic supporters that you oppose a dictator while assuring your opponents that you won't let bad guys take over. This middle ground is pretty much imaginary.
Hillary Clinton is basically saying she clung to the mirage for a long time and now just wants regime change. It's not good policy but at least it's more honest.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Frank Mora and Brian Fonseca have an interesting article in Prism, a security studies journal connected to the National Defense University. Their main argument is that we need to look more at non-state interactions to really understand U.S.-Latin American relations.
The “real action” or impact is occurring below the state at other levels of interaction where non-state actors and individuals, such as universities, small to large companies, churches, transnational civil society organizations, media, etc. interact with their counterparts throughout the hemisphere in an organic way giving texture and meaning to U.S.-LAC relations.
I agree with this, and have argued before that the "grand strategy" approach, which is tied to the "we're ignoring Latin America" thing, is wrongheaded.
I'd like to think about how to measure this because it is ripe for more study. It's harder than simply analyzing aid, trade, treaties, pacts, etc. It's really about measuring soft power.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
I like this graphic from The New York Times about how Republican candidates insult each other's stances on immigration.
This is of course going to matter later once the party determines their candidate and has to appeal to a broader swath of voters. But for now we'll be seeing more over-the-top insults.
A new influx of unaccompanied children are arriving, once again from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
In October and November, more than 10,500 children crossed the U.S.-Mexico border by themselves, the vast majority from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, according to U.S. government data analyzed by the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank. That’s a 106 percent increase over the same period year, reflecting a steady increase that began in March.
In the past two years there has been quite a bit of debate about causation, which remain mostly unanswered because you can't explain variation (changes in the numbers) with a constant (violence and insecurity).
One possibility the article suggests is how the smuggling of unaccompanied children has become a booming illegal business. Some of the increase could there be attributed to more active recruitment by human smugglers making promises.
You may have noticed that in the past two years we've seen pretty minimal response rather than reactive. There is this massive Central America aid bill floating around but it's not even always clear how it'll get to the heart of this particular matter. Because of the Paris and San Bernadino attacks, unlike in the past this issue will likely get less attention than it did before.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Eric Farnsworth has a very nice piece at the Huffington Post on Latin America's "pragmatic turn." The current mood is about rejecting what hasn't worked, which is not the same as shifting to the right. Money quote:
They are not looking for alternatives to populist governance due to a sudden conversion to Friedrich Hayek.
This is like my recent post on binary thinking about Latin America. It's not a shift from left to right. It's a shift away from incumbents. The more this is recognized, the better.
Monday, December 14, 2015
The International Labour Organization has a new report out on unemployment in Latin America. The news isn't pretty.
In 2015, the unemployment rate in Latin America and the Caribbean increased for the first time in five years to 6.7 per cent, causing at least 1.7 million people to join the ranks of the unemployed, according to the ILO's annual report released today, in which the impact of the slowdown on economic growth in the labour market is recorded.
The 2015 Labour Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean warned of a "turnaround" in the employment indicators, with a deterioration in the employment situation of women and youth, and indications of rising informality through "increased generation of lower quality jobs."Here are the numbers by country.
Note that, like with so many things, ideology doesn't matter. Countries with center-right or left governments alike have better (Ecuador and Mexico) or worse (Colombia and Brazil).
It's interesting that for all the legitimate concerns about economic slowdown, current unemployment numbers are still better now in most countries than they were in 2005.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Chris Sabatini has an article in Foreign Policy analyzing the problems in Venezuela and Brazil, and how they eroded the dreams their governments had of transnational influence. Unfortunately, the title is really misleading--the article has nothing to do with the "sad" death (or any other kind of death) of the entire Latin American left.
One point I would make is that it's not just economic crisis that hit the dreams of Hugo Chavez and Lula. It's also that their successors simply didn't share the dream. Neither Maduro nor Rousseff had anywhere near the same kind of transnational ambitions, in part because they had to deal with problems at home, but in part because they're just different people.
Anyway, go check it out. He takes some pokes.
At the same time, with oil prices surging to $100 a barrel, Chávez became both the champion of the extreme anti-globalization left and the bête noir of the U.S. right. Seemingly respectable economists like Mark Weisbrot and members of the Hollywood glitterati, like Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, and Sean Penn, embraced his populist petro-patronage, under which the government established subsidized food banks and pumped up state employment as a viable economic and political alternative to the United States and the economic orthodoxy of Washington Consensus reforms of the 1990s.
The left’s embrace of Chávez was, in part, a reflection of its mutual disregard for the George W. Bush administration and, in part, a genuine-but-misguided belief that Chávez’s self-proclaimed Bolivarian revolution was sustainable. This pro-Chavista solidarity required that one ignore his silence on progressive issues like the environment and LGBT rights, and the very real economic and institutional damage he was doing to his country by making it even more dependent on oil exports, inflating its currency, politicizing the military, and packing the judicial system with partisan allies.
So, food for thought.
Friday, December 11, 2015
The presidential election in Argentina and legislative elections in Venezuela have unleashed a torrent of low-quality analysis, the likes of which we haven't seen in years (maybe not since the 2009 Honduran coup). Front and center is the persistence of binary thinking. I used to criticize the Bush administration for its insistence on Cold War/GWOT binary perceptions of good guy/bad guy and capitalist/communist, but it is apparently deeply embedded universally.
Thus, we have left/right, which is painfully inadequate for understanding what's going on in Latin America. But we also have populist/non-populist; pro-U.S./anti-U.S, and others.
And this is so very deeply embedded, even across the ideological spectrum. So we even have self-proclaimed socialists analyzing the elections, and coming up with yet another: left/pseudo-left.
Pseudo-left organization, both in Latin America and internationally, promoted Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution” as some new road to socialism. These political elements, whose politics reflect the interests of more privileged layers of the middle class, were attracted to chavismo precisely because it represented not an independent movement of the working class from below, but rather a bourgeois movement that subordinated the workers to a charismatic “comandante,” whose policies were directed at mediating the explosive class struggle in Venezuela.
From a psychological perspective, it's interesting that everybody seems to buy into the binary way of thinking. People like heuristics. It represents an easy shortcut people can use that makes complicated situations appear simple and perhaps therefore also easier to solve.
The problem, of course, is that it's all bullshit. If forced to apply a binary category to these elections, the only one that really works is incumbent/challenger. But the prevailing categories are all rooted in ideology, which of course represents another simplistic shortcut people use to understand the crazy and complex world around them.
In short, ideological binary thinking pretty much gums up the works. Using it makes you understand the situation less and greatly increases the chances that you will not accurately assess it (e.g. why we saw the electoral outcomes in Argentina and Venezuela). If applied by the winners themselves, it will means screwing up by overestimating how ideological the votes were.
Wednesday, December 09, 2015
I highly recommend Hugo Pérez Hernáiz's roundup of the Chavista reaction to the Venezuelan elections. The key point: diversity.
Government and pro-government forces have been reacting to Sunday’s adverse elections results. Comments have ranged from the self-critical to the blaming of an “economic war” waged by the opposition.
It is tempting and easy to portray Chavismo as a bloc.This usually involves taking quotes from Nicolás Maduro and/or Diosdado Cabello, both of whom are relentlessly hyperbolic, and attributing that to their constituents. But that isn't even close to accurate.
That fact is also important for understanding why Maduro would choose not to take the extreme measures his opponents feared he might, and which he indirectly alluded to himself. Knowing the diversity within his own loose coalition, he knows such measures would not receive universal acclaim. Perhaps not even majority support.
Tuesday, December 08, 2015
I'm quoted in this story about the reaction in the U.S. Congress to the Venezuelan elections. The regular suspects want to punish Venezuela more even though Nicolás Maduro did what they wanted, which was to hold free elections and respect the results.
“I call on the administration to denounce the environment leading up to the elections and impose sanctions on those individuals that caused voting irregularities on election day, a dangerous atmosphere for opposition political parties and a lopsided playing field,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
This doesn't make any sense. Even Mauricio Macri has backed off his calls to suspend Venezuela from Mercosur. Any sanctions or other punishments isolate the U.S. and would make us look foolish. Instead of a carrot and a stick, it's just a stick and a bigger stick. We already saw how well that worked for 50+ years with Cuba.
Monday, December 07, 2015
The opposition won in yesterday's legislative elections in Venezuela. Current totals are 99 seats vs. 49 for the PSUV, with 22 still not reported. How those 22 shake out will be important because they add up to a supermajority. No analysis will be very useful until we know those numbers.
This is a huge deal, but a normal one. Venezuela will undergo the same pains that other Latin American countries have experienced when the left and right stop dominating the political system. This is vertical accountability and the incumbent regime took an electoral beating. That does not mean the "end" of Chavismo. So far the government's response is measured, which bodes well, but it's going to be a tough road ahead.
One important takeaway, and one the New York Times noted very well, is that Venezuelans were not really voting for the opposition. Many didn't even know--or care--the name of the person they were voting for. The biggest electoral mistake opposition leaders can make is to assume they have a mandate for sweeping change. This isn't #LaSalida.
Friday, December 04, 2015
I wrote at Latin America Goes Global on what to watch for in the Venezuelan elections. If you were really interested, you could read it in tandem with yesterday's post on Venezuelan malapportionment. Anyway, go check out Latin America Goes Global.
Thursday, December 03, 2015
Jeffrey Isaac, editor of Perspectives on Politics, has a thoughtful post in Duck of Minerva about not using the word "rejection."
The purpose of decision letters is not to say “yes” or “no.” It is to communicate honestly with every author in a way that is substantive and scholarly, and also collegial, constructive, and encouraging—which I take to be important scholarly values. And by communicating in such a way, we are fostering an intellectual community based on intellectual seriousness and mutual respect.
I'm undecided on this. Being polite and collegial is important, and so I can see how "decline" could be viewed as much more collegial than "reject." At The Latin Americanist we do use the "decline for publication." It would be interesting to go through a list of journals and catalog what language they use.
At the same time, I wonder how much this changes the relationship between editor and author. In other words, I am not sure how transformative it is for that relationship or for the discipline. Regardless of what you say, the person's paper will not get published in that journal, and they must now sort through discussions of why reviewers felt that way. Does "decline" make that an easier process?
I've submitted plenty of articles, and had plenty rejected/declined. Frankly, I don't remember much about the language of any of them. For fun and self-flagellation, I went back over a few in recent years. I see "decided not to accept." Another actually never said "decline" or "reject" but simply explained, finishing with "this is not a great fit." Another was "I am sorry to inform you that your manuscript will not be published." I tend to submit to interdisciplinary journals so I am not sure if straight political science journals are different.
At The Monkey Cage, John Carey argues that not believing in the Venezuelan government's conspiracy theories mean a major win for the opposition. He, Brandon Nyhan, and Thomas Zeitzoff even conducted a nationwide survey in Venezuela.
Looking ahead to Sunday, these survey results suggest that a clean election (if the government allows it) should deliver a massive setback to the PSUV. The numbers look bad for chavismo in terms of outright loyalists, and the opinions that underlie political identity suggest that far more ni-nis should break toward the opposition than the PSUV.
Interesting, though one big question is where these opinions break down. It's very likely the opposition will win a majority, but because of malapportionment the size of that majority (i.e. "massive setback") depends in large part on the opposition's ability to win over rural voters. Their case would be stronger if the mapped it, showing how the perceptions of conspiracy theories were tied to seats.
Wednesday, December 02, 2015
I'm quoted in this story on the Venezuelan elections. My bit focuses on the fact that the opposition has not been good at admitting that some of the Chavista reforms are popular and--gasp--maybe even good. Maduro is unpopular and there are all kinds of problems in the country, but yet that does not mean voter support necessarily shifts to the opposition. People may not like Maduro but they are not big fans of the opposition either.
I am very excited about a new position we just got, and I am chair of the search committee. Please take a look and apply! At the very least, please let others know about it. I am happy to talk to anyone who has any questions.
Tuesday, December 01, 2015
Andreas Feldmann, Federico Merke, and Oliver Stuenkel have an article worth reading about the silence of Latin American governments with regard to the Venezuelan elections.
The typical way of understanding this is a "history of non-intervention" argument. Primarily because of the U.S. proclivity for widespread intervention, Latin American governments have responded by going far in the opposite direction. But the authors suggest that individual leaders matter. Lula was effective for a while, but then later wasn't. They also mention the "will" of individuals.
I think this would be an excellent research topic. How heavy is the weight of history, or is it just a convenient explanation? If we want to emphasize individuals, how should we measure that? What are the structural factors that contribute to those individual decisions? Most importantly, we should look for domestic considerations that might show us patterns about when presidents/administrations are more or less likely to become vocal about elections in other countries. Further, we would also need to explain timing--at what point do concerns become so great that they speak out.
In short, I don't think the "history of non-intervention" is satisfactory, and this article is at least getting at different ways of thinking about. Latin American governments do push their counterparts sometimes. We just don't have a good handle on when and why.
Hillary Clinton made some comments at the Atlantic Council, and the Republican Party lashed back.
"I believe firmly that no region in the world, no region, is more important to our long-term prosperity and security than Latin America," Clinton said to applause.
Not forgetting that she's on the campaign trail, Clinton used the forum to take a jab at some of her GOP rivals regarding Latin American and Caribbean issues.
"I know there are Americans who only think of Latin America as a land of crime and coups. They're very out of date," she said.
"They want to return to a failed policy on Cuba and cut our ties instead of strengthening them. They talk about deportation and walls, instead of recognizing that America's diversity is our greatest strength and supporting meaningful reform that will keep families together, benefits all of us," she said.
The Republican Party jabbed back: "As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ignored our allies in Latin America, leaving the region vulnerable to brutal dictators, violence, and oppression. Hillary Clinton's actions, or lack thereof, speak louder than words," party spokeswoman Ruth Guerra said in a statement.
It's hard to see how the region is vulnerable to brutal dictators, or what allies we ignored. If anything, the statement almost literally proves Clinton is right. This is likely the sort of thing we'll keep hearing when Latin America--especially Cuba--is mentioned. In this particular quote the Republican Party seems to be describing Latin America as a nasty cesspool, which is the fault of the Democratic Party to boot. The "land of crime and coups."
Monday, November 30, 2015
My 13 year old son Ben got into the Mexican snacks Takis, which are spiced rolled tortilla chips. He and I did a taste test of Takis Fuego and Takis Nitro, eating two and then writing, drinking water in between to cleanse the palate.
Economists have been saying Argentina cannot continue its populist ways. Debt grew too much and the money is running out, while inflation is high. People figure that some sort of belt-tightening is going to be necessary, and although the president-elect hasn't said much about specifics, he will likely shift course. That was the gist of a 1989 New York Times article immediately after the election of Carlos Menem. This NYT editorial of the time could easily have been written today with some minor tweaking.
These were different elections (especially, of course, because Menem was a Peronist) but the general point is that pundits are clamoring to explain the long-term impact of an election without knowing much at all about specifics. We should remain aware that all the excitement about Menem's shift toward the market disappeared and became embittered once his vaunted reforms fell apart.
Is Mauricio Macri's election the end of Latin American populism, as some argue? I don't really know how you could comfortably come to that conclusion. Just look at Menem, whose reforms became the source of a traditional Peronist resurgence. Your best bet is probably that like other democracies this will be cyclical. Even in the U.S. presidential elections are routinely labeled as an "end to conservatism" or an "end to liberalism" and they never really are. Voters get tired of incumbents but that is not the same as being tired of the message.
If you see stuff about the "pink tide" ebbing, an image that is now being used constantly, then be skeptical. As I wrote back in May, this imagery is misleading in the first place. Pundits like to talk in ideological terms, while Latin American voters are far more pragmatic than we tend to acknowledge. They want solutions.
In other words, most Latin Americans do not view governments of the left or right (or somewhere in between) as inherently superior. They want to see improvements in their quality of life, and clearly they do not believe any ideology necessarily addresses their concerns any better or worse.
The 2013 Latinobarómetro poll shows that 55 percent of Latin Americans don’t even consider themselves “left” or “right” at all. A majority are centrist, with keen interest in moderate solutions to universal problems. Unfortunately, countless news stories play up the ideological angle.
I think this fits Argentina after Macri's election as well.
Sunday, November 29, 2015
Here is a conservative op-ed on economic reform in Latin America. It actually mentions that communism is still a problem in the region, but I digress. It makes this claim:
There is a tectonic shift underway in Latin America involving two diverging blocs. On the Pacific Rim, the nations of Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Peru, and Chile all seek to modernize and diversify their economies, integrating them into the global economy through freer trade. They are eager to move beyond the vicissitudes of global commodity markets. The other bloc of countries, including Argentina, Cuba, and Venezuela, still find themselves handcuffed by authoritarian and illiberal regimes who offer the false platitudes of populism, and remain at the mercy of commodity prices for raw materials.
We've seen countless "left is bad, right is good" articles, but this is a new argument. I have not seen evidence that pro-market governments are more likely to diversify than their more statist counterparts. Indeed, entering into free trade agreements with more countries tends to make certain decisions on diversification impossible. That was the whole reason import substitution was popular for a few decades: it involved protectionism of targeted industries. Without such protection, countries will focus on what they do well, and that is usually commodities.
The whole "integration into the global economy" argument is also silly. Peru and Venezuela are both very well integrated into the global economy, and both are dependent on commodities for economic growth. Both will almost certainly remain that way. Artificially separating countries into ideological blocs won't change that.
Friday, November 27, 2015
The State Department issued a statement about the murder of AD leader Luis Diaz:
We condemn the attack and killing of Luis Manuel Diaz at a political rally November 25 in Altagracia de Orituco, Venezuela. This was the deadliest of several recent attacks and acts of intimidation aimed at opposition candidates. We call on the Government of Venezuela to protect all political candidates and we call on the National Electoral Council to ensure that this campaign is conducted in a manner to encourage full participation by the people of Venezuela. We further note that campaigns of fear, violence, and intimidation have no place in democracy.
The Venezuelan government's reaction has been to deny that the assassination of an opposition leader a few days before a major election has anything to do with politics or elections at all. It's all about a gang dispute. Of course!
"Trying to link a murder between criminal gangs with Venezuela's electoral process shows desperation and bad faith," Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said of a U.S. statement linking it to other aggression against opposition candidates.
What the U.S. is desperate about is not explained, and I don't think really can be.
At any rate, nothing to see here. This was just gangs shooting at each other, just Hell's Angels-type stuff, nothing political. The elections? Nah, this has nothing to do with elections. Those opposition guys just like shooting each other and blaming the government.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
I recently had an article accepted in Journal of Human Rights: "Fighting to Close the School of the Americas: Unintended Consequences of Successful Activism." It'll be officially out sometime next year. It's now early view, even before typesetting.
This article examines the structural and institutional changes that have occurred since the controversial United States School of the Americas (SOA) closed and its successor, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) opened in 2001. Placing these changes within a constructivist framework, the article uses the school as a case study to argue that human rights norm diffusion has both increased the amount of human rights in the curriculum and put the school in a much stronger institutional position than it had been. Human rights activists had successfully prompted change, but did not achieve their goal of closing the school. It contributes to the literature by demonstrating how ideas about human rights can have important and lasting effects, but not always in ways that are either predictable or desirable for the political activists who spark them.
This was a fascinating article to research and write, and in my mind is like a sequel to an article I published way back in 2003 on WHINSEC. Two years ago I wrote about its rejection at the first journal.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Thanks to Robert Funk on Twitter for pointing this out. In Chile, people are honoring the 100th anniversary of Augusto Pinochet's birth by putting an obituary (honoring birth with death is a bit weird, I must say) in El Mercurio, the same newspaper that took great delight in encouraging the overthrow of Salvador Allende.
This is a minority but still. Plenty of Chileans don't regret the murders and repression, and instead see Pinochet as a savior. The tragically ironic view that his dictatorship saved democracy is still around. Weaker, but still around.
Next year will be the 10th since his death, so I assume we'll see similar sorts of things.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
For Islamic terrorists to target the United States, the best foreign region from which to operate is Latin America. Intelligence agencies report that there are sleeper cells in the Tri-Border area; and it is conceivable that they could link up with their counterparts in U.S. cities such as Dearborn, Michigan, and Paterson, New Jersey.
In the wake of the Paris bombings and shootings, I queried several U.S. intelligence experts about the chance of an ISIS attack on the U.S. homeland, emanating from Latin America. Their uniform response? “Highly likely.”
Mention the Tri-Border area. Mention Iran. Jump to conclusions and then ask a few of your conspiracy-minded friends, who can respond anonymously. And you have a threat all tied up in a bow.
Just wait for the congressional hearing, complete with a slew of alarmist speakers with flimsy evidence. We've been hearing for about a decade that Iran is about to attack us through South America.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Excellent op-ed in Bloomberg by Alejandro Rebossio on how changes in Argentina will be oversold. In general terms that is a theme I've returned to many times over many different issues. So many countries in Latin America have been labeled at one time or another as the star, as a game changer. This often is tied to ideology, where a new leftist government is solving the problems left by conservative governments, and vice versa. Over and over.
It is one thing for a country to earn money for its speculative investors for a season and quite another for it to develop in a sustainable and equitable way. Despite the boost in gross domestic product and reduction in poverty and inequality that Latin America enjoyed in the first decade of this century, such balanced development remains its most demanding challenge, even if it’s less eye-catching for the markets.
Balance is boring, so much so that it gets ignored. It's rare to read about Evo Morales' fiscal moderation, for example, because it doesn't fit prevailing narratives too well. Right now the Argentine election narrative in the U.S. is business-friendly growth, usually based on the assumption (spoken or assumed) that such a path is also optimal for the average Argentine. That's doubtful but will likely be the narrative for a while.
Friday, November 20, 2015
I read Joseph Tulchin's The Aftermath of War: World War I and U.S. Policy Toward Latin America, written way back in 1971. His main argument was that the U.S. was concerned about European influence in three main policy areas--banking, oil, and cables--and that after the first few years after the war that influence waned to the point that the U.S. felt it need not intervene as much anymore. He ends on an almost idyllic note, about how all helped "provide the basis for mutual understanding and the hope for meaningful cooperation in the hemisphere" (253).
Given where U.S.-Latin American relations stood at the time the book was being written--intervention everywhere--this is a very curious conclusion. Tulchin notes repeatedly how the State Department worked to push U.S. companies onto Latin American governments, and how armed intervention continued in Central America and the Caribbean. For the most part, though, these are considered exceptions rather than the rule.
So it was an interesting read about a topic I enjoy--I just had to focus on the extensive archival work he did, which is thorough, and more or less ignore the broader theme of U.S. policy goodness.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
As has been widely reported, five Syrians were detained by Honduran authorities as they sought to get to the U.S. with fake Greek passports. Already members of Congress are using it as an example of why we should block Syrian refugees. I find this predictable but unwarranted.
First, this demonstrates how well the current system works. Even Honduras, which has a weak state, contributes.
Second, arriving with fake passports of another country is extremely hard. These people did not even speak Greek.
Third, if you use a Syrian passport there is going to be intense scrutiny. So stolen Syrian passports are not a particularly good option. Presumably the scrutiny of the Syrian refugee process was another reason they didn't try to use it.
Fourth, trafficking in fake passports--even for nefarious purposes--is not new. The U.S. has been dealing with this effectively for many years, which means we don't need to "pause." We already know it works, and officials are constantly updating technology, screening, etc.
I am also now waiting for the chorus of how Middle Eastern terrorists are storming through Latin America on their way to the United States.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Yesterday at Steven Hyland's invitation I participated in a panel discussion at Wingate University on unaccompanied minors from Central America. That is a crisis that requires compassion, generosity, and complex thinking. U.S. policies (not to mention drug consumption) helped exacerbate many existing problems in Central America, and we need to acknowledge that. It's not easy for local governments and schools to deal adequately with the challenge, but we need to do it because as Americans that's what we should do.
Coincidentally, yesterday was also when Governor Pat McCrory joined many of his counterparts across the nation when he announced he would ask the federal government to stop sending Syrian refugees to North Carolina (some governors had even stronger wording). One member of the General Assembly actually said we should deport the Syrian refugees (numbers vary, but under 60) already in the state. Just because.
The utter lack of compassion and responsibility just floors me. We've been bombing Syria for over a year, which means that people who are already terrified of ISIS are even more on the run, not knowing where to go or what to do. Refugees have not been sources of terrorism. We are contributing to the refugee flow and need to acknowledge that.
Even worse is that anti-immigrant arguments are being made by people who strongly self-identify as Christians. As the spokesman for the Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte said:
“Refugees have been fleeing terrorism since the family of Jesus fled from Bethlehem to Egypt to escape the edict of King Herod that all baby boys under the age of 2 should be put to death.”
But this comparison doesn't seem to resonate, and I can't express how much it saddens me. I've been reading internet trolls and ignorant shares on Facebook/Twitter for years, not to mention the fact that I study politics, where hypocrisy is rampant. But for some reason this saddens me in particular. We are engaged in a war and there are innocent people, including young children, running for help. And for many people the response is the middle finger. Chris Christie even said we should not let in orphans under 5 years of age. That's who we are as a nation? Really?
During the panel discussion at Wingate, Federico Rios, who works with undocumented children in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools through the nonprofit Communities in Schools, gave accounts of seven-year old children sitting in front of an immigration judge and getting grilled, then given a deportation order. My youngest daughter is seven years old, and it is overwhelming to try and picture her in the same situation. We need to show compassion and we just aren't doing it. We are better than this.
Monday, November 16, 2015
Cornyn said he hasn’t spoken yet to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about how the chamber’s top leader plans to handle the proceedings, but said he will ask him to hold a vote soon.
He said he hopes an agreement can be reached with all senators that will allow a vote on her nomination while also allowing senators opposed to her role in the Cuba policy or the policy itself a chance to say so.
“There could be some sort of set period for debate and then a vote that would allow senators to express themselves and put on the record how they feel about the Cuba policy. But my point is that his relationship is so important to the U.S. and especially to Texas that we simply need to fill that position. And this is the nomination that has been voted out of committee.”
Put differently, Marco Rubio needs time to make a speech. He is running for president and does not want to quickly nominate her without some cameras on him while he criticizes the Obama administration's opening toward Cuba.
The good news it that she'll be approved. So let candidate Rubio bloviate about Cuba and let's get on with it.
Sunday, November 15, 2015
The Brazilian fake news site Sensacionalista has a story which, like The Onion, is close enough to be true. It says that to avoid controversy Facebook would allow people to change their profile to honor the dead in Minas Gerais. I could in fact see that sort of thing happening. Bad news and disasters are big deals on Facebook, where people rush to show their "solidarity," whatever that actually means (usually, think, it means nothing other than "I want to say publicly that I am against bad things"). Of course, the current profile image is of the French flag--Facebook makes it as easy as possible even just to temporarily change it.
And what of other disasters around the world? They don't get profile changes, yet I wouldn't doubt that Facebook will start thinking regionally, just in case you prefer to honor a different disaster than the Paris attacks. You could honor 3-4 at time if you didn't want to offend people by what you're not honoring. What you fail to honor would became a hot topic of debate. We'd spend so much time debating what to honor that we'd make sure never to actually do anything about any of them. I could really see that happening.
Friday, November 13, 2015
Richard Feinberg has an article in Latin America Goes Global on President Obama's Cuba policy, exhorting him to take further measures to stimulate trade. One part in particular merits attention:
To strengthen the pro-reform elements—the strategic goal of U.S. policy—the U.S. government needs to issue clarifying regulations permitting engagement with Cuban state intermediaries.
This is a key point. Opponents of policy reform claim the administration has loftier goals, thus setting up strawman arguments. Obama is not claiming human rights problems will disappear, that democratization is on the way, or that Cuba will stop criticizing U.S. policy. He has never claimed those things. What the administration aims for is more modest, but modesty is the only way toward success in this case. The administration wants to gradually help pro-reform Cubans gain traction and establish some level of trust.
So the critics are criticizing goals that do not in fact exist. Obama's policy shift should be judged on its own merits, and I agree with Feinberg that the only way forward now is...forward.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Read the text of the scathing letter OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro wrote to Tibisay Lucena, the president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council. Adam Isacson noted approvingly on Twitter that it even quotes Bob Marley. But it goes into extensive detail about problems in Venezuela, and maintains a critical but not aggressive tone.
This part struck me especially:
It has been some time in our region since a top opposition figure was imprisoned around the time of an election. The last such case was that of Wilson Ferreira Aldunate in Uruguay in 1984.
At that time Uruguay was still a military dictatorship. That's not the sort of company you want to be in.
People in the United States obsess about Iran's presence in Latin America, all too often blustering about the threat. But Saudi Arabia reminds us that it may well be better to view it in terms of Iran's weakness.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Arab countries’ rapprochement with South American countries will increase Iran’s isolation in the world ahead of a Latin America-Arab world summit in Riyadh on Tuesday
Prior to the Summit of the Arab and South American countries, Jubeir told Al Arabiya News Channel that South American countries have always supported Arab causes, adding that “Iran seeks to establish relations with these countries due to its weak international stance and because it does not have many friends across the world.”
Jubeir added Tehran has become “weak” and “seeks to gain favor from any country.”
The process of adjustment in the oil market is rarely a smooth one, but, in our central scenario, the market rebalances at $80/bbl in 2020, with further increases in price thereafter.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
I'm quoted in this Bloomberg story on the latest Chile-Peru flap. I've blogged about this so many times (here's one from seven years ago). What's really left to say? This particular dispute seems unrelated to resources--it's nationalism and symbolism. And this:
As international relations fray, the dispute may bolster the popularity of both nations’ leaders, which have touched record lows in recent months.
Humala had 18 percent approval in a Datum Internacional poll published Monday. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet had 29 percent approval in a survey by Adimark GfK published Nov. 4
The War of the Pacific just won't end! And there's nothing like a good border dispute to boost your approval ratings.
Monday, November 09, 2015
Cynthia McClintock takes a look at the April 2016 presidential election in Peru. Ollanta Humala cannot run again and fortunately is not trying to change the constitution to allow it. Her main take is that voters seem to be leaning to the right but there is a lot of time left. Whether or not a candidate is involved in corruption scandals will mean a lot, and potentially open the door to a surprise candidate.
The good: Otto Pérez Molina's resignation and Dilma Rousseff's troubles, among other things, have focused people on corruption, which is a step toward making politicians more accountable. Making candidates accountable before they're elected is good for everyone.
The not so good: when the established parties are so strongly connected to corruption, you run the risk of encouraging outsider candidates with little experience, which poses risks but also further undermines the party system. That was Ollanta Humala. That is also Jimmy Morales. The trick is creating new parties with real infrastructure that are not so corrupt. And that's quite a trick.
Friday, November 06, 2015
The North Carolina Farm Bureau is working hard to trade more with Cuba, and recently visited there. NC now exports poultry (which makes sense) and apples (which surprised me because it's not a typical NC product). This is yet another example of the countless visits made by officials of Republican-dominated states to expand trade.
I was confused, however, by the quote from Senator Richard Burr:
"We don’t change our policies just because they don’t work. We change them because there has been a change in our policy," Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said.
I've now read that quote ten times and I still don't understand it.
Thursday, November 05, 2015
In an interview at the Capitol’s Speaker’s Lobby, just off the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, said he was skeptical about Nieves’ request for asylum considering that his role “in the oppression machine of going after political opponents” was very recent. He noted that López was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison only two months ago.
“We have to be very, very careful to make sure that anybody who seeks asylum in the United States is in fact somebody who deserves asylum, not someone who is part of the regime,” Díaz-Balart said.
The point I make is that from a strategic perspective you deal with dirty people in order to get dirt. If Nieves has concrete evidence (documents, for example) then I would be surprised if he was rejected by those who want to discredit the Maduro government. This is especially true because of the timing--a bombshell just a few weeks before the legislative elections would be highly valuable to the opposition, even if they despised the messenger.
To be more specific, if Nieves can prove that Leopoldo López was put in jail simply because Maduro wanted him there, he gives a boost to the opposition because of Ni Nis, those Venezuelan voters who are skeptical of both the government and the opposition. Even if it doesn't prompt them to vote for opposition candidates, disgust may keep them at home rather than voting for government candidates.
Now, if he doesn't have concrete evidence and he's just a disgruntled person (the Venezuelan government claims he was bribed) then I don't know how much impact it will have. Likely more than zero, though, which may well still make it worth the opposition's while.
Wednesday, November 04, 2015
Here is a clip from Tom Shannon's nomination hearing for Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. Senator Menendez asks him about Venezuela sanctions (which, of course, Menendez wants more of).
What I found interesting is that Shannon talked quite tough, even though he's also been the point person for calming relations with Nicolás Maduro, even on a personal level. It's no mean feat to be the good cop and the bad cop all rolled into one.
Note: I got the clip by messing around on the C-Span website. It has a function that allows you to search transcripts and then make your own edits to the video.
Monday, November 02, 2015
I had a student ask this very question recently in class: won't more Cubans start coming to the United States, knowing that immigration policy is likely to change? The answer is yes.
The migration route is not new for Cubans. But the numbers passing through over the past month have grown to the point that human rights activists in Mexico have labeled it a “migration crisis” that is adding to the already high number of Central American migrants also using Mexican land as a pathway toward America.
It's all about incentives. If you provide a privileged place for Cubans and give the sense that you will remove it, then of course people will feel like now is their chance because the option will disappear.
As I've written before, Cubans should not receive preferential treatment. Meanwhile, even ardent anti-Castroites acknowledge that the Cuban Adjustment Act is widely abused. The best solution would be to make the decision now before more people start making expensive and dangerous treks, often with their children.
Update: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also just talked about problems with the law.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
This morning I ran the Charlotte Runway 5K, which I'd never done. It's a very cool race, as you actually run on a runway, while planes are taking off and landing not too far away (and Charlotte has an extremely busy airport). I've never seen so many people stopping in a race to take photos. An added and pretty obvious benefit is that it is the flattest race you could possibly do.
Friday, October 30, 2015
Here is the text of the bill Governor McCrory signed into law. Key points:
1. E-Verify will now apply to contractors who work for a government agency in NC.
2. The matricula consular (even named specifically) is no longer acceptable to be used with any government agency (including police). The NC General Assembly must approve any ID not currently specified.
3. Sanctuary cities are prohibited. For example, you cannot tell police not to collect information of someone's immigration status, even if they're not arrested.
1. People will be even more afraid of the police, even if they've been robbed, assaulted, etc.
2. The civil rights resolution passed by the Charlotte City Council in June will be superseded.
3. The effort to create a municipal ID in Charlotte will be quashed.
4. The General Assembly is saying it does not trust local government.
5. This will help seal the Republican Party's alienation of the growing Latino population.
The U.S. and Cuba played their annual game at the United Nations, as Cuba introduced a resolution condemning the embargo and got overwhelming support. The number of countries staying on the U.S. side has dwindled over time, and now includes only Israel. So the vote was 191-2. The first time I blogged about this, in 2006, the vote was 183-4.
Last month the Obama administration had indicated it might actually switch its own vote to abstention if some of the language of the resolution changed. But Cuba offered up the same language so the game was played the same way as always. Cuba's stance was that even with the diplomatic thaw, the embargo is still being enforced:
Rodríguez described the U.S. vote as unfounded, and reiterated that, as long as the blockade continues to be strictly enforced, the General Assembly will continue condemning it.
He commented that he would not respond to the U.S. representative’s statements, but insisted that it is the blockade which must be substantially modified - not the Cuban resolution.
You have to figure this won't go on much longer. Either the embargo will be lifted or the two sides will come to some sort of agreement either on language or not bothering to introduce the resolution again. Until then, we're stuck in Cold War symbolism.