Friday, December 19, 2014

Conservative Case For Obama's Cuba Policy

Like a number of other conservatives, my member of Congress came out strongly against President Obama's reforms to Cuba policy. This got me thinking, though, especially in light of how the Cato Institute says they don't go far enough. In many ways, this change in Cuba policy reflects conservative values.

Here are some reasons why:

1. It's not good for the Castros. I've argued until I'm blue in the fact that the embargo was extremely good for them, and that the changes now are related to Venezuela and demography. This opening is really risky because opening is really, really hard to control.

2. It's pro-economic freedom. Americans should not have the government telling them where they cannot invest or spend their money. And why is the U.S. government telling us where we can go on vacation?

3. It's good for U.S. business. This will expand opportunity for the farming and construction sectors in particular, making it easier to trade. Why would we want a policy that hurts farmers?

4. It's bad for the Venezuelan government. In one fell swoop it undercuts over a decade of rhetoric emphasizing how the U.S. needs to be excluded. Just as Venezuela amps up its conspiratorial talk, Cuba says the U.S. is fine after all.

5. It follows the desires of the American people. This is a no-brainer. Americans have been in favor of normalizing relations for years.

6. It puts even more pressure on the Marxist FARC to lay down their arms. Their unilateral ceasefire could not have been coincidence and it gives the Colombian government--our ally--more leverage. Conservatives have been saying for years that Obama does not do enough for Colombia.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Political Demography of U.S.-Cuba Relations

My dad and I have a post up at The Monkey Cage/Washington Post analyzing the timing of the shift in U.S.-Cuban relations from a political demography perspective. We had already been thinking along these lines for a paper we're writing for the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies meeting next spring.

I'll direct you over there for the post, but the basic point is that age structure matters for policy decisions, both for countries as a whole and for certain cohorts.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Normalizing Relations With Cuba

On Monday I laid out reasons why I though President Obama would take major steps on Cuba policy. Two days later it has happened. As Mel Allen would say, "How about that?" Both presidents will be making statements at noon today.

This is huge. HUGE. Alan Gross is out of prison, as are the three remaining Cubans of the Cuban Five. There will be more, much more, and we will learn more details soon.

At home, there's going to be a political screamfest given that Obama is taking action on immigration at the same time. Obama was finally pushed too far, and now is looking to his legacy on critical issues.

There are some huge moments in U.S. policy toward Latin America, and sadly most of them are negative. This will rank up there and is entirely welcome.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Obama's Legacy on Cuba

The media has been abuzz about U.S. policy toward Cuba. Most prominently, the New York Times  has been running editorials, including this one today:

President Obama could help expand the role of Cuba’s small but growing entrepreneurial class by relaxing sanctions through executive authority and working with the growing number of lawmakers who want to expand business with Cuba. The White House could start that process by removing Cuba from the State Department list of countries that sponsor terrorist organizations and making it easier for Americans to provide start up-capital for independent small businesses. Doing that would empower Cuban-Americans to play a more robust role in the island’s economic transformation. More significantly, it would gradually erode the Cuban government’s ability to blame Washington for the shortcomings of an economy that is failing its citizens largely as a result of its own policies.

For the first time, I am actually starting to think this will happen. Cuba has bedeviled presidents for decades, and his legacy can be cutting the Gordian knot with executive action. Here's why he would do that:

1. Executive action is the only way he can relax the embargo because Cuban Americans in Congress won't let anyone touch the Helms-Burton law.

2. He has already set the executive action precedent with immigration, which is rallying people to his side and getting them excited.

3. The Summit of the Americas is coming up in April 2015 and all everyone is talking about is the administration's response to Cuba's presence there. With sweeping executive action, Obama can undercut Raúl Castro's stale talking points about the "bloqueo" and hammer him with a blistering speech about human rights and freedom.

4. Those who will excoriate him for this action already dislike him passionately, so this will not newly alienate very many people.

5. He can use it as leverage to get Alan Gross out of prison. Cuba has historically responded to gestures, and it has been begging for an end to the embargo (even the Castro brothers have benefited so much from it and almost certainly don't really want it to end in their lifetimes).

6. This would give him a real foreign policy legacy, which he will not get from the Middle East.

This last point is important. Obama's foreign policy has been characterized largely by mopping up his  predecessor's ill-advised policies. A major action on Cuba would be the sort of bold policy he could hang his historical hat on.


Friday, December 12, 2014

China, Torture, and Latin America?

Yesterday I wrote about CIA torture in Latin America in the context of the Senate report, and how this is really shameful. James Gibney has an op-ed at Bloomberg arguing that Latin America's distaste for the U.S. role in torture (both in Latin America and elsewhere) are pushing them to embrace China.

I don't buy this. Economic factors outweigh everything. China has money and is willing to lend it freely. China wants commodities and is willing to pay for them. Rafael Correa doesn't like U.S. foreign policy, but for him China is a bank. Same goes for Cristina Fernández. Same goes for Daniel Ortega. Same goes for Nicolás Maduro.

The basic point is that foreign policy is made in a hard-headed, realist way. After all, China is a dictatorship that is not well known for protecting human rights. But money always talks.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

CIA Torture in Latin America

The CIA officer who tortured people after 9/11 had previously helped torture people in Latin America.

The techniques used against Nosenko were taken from the CIA’s “KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual” drawn up by the CIA in 1963, which served as the basis of the so-called 'torture manuals' that were provided by the CIA to at least seven Latin American countries in the 1980s. 
According to the report, the agent who would become the CIA's chief of interrogations beginning in 2002 "was involved in training and conducted interrogations" in Latin America during that era. The report goes on to say that "the CIA inspector general later recommended that he be orally admonished for inappropriate use of interrogation techniques."

This shouldn't surprise us, though it should sadden us. We're using the same language and rationale as brutal Latin American dictatorships, which is shameful. They claimed to be fighting an existential war against subversion, a black and white struggle between good and evil. With stakes so high, they said, torture was sometimes necessary. The people they were torturing were practically animals anyway, so why were all these do-gooder liberals complaining? They should be glad we're protecting them!

These leaders committed criminal acts. That's why Rafael Videla was sentenced to life. That's why Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted, even Guatemalan courts are too weak to make it stand. That's why Augusto Pinochet was arrested, even though he wiggled out of it. And we've been doing the same thing for years.

We even hear the same rationale for stifling this information. Truth will strengthen our enemies, we're told. This is similar to the argument that the truth in Latin America (or overturning amnesties) would only rile up the military, so we should stifle it.

How does this make us a beacon of democracy?


Padres Trade For Matt Kemp

It's been a long time since the Padres have done a blockbuster trade. "Blockbuster" has been trading for Carlos Quentin or Jason Marquis. So I am excited by the Matt Kemp trade, especially since we didn't give up Andrew Cashner or Tyson Ross. I was never excited about Yasmani Grandal so I don't mind seeing him go.

Sabermetricians will scoff at the unmeasurable notion of excitement, but we needed some. There had been a sense that the Padres were barely trying despite having a solid core of young talent. It's great to see new GM A.J. Preller stepping up.

So now we just need Kemp to stay healthy (I won't bother hoping for Carlos Quentin), for Jedd Gyorko to bounce back, for Yonder Alonso to live up to his promise, and maybe for Rymer Liriano to break out. Is that too much to ask?

Spring training starts in 70 days!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Moment of Silence for Augusto Pinochet

The far right UDI party in Chile called for a moment of silence in Congress in honor of Augusto Pinochet, who died eight years ago today (here was my post on that day).

Here's the video, complete with sign language:

If you've wondered--as some of my students have--whether Pinochet retains some measure of popularity, here's your evidence. This is a small minority but not an insignificant one.


Argentina Ambassador

I am neither naive nor stupid. I know how much government appointments can depend on a quid pro quo. But the new ambassador to Argentina sends a terrible signal. This got a lot of attention earlier this year (it took this long for a vote) when he admitted he had never been to Argentina, spoke only a little Spanish (which I take to mean he speaks none) and had no idea what the current U.S.-Argentine relationship was like. His sole skill was raising $1.4 million for President Obama's 2012 re-election.

His State Department bio tries to stretch things as far as possible:

Ambassador Mamet has worked closely with national and international political leaders, including President Bill Clinton, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

I guess Madeleine Albright was born outside the U.S. so counts as "international"?

There will be plenty of complaining about what President Cristina Fernández does, how she criticizes the U.S., etc. but having a clueless ambassador certainly doesn't make things better.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Latin America and Extrahemispheric Actors

Evan Ellis has an article in Strategic Insights exhorting U.S. policy makers to pay greater strategic attention to Latin America in the context of the encroachment of extrahemispheric actors, especially China and Russia.

The rise of China and its projection onto the global stage, coupled with Russia’s increasingly bold reassertion of its imperial ambitions, increases the undesirable possibility of a serious conflict between the United States, and one or both of these actors. Yet, while strategists regularly ponder the political and military dimensions of how such conflicts could play out in Asia, it is unthinkable that a power with global political, economic, and military ties, such as Russia or China, would allow the United States to engage it in its own region without taking the fight to the U.S. “backyard” as well.

He emphasizes that we should not overreact or impose a new Cold War mentality, but once you get this ball rolling, those results are almost inevitable.

In the short term, the greatest need regarding U.S. security in the Western Hemisphere is not more money, but different thinking. It is difficult to identify a senior U.S. policymaker or prominent analyst who analyzes Latin America and the Caribbean with the strategic analysis that luminaries such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft apply to Asia, the Middle East, or Europe. Indeed, it is difficult to identify a major recent essay done by Kissinger, Brzezinski, or Scowcroft themselves focused on Latin America and the Caribbean.

I actually think this is good. Nothing good ever came from Henry Kissinger paying attention to Latin America. I don't see how we benefit much from shifting our thinking toward potential extrahemispheric threats, in large part because I think they pose less threat than often portrayed.

Vigilance is useful. But there is a big difference between advocating for vigilance (which has been my stance with regard to Russia, China, et al) and thinking about them primarily in threat terms, which is what I take from this (anyone can feel free to correct me if they didn't get that feeling from the article). There are many in Congress chomping at the bit to see Latin America in threat terms, and this would give them a platform that would be almost entirely bad for U.S. interests. It would likely involve unnecessarily antagonizing governments.

If U.S. policy makers are in a room and need to make some sort of quick decision on Latin America, I want their instinct to be caution. If their instinct is threat-based, I think there is more likelihood that we see an exaggerated response that ultimately produces unintended consequences that work out poorly for the United States.


South American Integration

Statements from the UNASUR meeting on integration demonstrate both why it's an interesting development but also why most of the ideas are likely to fail.

Pushes for integration have popped up ever since independence, but this is bigger because it includes citizenship, common currency, regional education, and more. So it goes beyond Pan-Americanism and looks to a European model. It is ambitious, which is a good thing.

The process of getting to there from here, however, is an entirely different matter. The presidential comments are illustrative in that regard. In particular, the weaker countries want more clout.

Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, argued that the statutes of UNASUR should be changed and that majorities, rather than absolute consensus, should be the minimum necessary basis on which to advance important areas of integration.

So if Suriname, Guyana, Uruguay, etc. want economic convergence but Brazil opposes it, the small countries can still get it. It is hard to imagine Brazil accepting such a scenario.


“From Venezuela we believe that we must take the agenda of shared economic development into our hands; a new financial architecture [that includes] the Bank of Structural Projects, that converts us into a powerful bloc,” he said to media in Guayaquil before the meeting with other UNASUR leaders.

Since the Venezuelan government has ruined its own economy, this is pretty comical. In any event, it is hard to imagine Chile, for example, wanting to expose itself to risk from Venezuela.

Nonetheless, starting with achievable goals would be beneficial for the region. In particular, it is good to have militaries start thinking more in regional terms. Defense transparency and confidence building is a laudable and reasonable goal.


Sunday, December 07, 2014

BREAKING: Maduro Unhappy with U.S.

Venezuela is being pummeled by low oil prices and looks to a grim economic picture for 2015. It is therefore the perfect time for Nicolás Maduro to announce that based on "information" he believes the U.S. embassy is "acting dangerously" and so he will have to "re-evaluate" relations with the United States. This is unfortunate, he says, because Caracas has been trying so hard to normalize relations.

It is not clear to me what "re-evaluate" means, given the current tattered state of bilateral relations. What's interesting is that given the influence Cuba has on the Venezuelan government, there seems to be surprisingly little diffusion of diplomatic strategy. Fidel Castro maneuvered constantly and sometimes successfully to get what he wanted behind the scenes. From what I have seen and heard, Venezuela is doing little to nothing of that. Both Castro and Maduro would make impassioned speeches and allegations, but Castro didn't just stop there, and I think Madur does. This may well be just one of the many offhand comments Maduro makes, vaguely mentioning "information" and then never talking about it again. Castro didn't teach him very well.


Friday, December 05, 2014

Fostering Lower Intensity Democracy in Latin America

Following up on my last post about trying to understand the trends we see from the 2014 Latin American Public Opinion Project data, here is a basic visual, which because of blogger is even cruder than I would've liked:

Econ. growth
Regional autonomy
Access to technology

Leads to:

Increased crime
Steady Corruption

Leads to:

Less trust in local govt.
Decrease in democratic legitimacy
Less democratic stability

Leads to:


What we have is what appears to be a paradox--the things in the top column represent some positive examples of what Latin America has experienced in the past decade. Yet we see some really troubling results--this does not mean correlation, but they do coincide. What we can say for sure is that democracy and growth clearly is not resolving some entrenched problems, which in some cases are getting worse.

System support has been gradually on the decline (53% in 2006 vs. 50.7% in 2014) while belief in the courts has decreased even more sharply, with 47.3% seeing them as fair in 2006 vs. 44.1% in 2014. There are all sorts of similar examples at the local level. Even with democratic consolidation in so many countries, people are seeing government as less responsive over time.

If you're wondering, this transcends ideology. Estimated stable democracy attitudes are high in Argentina and Costa Rica, and lower in Bolivia and Paraguay. You can see similar sorts of distributions on other questions as well. Both in academia and in the media, we tend to get too narrowly focused on ideology, but there are more universal issues that are driving these perceptions.

I was asked after my panel about what I thought the result would be. That is the question mark at the end. I don't have a great answer but my sense is lower intensity democracy. I don't see coups on the horizon, but a generalized sense that problems are not being solved. This has the potential to open door for populism, but it can also just mean strikes, protests, etc. Sadly, this is the direction things are moving.


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Figuring Out Latin American Public Opinion

I spent a long and really engaging day at Florida International University, whose Latin America and Caribbean Center hosted a conference for the launching of the 2014 AmericasBarometer data from the Latin American Public Opinion Project.

I served as discussant for the opening panel, and some of what I said remained relevant for the rest of the conference, which of course focused on the data. There is a lot we need to sort out, but overall people are not terribly happy with their political systems. They prefer democracy but too many don't like their own all that much. Even in place with turbulent civil-military histories (even Honduras, which is very recent) they want their armed forces to participate more in dealing with crime or other issues we would normally consider reserved for the police. And this transcends ideology.

This goes along with stronger economies, elections, more access to technology, etc. So things should be getting better, but people perceive them as worse. I am simplifying, because there was a lot of stimulating discussion about how best to interpret the data. I'll definitely be coming back to this.


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Herbert Hoover and the Good Neighbor Policy

Alan McPherson, "Herbert Hoover, Occupation Withdrawal, and the Good Neighbor Policy." Presidential Studies Quarterly 44, 4 (December 2014): 623-639.


Historians still associate the Good Neighbor Policy in Latin America almost exclusively with Franklin Roosevelt while admitting that Republican administrations before his set some precedents. This article argues more forcefully for recognizing the work of Herbert Hoover in establishing the major pillar of the policy—the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Latin America. More attuned than previous presidents to dissenting voices throughout the Americas, Hoover abandoned the rhetoric of paternalism toward Central America and the Caribbean and understood the moral and economic damage that occupation was doing to the United States. His diplomatic footprint was most visible in withdrawals from Nicaragua and Haiti.

As McPherson notes, this question isn't entirely new. What he adds is a focus on ending occupation, an idea that Hoover actively promoted and which therefore clearly predated Franklin Roosevelt.

So on the basis of listening to Latin Americans and articulating and implementing a rejection of U.S. occupation in line with the hemisphere's wishes, Hoover took more momentous steps than did FDR, and this against significant dawdling by the U.S. military and even the State Department.5 This tale of withdrawal from occupation offers a case in which a president, stirred by his own beliefs and his willingness to pay heed to foreign public opinion, wore down the rest of the executive branch and cleared the way for the next president's full normalization of inter-American relations.

Further, he argues that Hoover did not formalize his policy enough--he had quiet withdrawals but did not link them together in a broader public way (even though he did in fact use the term "good neighbor" a number of times).

He sympathized with the prominent isolationist wing of the Republican Party, but there was also simply the desire to end the backlash associated with the frequent sending of U.S. troops to Latin America by his predecessors. Although they sometimes claimed not to like intervention (except Theodore Roosevelt, who told everyone he loved it and he meant that) U.S. troops and ships were very active in the first third of the twentieth century. At least Hoover said he didn't like occupation and then actually pulled out. The sad commentary on U.S. policy is that he helped install new dictators, but still was the most favorable president to Latin America in a long time.


Monday, December 01, 2014

The Middle East Conflict in Chile

I've written before about the Palestinian population in Chile (which is the largest outside the Middle East) and The Guardian has a really interesting story about the tension between Palestinians and Jews plays out in Chile. The upshot is that the Jewish population feels it is on the defensive:

In August, as Israel resumed military operations against Gaza, Bachelet, re-elected in March, recalled the Chilean ambassador to Tel Aviv. Thousands of people demonstrated in Santiago in solidarity with Palestine. The ambassador only resumed his functions once a ceasefire had been arranged. Several neighbouring countries followed suit, the exception being Argentina, home to the largest Jewish community (250,000-strong) in Latin America. 
Gerardo Gorodischer, leader of the Jewish community in Chile, deplores “the confusion between Jews and Israel” and the rise of “antisemitism unprecedented in Chile”. He goes so far as to say: “We are enduring a pogrom, without the Chilean government lifting a finger. The most prosperous people are thinking of moving to the United States.” He claims that the Israeli flag was burned at several pro-Palestine demonstrations. Palestinian leaders maintain this was the work of “radical groups which are not representative of the community”.

The article doesn't provide evidence of antisemitism but it has been characterized elsewhere as graffiti and verbal abuse. The question of separating Jews and Israel is an important one. Sebastián Piñera recognized the Palestinian state in 2011, so I'd be interested to know whether antisemitism in Chile has increased since then, or whether it is sporadic depending on what happens to be in the headlines.

Either way, it is a reminder of how much diasporas matter, as they literally bring politics from other parts of the world with them. Just look at all my posts on U.S. policy toward Cuba.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Pink Tide" is a Useless Term

This article in the Christian Science Monitor disappointed me because I thought we were finally leaving behind the "pink tide" label. It refers to leftist or center-left government elected since Hugo Chávez was first elected in 1998. Those who use the term generally see these governments as a bloc, or nearly so. So the question is whether "they" will last, with the assumption there is a "they."

The article ignores cases where the left is not winning (e.g. Colombia and Mexico) where voters have been gone back and forth (e.g. Chile and Guatemala) or elections where the right very nearly defeated a leftist incumbent (e.g. Brazil and Venezuela). It also ignores the vast differences between "leftist" governments.

Ultimately, we'd be better served by breaking out of the left/right dichotomy, which is really locked in the Cold War. For all of the talk from Venezuela, capitalism won. This means so-called "leftist" governments combine greater attention to social welfare with kowtowing to foreign investors. Ask Peruvians who live around mines what they think of Ollanta Humala (who, incidentally, says he is not left or right, but "below").

It also means they talk socialist and govern capitalist. Michelle Bachelet, after all, is a "socialist" while carefully protecting the most capitalist economy in the hemisphere. Criticisms of her come more from her words than from her policies, which are typically much less radical.

I know "left" and "right" are deeply embedded terms that won't go away. But can we at least retire "pink tide"?


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