Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Former Presidents of Peru

There are six five living former presidents of Peru.

1. Francisco Morales Bermúdez was sentenced by a court in Rome for deaths related to Operation Condor. He is almost 100 and therefore not imprisoned.

2. Alan García just shot himself in the head today as police were coming to arrest him for corruption charges in the Odebrecht case. Update: he died of his self-inflicted wound.

3. After being pardoned under fishy circumstances, Alberto Fujimori was put back in jail late last year for human rights abuses during his dictatorship.

4. Alejandro Toledo is in exile in the United States, fleeing Odebrecht-related charges. He was arrested last month in California for public drunkenness.

5. Ollanta Humala is facing Odebrecht charges and was imprisoned in 2017 and 2018 while awaiting trial. The case is ongoing.

6. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is in jail for Odebrecht charges and just today was hospitalized for high blood pressure.

Two escaping accountability, three detained, and one on trial.

No surprise, then, if you look at the 2018 Latinobarómetro survey and see that only 43% of Peruvians favor democracy (versus authoritarianism or indifference). Satisfaction with democracy is only 11%, second lowest to Latin America (Brazil at 9%) has that honor.

There is something successful about former presidents being arrested and put on trial--it can mean judicial institutions are functioning even at the highest levels. The problem, however, is when it doesn't stop. Sure, maybe the courts will work, but you want presidents who don't face corruption charges in the first place. All eyes on you, Martín Vizcarra.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Deterring Influence in Venezuela

The U.S. wants to deter other countries' influence in Venezuela. From CNN:

The Pentagon is developing new military options for Venezuela aimed at deterring Russian, Cuban and Chinese influence inside the regime of President Nicolas Maduro, but stopping short of any kinetic military actions, according to a defense official familiar with the effort.
[D]eterrence options could include US naval exercises in the immediate region to emphasize humanitarian assistance and more military interaction with neighboring countries. The idea would be to challenge any Russian, Cuban or Chinese notion that they could have unchallenged access to the region.
"Deterring influence" is a weird concept. Deterrence normally refers to preventing aggression or force of some kind. And if deterrence itself is not backed by a credible threat of force--and the U.S. official is announcing publicly that it will "stop short" of force--then it isn't deterring anything. The U.S. can do naval exercises but that doesn't stop Russians from exerting influence.

The Cubans definitely already have "unchallenged access to the region" so that part is nonsensical. If "unchallenged access to the region" refers to economic relations, that ship has sailed. The Chinese have deep economic roots in the region, built up over 20-25 years. Meanwhile, the Russians don't want the whole region as far as I can tell--they have a longstanding relationship with Cuba and established relations with Hugo Chávez as well. Their influence is already there.

This doesn't even get into the question of how the U.S. has squandered its own influence in Venezuela, which is part of a short Twitter discussion here.

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that "all options are on the table" mostly means "there is no plan at all." Exercises like these reinforce that point because they seem to lack any strategic logic.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Janelle Wong's Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change

Janelle Wong's Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change (2018) provides a new view of evangelicals but also immigrants in the United States. It gets at the question of where Latinx voters fit uneasily within the two party system.

"Nonwhite immigrants seem to be the only source of growth for the American evangelical population" (13). This is an interesting dynamic because demographics shows that in the future, evangelicals will be increasingly nonwhite though for the time being white evangelicals remain much more influential politically. In a Venn diagram, the two are both evangelical but the overlap is not enormous.

"Nonwhite evangelicals in the United States hold a more expansive notion of the "national community" than do white evangelical Americans" (40). White evangelicals feel a strong sense of embattlement, I think in no small part because, as Wong points out, their idea of national community is quite small. Not feeling threatened, nonwhites do not agree with white evangelicals on a host of issues--immigration is a major one--though they are indeed more conservative than non-evangelicals on issues like abortion.

An important lesson is not to think in blocs. Evangelicals are not a bloc--they're racially divided and show different political views. Further, Latinx voters are not a bloc simply destined for the Democratic Party. Latinx evangelicals are conservative and neither party fits them perfectly.


Lesser of Two Evils

Benjamin Waddell, a sociologist at Fort Lewis College, has a post on failed U.S. policy toward Nicaragua. He points to something that has been raised quite a lot with regard to Venezuela, which is that the history of U.S. intervention taints anyone the U.S. supports.

While Jaime and Jorge’s comments hardly speak for all Nicaraguans, they summarize the general sentiments of Ortega’s supporters quite well. At the root of Ortega’s base is a firm conviction that he has done more for the poor than U.S.-supported candidates from the right have. For them, he is the lesser of two evils.
The "lesser of two evils" point is a good one and cuts through the question of why someone would support an authoritarian leader who clearly seems to be failing. U.S. economic policy has a track record of screwing people, generally the poor, in Latin America so an authoritarian leader who at least has shown some true interest in their welfare, even if more in the past, is preferable.


Sunday, April 14, 2019

Donald Trump's 20 Year Old Take on Cuba

Donald Trump's interest in Bay of Pigs veterans has been a thing for a while--he spoke to them during the campaign and now John Bolton is going before them to talk about Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Economic isolation is a key part of it.

Twenty years ago, Trump made a Cuba policy speech as he mulled running for president. He spoke to the Cuban American National Foundation, praising Jorge Mas Canosa. I snipped this bit from C-Span. His logic is based on two contradictory points:

First, the embargo will end the regime. Note that he was saying that 40 years after the embargo was put in place, and that 20 years after saying it, it's still not true.

Second, no matter what, you have sunk costs and so you have to go on as long as the regime is in power. In other words, #1 could easily just be wrong but you keep going anyway. Because you've already gone to so much trouble.

His views have not changed noticeably in the last two decades.  The embargo will work, but it doesn't matter even if it doesn't.


Friday, April 12, 2019

Ecuador's Nine Reasons For Evicting Assange

Foreign Minister José Valencia went to the National Assembly and gave nine reasons for evicting Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

1. Interference in the affairs of other countries, thus hurting Ecuador's relations with those countries. The U.S. is the biggie here, of course.

2. Bad behavior and lack of respect toward Ecuador. This included, and I am not making this up, riding a skateboard around.

3. Threats toward the Ecuadorian state and the London embassy. He made lots of wild accusations against Ecuadorian officials.

4. The UK's position on had not changed since 2012: no safe conduct for Assange. This had become inconvenient because it offered no way out.

5. He has health problems. Ecuador claimed that if he got worse the embassy had no way of helping him. Not to mention the health of his poor cat, who seems to have been given away.

6. Diplomatic asylum should not be a way of avoiding justice.

7. There is no request for extradition. This, in fact, was wrong because the U.S. did have such a request but Ecuador did not know about it.

8. Ecuador had sufficient guarantees from the UK about not extraditing him. I wonder whether Lenín Moreno really cares.

9. Inconsistencies in his naturalization as an Ecuadorian citizen (which is now revoked). Who knows about this, and as a reason it's worth just about as much as his Ecuadorian citizenship was, which is zero.

Let me gather these together and condense them into two, easy to understand reasons:

1. He is a royal pain in Ecuador's ass.

2. Lenín Moreno wants a good relationship with the United States and Assange made that impossible.


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Dilemma of Repression for Security Forces

At The Monkey Cage, a Sociology Ph.D. student at Yale wrote about the timing of the coup in Sudan, which has lessons for Venezuela.

My research, which draws from a detailed analysis of the police mutiny which overthrew Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and from a comparison with the Russian Revolution of 1917, found that most soldiers and police officers facing mass protests defect primarily as a response to the dilemma of repression. They can afford to remain loyal only so long as their job does not require them to kill large numbers of people. When obedience to the regime demands unconscionable acts, rebellion is often the easiest way forward, particularly for reserve units who are rarely deployed for repression.
This is familiar because  it characterized Venezuela after 1989. Hugo Chávez and other officers resented being told to repress. They did not overthrow the government right then, but started plotting.

Thinking of today, it's useful to think in these terms but unfortunately it is not an analysis that facilitates prediction too well. We will only know when the army hits the breaking point after it's broken. But it does point to reasons why Nicolás Maduro is not arresting Juan Guaidó. Such a move would spark resistance and protests that could take security forces beyond their threshold of acceptable repression.

Unlike Sudan, we don't seem to see signs of security forces splintering in Venezuela. The media has focused a lot on defections but that's an entirely different animal. In the choices of exit, voice, and loyalty, "exit" has the least effect in this context. So far in Venezuela it's been mostly loyalty.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Why Maduro Can Now Accept Humanitarian Aid

Several months ago, Nicolás Maduro wouldn't allow humanitarian aid into Venezuela for political reasons. The economy was crumbling and accepting aid meant acknowledging the scope of the self-inflicted crisis. Here is Maduro in September 2018:
“Venezuela is the victim of world media attacks designed to construct a supposed humanitarian crisis so as to justify a military intervention,” President Nicolás Maduro told the U.N. General Assembly last month. He insisted that there is no crisis.
Then in late January 2019 the Trump administration imposed sanctions on PDVSA. Roughly a week later, we had the whole spectacle of the barricaded border to block aid truck.

Then the oil sanctions really sunk in.

Now, two months after the border incident, Maduro says he will accept aid and he's talking to the Red Cross. Last night he even pinned a short news clip about it on his Twitter feed. The sanctions have been in place long enough that he has far more cover to blame the economic situation squarely on the United States. This was highly foreseeable, almost to the point of being obvious. So obvious, in fact, that at least some officials in the administration admitted it.
One US official familiar with the sanctions decision, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity in order to speak frankly, said the move will do little more than “royally piss off Maduro.” 
Another official it essentially gives Maduro even more ammunition to say that the US aims to orchestrate a coup against it. 
If the economy tanks even further than it already has, the Venezuelan leader can blame the US sanctions and perhaps regain some favor among elites — particularly the military leadership — whose support he needs in order to remain in power.
In short, the U.S. employed the nuclear option of oil sanctions and thus far it hasn't yielded regime change. At this point, the administration seems mostly stuck. John Bolton is now reduced to trying to convince the Venezuelan military that Maduro is trying to weaken it through the colectivos. Every day that goes by gives Maduro more ammunition to blame the United States for conditions in the country, while he accepts humanitarian aid and Russian loans.


Monday, April 08, 2019

Trump Takes Eisenhower's Bad Advice on Cuba (and Venezuela)

From an interview with two Trump administration officials on Cuba. The gist can be summed up in one word: facepalm.

For President Trump, the stars have aligned, and Venezuela is the tool that we believe can provide change within two countries which have a long and complicated history with the United States.  We have the team in place that every president should want- committed to the goal and capable of implementing a strategy rather than just talking about implementing a strategy.  First, using sanctions to remove an illegitimate leader who has made a mess of his country.  Anyone defending what Maduro has done to his citizens has to have their head examined.  Second, while we do not expect immediate political change in Cuba because of our direct sanctions on Venezuela and direct and indirect sanctions upon Cuba, we believe that at least one result will be changes to the Cuban economy because of what the [Juan] Guaido Administration is doing regarding oil exports to Cuba- and we are helping Interim President Guaido achieve his goal of no longer subsidizing the Cuban regime.  Cuba will have to adjust to losing 30% or more of its heavily-subsidized oil imports, and that means permitting more of a market-based economy.  They won’t like it, but their ability to derail it is pretty fast moving beyond their control. 
This strategy should sound familiar because it is the strategy that President Eisenhower started and which became the bedrock of U.S.-Cuban relations. Take, for example, this memo between two of the key Latin Americanists in the State Department in 1960:
[E]very possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba. If such a policy is adopted, it should be the result of a positive decision which would call forth a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.
The lack of interest in the well-being of ordinary Cubans or Venezuelans is worth noting. But more important is the facile assumption that hurting them brings about regime change. For example, what example do Trump officials have when they assert that economic deprivation of a country's people serves to remove leaders? What is it about Cuba policy that makes it worth copying elsewhere?

With regard to Cuba specifically, it's troubling. The administration realizes it cannot force regime change in Cuba but will go ahead with hurting its citizens for no clear reason other than that "they won't like it."

h/t Ric Herrero on Twitter


Thursday, April 04, 2019

Rogelberg's The Surprising Science of Meetings

I read The Surprising Science of Meetings (2019) by Steven Rogelberg, a highly decorated Professor of Organizational Science, Management, and Psychology here at UNC Charlotte. There are a lot of meetings in academia and plenty of them are not run well. But we are never trained how to do so well, which is a shame given how much time we spend in them.

The book uses the scholarly literature to provide better understanding of meeting dynamics and, more importantly, to give specific tips on how to improve them. Whoever leads the meeting is of course critical--that person needs to start with the idea that everyone's time is valuable and find the right meeting structure for the task at hand. They need to be positive and provide an agenda that makes sense for that meeting. They also need to make sure that the right people are attending and that it is not too full. Other people can be invited but notified of what happened later if they don't feel the need to come. There are all kinds of other insights (e.g. don't do phone meetings).

I actually immediately took one of his nuggets of advice by shortening meetings. In Google Calendar there is an option called "speedy meetings" that reduces the default one hour to 55 minutes, and 30 minutes to 25. That can reduce lateness (because you have a buffer between consecutive meetings) and push you to finish a bit quicker. He notes "Parkinson's law," whereby a meeting will expand to fill the time you allot to it.

Especially if you're an administrator in academia, it's worth checking out.


Latin America Tries to Ignore Trump

Over the past several days, I have been writing about how the Trump administration paints itself into a corner with constant threats, most of which do not translate into action. That is true in Venezuela and for now it is also true for Central America. Trump made a huge deal about cutting aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala for "doing nothing" about immigration. Nonetheless, the governments of both Honduras and El Salvador say they haven't been notified about anything:

Both Honduras and El Salvador pointedly said they had not been formally notified of any specific cuts in U.S. aid. Honduran Defense Minister Fredy Díaz said cooperation with the United States on security is "unchanged," while the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the relationship has been "solid, close and positive."
They are taking the same stance as AMLO after Trump trolled Mexico on Twitter, which is to ignore him. Step lightly and wait for Trump to be distracted by something else. They figure the chances of him actually doing anything--shutting the border, attacking Venezuela, cutting off all aid--are too low to bother with the risks of confrontation. (I should note, however, that the Mexican stock exchange did not ignore it).

Trump's "negotiation" style is to take an unreasonable position and wait for the other side to concede. Since time after time he backs off the unreasonable position, often without getting anything in return, it becomes easier to ignore. That is a situation ripe for misunderstanding and catastrophic results.

Update a few hours later: Trump says he will not close the border and will give Mexico a year to "stop the drugs," whatever that means. If you issue fake threats, why should any leader of another country listen to you?


Wednesday, April 03, 2019

The Russian Conundrum in Venezuela

A Russian political analyst writes about why Russia sent troops to Venezuela. What echoes throughout is the notion of equality.

By taking a stand in the United States’ backyard, Moscow also hopes to make itself a more valuable partner for Washington on other issues, particularly those in Russia’s backyard. While structuring a “big deal” with Trump that would require haggling on Venezuela, the Middle East and Ukraine is probably not feasible, simply re-engaging with Washington on equal footing is in itself important.
Venezuela per se is unimportant. Vladimir Putin has no interest in either Chavismo or the Venezuelan people. What this particular article also reminds me, however, is that Russia's interest is not simply antagonistic. It is the use of power to force the United States to recognize Russia's diplomatic equality. Or, as the short Dr. Seuss movie I've seen a million times because I have three children tell us, "We are here, we are here, we are here."
While Russia is under no obligation to defend Venezuela (although state-owned Rosneft has about $9 billion invested there), the country is important to the Kremlin’s narrative of Russia’s return to the global stage as a great power that shapes a new multi-polar world order and has the capability to check destabilizing American unilateralism.
Trump himself said, "Russia has to get out," and then followed up with his oft-repeated "all options are on the table" line that seems mostly to mean inaction. Putin clearly seems to think Trump is bluffing, particularly because Trump has been threatening Venezuela nonstop.

A short while ago I wrote this about China and Russia:
The two countries constitute Maduro's lifeline and we just don't know at what point they are willing to cute him loose. Neither wants to appear to concede to the United States or to lose their investments. I assume the latter can be worked out but the former is tough.
Tough indeed. It seems that Russia is digging in, which means the reputational costs of leaving are increasing exponentially. The two sides are barking at each other, and we can only hope they stay leashed.


Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Russia Expands its Reach in South America

Just a few days ago, President Trump hammered Colombia President Iván Duque:

"I'll tell you something: Colombia, you have your new president of Colombia, really good guy. I've met him, we had him at the White House. He said how he was going to stop drugs. More drugs are coming out of Colombia right now than before he was president — so he has done nothing for us," Trump told reporters in Florida.
This is the same language he used to verbally abuse Mexico and Central America:
“Mexico is doing NOTHING to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our Country,” he tweeted. “They are all talk and no action. Likewise, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have taken our money for years, and do Nothing.”
It shouldn't surprise us too much, then, that shortly thereafter Russia saw its opportunity to flex its rhetorical muscle.
The Federation Council, the Russian equivalent of a senate, wrote a letter to Colombian Congress in which it accused the country’s government and other allies of the United States of trying to “provoke a civil war” and a possible “military intervention in this state” whose disputed President, Nicolas Maduro, is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A lot is happening at once here, and all of it emphasizes U.S. weakness.

First, Russia is expanding its influence in South America without being countered. Mike Pompeo tweets just don't count.

Second, U.S. domestic interests aren't just influencing foreign policy, they are obliterating it. Intermestic policy is the norm, especially with drugs, but in the past it has not actively undercut allies. Trump's tweets are talking to his core U.S. base. Vladimir Putin saw the insults as an opening to assert Russia's interests.

Third, it is a reminder to Latin America that the Trump administration demands quick and easy solutions to long-standing and complex problems and does not recognize slow and steady progress. This further reduces U.S. influence.

Fourth, it comes on the heels of constant Trump administration threats toward Venezuela that are not followed through. I am in fact glad that the administration is not using force, but it should never have issued threats to begin with. It is now hamstrung--either invade (which would have disastrous consequences) or look weak to Russia (which would have negative consequences).


Friday, March 29, 2019

SECOLAS 2019 in Oaxaca

I have not been on social media as much recently because I've been in Oaxaca for the conference of the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies, which is always a great conference. Oaxaca itself is gorgeous, as is our conference venue, the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca. Here is a shot I took just as I arrived at the opening reception:

There are also enough runners here that we started a SECOLAS running group. We met first thing this morning and yesterday to go run at a local public sports area (running around streets is challenging, even early!).

We do Latin America every third year (the next one is still being decided). Next year is in Austin, which is also a fun place. I will post the Call for Papers when it comes--it will be March 2020 and the specific days will be nailed down soon. You should come.

BTW, if you're on Twitter you should also follow @SECOLAS_org to keep up.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Using Military Force Is Not The Way to Achieve Democracy in Venezuela

I have a new piece out at The Monkey Cage, using political science (and some history) literature to argue that using military force in Venezuela is not likely to lead to democracy. It's not a typical op-ed, in the sense that I am just bringing together a lot of work on the topic rather than making an argument solely on the Venezuelan case. So it's a very comparative argument.

The fact that Russia just sent troops to Venezuela adds to the uncertainty. That's not included in my article, but I see it as a basic deterrent against U.S. use of force. Attack Venezuela now and you might be engaging Russians. Chris Sabatini added that it might be aimed at keeping Venezuelans generals in line.


Friday, March 22, 2019

Pence Points at Russia & China Support for Maduro

Mike Pence published an op-ed in today's Miami Herald saying "Nicolás Maduro must go." Aside from keeping the issue on the front-burner (because Trump is preoccupied and not tweeting about Venezuela) it has a Chinese and Russian audience.
The truth is, he does so with the help of nations who refuse to acknowledge that he has no legitimate claim to power, and who continue to prop up his dictatorship. 
Even now, Cuban military and intelligence services train, support, and equip Venezuela's secret police as they bully protestors and silence opposition. Turkey continues to deal in Venezuelan gold, providing Maduro with desperately needed cash to sustain his regime. 
Last month, Russia vetoed a resolution at the United Nations calling for unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela. 
And once again, China is advancing its own interests at the expense of the Venezuelan people. Later this month, China plans to host the Inter-American Development Bank's annual meeting. 
But despite claims of friendship, the Chinese are undermining the hemisphere's progress towards democracy by refusing to grant an official visa to Ricardo Hausmann, the lawful representative of Venezuela – the first time in the bank's history that a host nation has refused to seat a member.
We know that Elliott Abrams is talking to the Russians. And there had already been news of the high-level dispute about allowing Ricardo Hausmann to represent Juan Guaidó at the IADB meeting in Beijing. The Chinese were considering not inviting anyone from Venezuela, which actually would be an acknowledgment that Maduro's legitimacy was in doubt.

The two countries constitute Maduro's lifeline and we just don't know at what point they are willing to cute him loose. Neither wants to appear to concede to the United States or to lose their investments. I assume the latter can be worked out but the former is tough.


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