Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Incentives in U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela

The Washington Post has a fascinating story based on extensive interviews with Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, who until April 30th was head of SEBIN, the Venezuelan intelligence agency, until he joined the 5/1 (then 4/30) plot against Maduro and then fled. A lot of it is uncorroborated, so take it with a grain of salt, but by this point the basic theme of extreme corruption seems uncontroversial.

I want to look at just one bit of it, which relates to the incentives behind the entire uprising.
In February, a group of Venezuelan businessmen, including media mogul Raúl Gorrín, who was put under sanctions by Washington and indicted on U.S. charges of money laundering, approached the Americans with a plan. The centerpiece, according to several people familiar with it: flipping key Maduro loyalists, including the chief justice of Venezuela’s supreme court, Maikel Moreno. 
The men had been serving as interlocutors between the Trump administration and members of the regime, the people familiar with the plan said, and were eager to improve their own situations with the United States, where they were used to sending their children to school and their wives on weekend shopping sprees.
What this means is that Chavistas flipped because a) there were targeted sanctions against them; and b) the U.S. had dangled the possibility of getting them removed. Note, moreover, that no one talks about the misery of the Venezuelan people. The general sanctions didn't enter into their calculations because they are shielded from the effects. While people went hungry, they continued to shop in Miami. Once that got harder, they started plotting.

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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Tamaleria Laurita

Here is another one of my irregular posts on immigrant restaurants in Charlotte. Immigrants are the economic backbone of so many cities, including Charlotte, so the current anti-immigrant mood is something we always need push back against. Please go and spend your money at these businesses. I am no restaurant critic, but rather an enthusiastic amateur.

Tamalería Laurita opened a few years ago, when my UNC Charlotte colleague Eric Hoenes (who I periodically ask about places to eat) wrote about it for the Charlotte Observer. My 17-year old son and I had lunch there today, and the tamales are fabulous.


I don't eat meat so went with the cheese, which my son also did (he was hoping for mole but they did not have them right then). They are firm and moist, and just melted in my mouth. We were served red and green sauces, the latter of which is hotter, but both are good. It had originally been a very small place, but obviously opened up into the next door space because there were lots of tables, and a steady stream of people. We had been in the mood for tamales, but the menu is full--tacos, enchiladas, tortas, pupusas, empanadas, etc. Three tamales each, two Cokes, plus chips and salsa came only to $17 before tip. It's worth your time--I just wish it was closer to where I live!

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Friday, June 21, 2019

Why Proximity to the Border Matters

Jeronimo Cortina, "From a Distance: Geographic Proximity, Partisanship, and Public Attitudes toward the U.S.–Mexico Border Wall." forthcoming in Political Research Quarterly.

Abstract:

The wall along the U.S.–Mexico border has become one of the most controversial issues in the immigration debate. Although the American public is often aligned with partisan predispositions, often ignored is the role that geographic distance to the border plays in forming attitudes. This paper explores the role of proximity, partisanship, and their interaction as determinants of public attitudes toward the border wall. This paper argues that geographic distance has two effects on public attitudes: as a catalyst for direct contact and as a dynamic filter that shapes how people process information and understand a particular place or policy. Using geocoded survey data from 2017, this paper shows that as the distance to the U.S.–Mexico border increases, Republicans are more likely to support building a wall along the entire border with Mexico due to a lack of direct contact, supplanting direct information with partisan beliefs.
Simply put, being close to the border means you actually understand it.
The basic premise of my argument is that distance interacts with partisan perceptions and attitudes toward the border wall. Republicans who live relatively close to the wall understand and experience the “here and now” of the border through direct contact and in terms of specific and unique features that can be experienced only by being in close proximity to it, whereas Republicans far away from the wall are perceptively separated from it and thus understand it in terms of decontextualized, general, and prototypical characteristics (Henderson et al. 2006) that align with both their own partisan beliefs (Bartels 2002) and the nationalized partisan discourse on immigration (Hopkins 2018). The results of this paper contribute to the emerging literature focusing on the effects of national versus local politics and the impacts of geography on political behavior (Enos 2017; Hopkins 2018).
When you are not close to the border, then you do not grasp the complexities of it. Instead, you are more likely to just claim you can slap a wall up there, increase border patrol, and you're all good.

I would add that some lawmakers visit the border and when there only a short time reinforce false views. A short visit can give them greater confidence in false views because of "I've been there and I've seen it with my own eyes" logic.

A final thought is that sometimes you live by the border and you're still stone cold crazy.

h/t Mike Allison 

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Policies That Increase Mexican Migration

Rebecca Galemba has a post at The Monkey Cage arguing that putting Mexican troops at the Guatemala border will not deter migration and will increase human rights abuses. At the very end she drops two intriguing sentences:

Making it harder for border residents to earn their livelihoods by traveling back and forth is the real security concern for residents. It could actually propel more to migrate to the United States.
We need to explore this further. If local residents feel under siege, they will get out. That means going to Mexican cities (internal displacement) and to the United States.

Indeed, one of the serious challenges for any sort of immigration policy is failure to understand likely consequences. The sharp uptick of enforcement after the passage of IRCA in 1986 prompted many people to remain in the U.S. rather than return to Mexico, which was the opposite of the intent. When NAFTA hit small Mexican farmers, it increased emigration, the opposite of the intent. This might fall into that category as well.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Are People Aware of Mexico's Economic Impact?

John Hyatt, a former student who is now a business consultant in Mexico, pointed this Economist article out to me. It looks at the role of Canadian and Mexican lobbying in the United States to emphasize the impact of Trump's policies (e.g. tariffs) on their districts. Here is an eye-opening sentence:

Most American lawmakers are said to be surprised when told how much trade their district does across the Mexican and Canadian borders.
I would say this is hard to believe, but we should know better. This is Congress we're talking about. The magnitude of Mexico's economic impact on  the United States has been reported endlessly, but people still have a difficult time pinpointing how it affects the specific places they live. This is the same dynamic as immigration. Immigrants impact our lives in a direct but often invisible way that people either don't realize or don't want to realize.

A lot of this is old fashioned nativism. It simply does not occur to many people--including high elected officials--that they are dependent upon Mexicans for anything. Latin American lobbying is an understudied topic, but it is a critical part of Latin American foreign policy. Here is a news article back in 1993 during the NAFTA negotiations:
The Mexican government has unleashed the most expensive and elaborate foreign lobbying campaign ever undertaken here, hoping to ensure passage of the trade agreement it wants with the United States and Canada, a nonprofit research organization said Thursday.
So Mexico has been lobbying forever, yet its economic impact never fully sinks in. For Mexico, it is a constant (and unending) process of reminding people of what should be obvious.

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Monday, June 17, 2019

Latin American Trust in the U.S. Military

Michael E Flynn, Carla Martinez Machain, and Alissandra T Stoyan, "Building Trust: The Effect of US Troop Deployments on Public Opinion in Peru." International Studies Quarterly (early view)

Abstract:

Since the 1950s, US military personnel have taken on an increasingly diverse set of responsibilities, including less traditional roles delivering disaster aid and engaging in public diplomacy. Focusing on a particular subset of deployments, humanitarian and civic-assistance deployments to Latin America, we examine the effect that a US military presence can have on public opinion in the host country. We focus on the microfoundations of popular support and use survey data and newly collected subnational data on deployments to examine the effect of these deployments on mass attitudes toward the US military and government in Peru. We find that these deployments do improve perceptions of the US military and government, and correlate with assessments of US influence that are more positive. Our findings bolster the conclusions of previous research that shows how aid can both improve public attitudes toward the donor country and address the foreign aid attribution problem.
This is all about soft power, which is generally not what we get into when discussing the role of the U.S. military in Latin America. The military provides humanitarian services all across Latin America (e.g. the USNS Comfort is right now going to Latin America to help countries who are receiving Venezuelan migrants to provide medical assistance). The idea is to foster good will, and what the authors do empirically--using the case of Peru--is to show that it works.

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Democrats Debating Latin America

Dan Restrepo calls on the Democratic candidates to formulate a vision for Latin America in their debate later this month.
The temptation will be strong to ask red-meat questions about Cuba and Venezuela narrowly cast to a South Florida audience. 
Instead, the moderators should ask for a broader vision, one that would also tackle the two overarching challenges facing the Americas today—migration and corruption. Two issues, sadly, on which the Trump Administration has singularly failed to lead.
I am certain migration will be part of the debates--how could it not?--but let's see whether it is framed primarily as a domestic issue rather than one that is also foreign policy.

I would be surprised if corruption and rule of law is mentioned very much outside the context of Cuba and Venezuela, but it would be great. Democracy is particularly fragile right now (and presidents are unpopular). He also mentions climate change, which I also doubt they will address in the Latin American context, but I would like to be surprised.

In general what I would like to see is a conscious reframing of U.S.-Latin American relations that gets away from the current victimhood. For Trump, the U.S. is always the victim, paying too much, giving away too much, etc. and that leads to counter-productive policies. Just at a minimum, calling Latin American countries partners would be a good start.

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Who Are the Popular Latin American Presidents?

Consulta Mitofsky has some approval numbers for Latin American presidents. It's not a great time to be president.

Answer to the title question: Bukele (highest in the world!), AMLO, and Medina (funny thing, I wrote this type of post in 2014 and Medina was the most popular then as well). They are the only ones over 50%. A whopping ten presidents have approval ratings below 30%, which is staggering. Left, right, big country, small country, doesn't matter. The average in South America is just 30%.

Nicolás Maduro is the lowest, at 15%, but that's actually not too far behind Jimmy Morales and Juan Carlos Varela. Mauricio Macri was actually only at 19% in the last poll. Most Latin American presidents have substantially lower approval than Donald Trump.

Economic growth is slow, people are angry about corruption, and there is a lot of uncertainty.

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Trump and Trade Instability

Ken Shadlen at LSE has a post about Trump's tariff threats up at the LSE blog. He has two main points. The first is that it's inaccurate to say that linking trade to other issues (in this case immigration) is unheard of. Even NAFTA was linked to other things, such as reform demands on Mexico as a condition of ratification. The second point, however, is that NAFTA was actually constructed to protect all parties from the whims of politicians making such linkages.
Beyond NAFTA per se, these events make one wonder why any country would sign a trade agreement with the United States. After all, if countries already have preferential market access under the GSP, then one of the main benefits of reciprocal trade agreements is to lock-in and stabilise those preferences – even with the need to make substantial concessions on “trade-related” policy areas. 
If, in reality, only half of the bargain is locked in and the benefits can evaporate at the whim of the US president, then for many trading partners the benefits of such agreements will be unlikely to compensate for the costs.
Indeed, one of the reasons Carlos Salinas pursued NAFTA was to lock in reforms the PRI dinosaurs didn't like. If you throw that stability out the window as Trump is doing, you completely change the incentives of foreign leaders. Trade with the U.S. is no longer seen as a stabilizing factor. On the contrary, it could become a domestic nightmare. Who wants to be in AMLO's shoes as he is told to attack desperate Central American migrants?

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Dealing With Russia in Venezuela

An analyst at a conservative think tank argues that Vladimir Putin is using the same strategy in Venezuela as he did in Syria, propping up a regime for his and Russia's benefit. Fair enough, but what to do?

The U.S. must therefore keep close watch of Putin’s hand in Caracas and push back against a Russian attempt to turn Maduro’s desperation into Russia’s advantage. To this end, the Trump administration should continue to vigorously enforce its already robust sanctions campaign and make clear, both through private and public channels, that it stands steadfast in support of the elected president, Juan Guaido, and true democracy in Venezuela.
Hmm. The sanctions have actually worked to Russia's benefit because they required Nicolás Maduro to turn more fully to Putin, including paying debt in rubles. Therefore it makes no sense to deepen that relationship. Sanctions are not "pushing back against" Russia; they are "pushing Maduro toward" Russia.

Instead, the U.S. should throw its support behind negotiations, as difficult and uncertain as those are. Putin does not want any political change in Venezuela because he knows the opposition does not like Russia's presence. Negotiated political change is bad for Russia's interests, and therefore should be the U.S. strategy if going against Russia's interests is the goal.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Mexico's Unknown National Guard to Address Immigration

A lot is being made of the Mexican government's decision to send 6,000 National Guard to the Guatemalan border. From The Washington Post:

U.S. officials say they were particularly impressed with Mexico’s pledge to deploy up to 6,000 national guard troops to its border region with Guatemala. Mexico described its plan to U.S. officials as “the first time in recent history that Mexico has decided to take operational control of its southern border as a priority,” according to Mexican government documents.
This National Guard, however, is brand new and no one--troops included, I imagine--knows what it is supposed to do. The original idea was to fight crime, a force separate from police and army. The force was only just approved on February 28.

AMLO isn't even clear on it. From Patrick Corcoran a few months ago:
López Obrador’s own words also do little to clarify the role of the new force. He recently compared the National Guard to the blue-helmeted peacekeepers of the UN. Similarly, in a November interview shortly after the new agency was announced, he said that the National Guard was meant to “guarantee peace,” though he did not describe how it would do so. In December, amid growing criticism, he sounded similar notes: “We are proposing…the National Guard because we want to guarantee peace and tranquility, that there be no violence.”
Plus, only last month the government was still trying to woo people to join it. Hey, there are benefits! You get 15 days of vacation!
El presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador llamó a los jóvenes a incorporarse a la Guardia Nacional, pues se requiere reclutar a 50 mil elementos entre 2019 y 2021. 
Aseguró que quienes se integren el cuerpo armado tendrán un empleo remunerado, el cual se puede convertir en una forma de vida con mucha satisfacción y orgullo.  
That does not sound to me like a force ready to do anything remotely as complicated as controlling the Guatemalan border. Its stated purpose is to fight organized crime, not migrants. Troops with zero border training will suddenly be charged with drastically slowing the flow of Central American migrants. I can't possibly see how that could happen.

Maybe this is just a way for the Mexican government to placate Trump for the time being. Sending lots of troops is exactly the sort of thing he likes, and it makes for good headlines.

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Friday, June 07, 2019

Latin American Presidents on Twitter Part 2

Back in 2013, I wrote a post about Latin American presidents on Twitter, with a table showing their status. I decided to update that.

Here is the table from 2013:

Country
President
Status
#Followers
#Following
Type
Retweets
ARG
Kirchner
Active
2.1 million
54
All
None
BOL
Morales
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
BRAZIL
Rousseff
Inactive
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
CHILE
Piñera
Active
1 million
22,266
Policy
Common
COL
Santos
Active
1.9 million
5,856
Policy
Rare
CR
Chinchilla
Active
200,000
575
Policy
Common
CUBA
Castro
Active
92,000
36
Speeches
None
DR
Medina
Active
199,000
7,979
Policy
None
ECUA
Correa
Active
1 million
5
All
None
EL SAL
Funes
Inactive
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
GUATE
Pérez M
Active
87,000
52
Policy
Common
HOND
Lobo
Active
22,000
19
Policy
Rare
MEX
Peña
Active
1.9 million
159
Policy
Rare
NICA
Ortega
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
PAN
Martinelli
Active
346,000
752
All
Common
PARA
Franco
Active
66,000
198
Policy
None
PERU
Humala
Sporadic
626,000
60
Policy
None
URU
Mujica
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
VEN
Maduro
Active
1.2 million
34
All
Common








Here is the table for 2019:

Country
President
Status
#Followers
#Following
Type
Retweets
ARG
Macri
Active
4.83M
644
Policy
None
BOL
Morales
Active
547K
28
All
None
BRAZIL
Bolsonaro
Active
4.44M
344
All
Occasional
CHILE
Piñera
Active
2.22M
20.5K
Policy
None
COL
Duque
Active
885K
2,285
Policy
Occasional
CR
Alvarado
Active
101K
714
Policy
Occasional
CUBA
Díaz-Canel
Active
134K
126 Policy
None
DR
Medina
Inactive
687K
7,629
Policy
None
ECUA
Moreno
Active
702K
38
Policy
Occasional
EL SAL
Bukele
Active
732K
579
All
Frequent
GUATE
Morales
Infrequent
195K
996
Policy
Frequent
HOND
JOH
Active
367K
677
Policy
Frequent
MEX
AMLO
Active
5.64M
166
Policy
None
NICA
Ortega
Inactive
5,371
309
All
Frequent
PAN
Varela
Active
554K
1,153
Policy
None
PARA
Benítez
Active
299K
649
Policy
Occasional
PERU
Vizcarra
Active
567K
521
Policy
None
URU
Vazquez
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
VEN
Maduro
Active
3.63M
110
All
Occasional


Some thoughts:

--The way presidents use Twitter has not changed. The vast majority use it strictly to promote their policies. Only a small number get personal and creative with it.

--the sheer size of Twitter has grown significantly. The president with the most followers in 2013 was Néstor Kirchner with 2.1 million. In 2019 it is AMLO with 5.64 million.

--Uruguayan presidents just don't use it. Perhaps a reflection of age, I am not sure.

--Evo Morales exploded on Twitter. In 2013 he did not have an account. In 2019 he is all over it and he gets personal and angry. Meanwhile, Daniel Ortega finally got on but does not use it very much.

One conclusion from back then still stands now:

Further, this tells us nothing about effectiveness. Presidents want to reach people and thereby gain support, but as yet I've not seen any evidence--perhaps with polling?--about whether it benefits them politically. An aide to Dilma Rousseff said that she thought Twitter is a "total waste of time." Clearly others disagree, but we don't have a good grip on how to evaluate that.

Research on the topic shows that presidents use Twitter mostly as a megaphone to send out messages without filter, and it does not foster engagement. There is no common strategy for how to use it in times of crisis. One cross-national study finds the following:

We find strong support that (1) increased political pressure from social unrest and (2) higher levels of democratization correlate with leader adoption of social media platforms. 

This doesn't seem to hold well for Latin America, where almost everyone has adopted social media irrespective of what is happening in the country.

Did you know that the Venezuelan government once tried to tout Nicolás Maduro as the second most influential leader on Twitter, second only to the Pope? It was based on retweets.

It's curious that Latin American presidential Twitter use is so ubiquitous and we know so little about it. It's a megaphone for them, but does it affect popularity, re-election, or people's views about certain issues?


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