Wednesday, October 16, 2019

New LAPOP Data

The Latin American Public Opinion Project has released their 2018/2019 AmericasBarometer data. This "Topical Brief" provides an introduction, then you can look at specific country reports on their website. There are a handful now and I assume more to come.

The upshot: Latin Americans are decreasingly happy about democracy. In fact, people who use social media are least satisfied with it. I can see that--swim around in political Twitter (or your friend's incessant political Facebook posts) for a while and see how you feel about the world afterward.

If you read through the reports from Central American countries but also Mexico, you can easily answer the question of why people are emigrating. They see the economy as bad and security as worse, and many have been victims of crime.

Some other interesting tidbits:

--Mexicans are more satisfied with democracy after AMLO's election.

--Guatemalans have more confidence in the military than in CICIG

--Guatemalans have the most confidence in the evangelical church

--both the least educated and the richest Hondurans have the highest support for democracy

--almost 2/3 of Salvadorans are satisfied with public education

--perception of corruption has been declining in Ecuador.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Evo's Bid To Stay In Power

Ben Raderstorf and Michael J. Camilleri have a good op-ed in The Washington Post about Evo Morales, who is running for president (yet) again in Sunday's election. They note that Bolivians show clear signs of tiring of his presidency and they express concern that he will gradually govern in a more authoritarian manner. He has centralized power over time.

Basically, this is a question of whether Bolivia looks more politically like Venezuela and Nicaragua, with suppression of dissent and closing off of democratic spaces, or more like Ecuador, where Rafael Correa walked away. Correa's choice is more democratic and better for the country in the long term, but unfortunately he doesn't make that choice look very attractive. He is living in exile, hounded by the Ecuadorian judicial system and funded by the Russians, where he frantically and unsuccessfully tries to make himself politically relevant using Twitter. That doesn't tilt the decision-making calculus in a democratic direction.

One twist here that they point out is the notion that Morales is courting agribusiness. As Linda Farthing argues in a recent issue of Latin American Perspectives (a leftist academic journal):

Over its 12 years in power, Bolivia’s MAS government has made significant advances in expanding inclusion and reducing poverty. In the process, it has steadily been transformed into a hegemonic force that is increasingly dependent on expedient and pragmatically based compromises with economic elites. Concurrently, social movement influence and participation in the government have steadily declined. After 2009, when an uprising by Eastern elites had been quashed and MAS gained a congressional majority, the MAS missed an opening to advance its original project of structural change, opting instead for a more expedient strategy that has kept it in power at the cost of accommodating elites and debilitating social movements.
That sounds rather Nicaragua-like. But will it make him lose?

Morales currently leads in the polls, though there was controversy (and even threatened legal action) when a new poll showed him failing to win a first round. He needs either 50% or 40% with a 10% margin over the second place finisher, and the opposition is not united. It would be a surprise and a major shift if he actually lost.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Will Trump Lose the Hardliner Vote in Florida?

The clash of bases for President Trump is, as so many other things in the administration, unusual and self-defeating. On the one hand, we have the traditional appeal to Cuban-Americans and now also Venezuelan-Americans about harsh policies toward those respective governments. Freedom and all that. On the other, we have the appeal to the racist and rabidly anti-immigrant base, which does not want non-white immigrants of any kind.

That creates what the Associated Press describes today for Cuba.

Since the end of the Obama administration, the number of Cubans deported from the U.S. has increased more than tenfold to more than 800 in the past year as the Trump administration enforces a new policy inked just days before it took over. It is also imposing its own sharp limits on who is eligible for asylum. That’s an unwelcome development for growing numbers of asylum-seeking Cubans who had long benefited from a generous U.S. approach and their government’s unwillingness to take its people back.
So remember that Obama ended the infamous "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, so that part is not new. The big difference is that Obama viewed it as part of an overall policy of engagement:
During my Administration, we worked to improve the lives of the Cuban people - inside of Cuba - by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world. Sustaining that approach is the best way to ensure that Cubans can enjoy prosperity, pursue reforms, and determine their own destiny. As I said in Havana, the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people.
Trump kept the new immigration policy and ended the engagement, and even though Obama was an active deporter-in-chief, Trump takes it to an entirely new level with a blanket policy of basically wanting to deny asylum to anyone. And he also cut consular services to make it almost impossible for anyone to get a visa legally.

I've written before about how he touts his hard line against Venezuela, which exacerbates emigration, then refuses to allow Venezuelans to find refuge in the United States.

The big question is how this affects Florida in 2020. Trump won the state by only just over 100,000 votes so he cannot afford to lose many voters. Now, many of those voters are the other base, the one that likes tough talk but does not want more non-white people coming in. But what would it take for Trump lose the hardline Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American vote? Whoever becomes the Democratic candidate would be well-served to bring up the refugee/asylum issue.

For the time being, Trump's position is entirely anti-immigrant and everything else is subservient to that. People who have his ear (such as Marco Rubio) will try to get him to find some solution, but there is no way to know if he would follow it.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Pressuring Venezuelan Creditors

Mitu Gulati & Ugo Panizza, "Maduro Bonds," Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2018-56


For multiple decades, activists have sought to institute an international legal regime that limits the ability of despotic governments to borrow money and then shift those obligations onto more democratic successor governments. Our goal in this article is to raise the possibility of an alternate legal path to raising the costs of borrowing for despotic regimes. All countries have systems of domestic laws that regulate agency relationships and try to deter corruption; otherwise the domestic economy would not function. Despotic governments, we conjecture, are especially likely to engage in transactions that are legally problematic. The reason being that despotic governments, by definition, lack the support of the populace; meaning that there is a high likelihood that actions that they take on behalf of the populace can be challenged as unrepresentative and contrary to the interests of the true principals. The foregoing conditions, if one translates them into the context of an ordinary principal-agent relationship, would constitute a voidable transaction in most modern legal systems. That means that if opposition parties in countries with despotic governments today were to monitor and make public the potential problems with debt issuances by their despotic rulers under their own local laws, it would raise the cost of capital for those despots. To support our argument, we use both the concrete example of the debt issuance shenanigans of the Maduro government in Venezuela and a more general analysis of the relationship between corruption, democracy and a nation’s borrowing costs.
I don't believe I've ever seen the word "shenanigans" in an abstract. And then there is also "sleazy."
We describe how the efforts of civil society to point out suspicious looking aspects of a particularly sleazy bond issue by the Maduro government both resulted in a significant increase in the market’s perception of the risk of a particular bond issue and, we suspect, killed the willingness of investors to engage in other similar transactions. 
Loaded language aside, the argument is a simple one: opposition parties in authoritarian contexts should loudly proclaim how certain borrowing practices violate domestic law, thus raising doubts in the minds of creditors. It is public shaming, with an added threat of future complications.

One problem here is that they make specific reference multiple times to "opposition parties" but the Venezuela example they use actually involves Ricardo Hausmann, who is not in Venezuela and does not seem connected to a party, and Marco Rubio, a non-Venezuelan U.S. Senator. The body of the article never mentions anyone in a Venezuelan opposition party. This should give us pause.

So yes, you can publicly raise doubts about debt and use social media to spread your word. But basing it on U.S. officials and actors abroad raises ethical questions. It's like a public version of Richard Nixon's "make the economy scream" statement about Chile.


Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Lenín Moreno in Crisis

Protests against Lenín Moreno's austerity measures are intensifying, to the point that Moreno actually moved the capital from Quito to Guayaquil.

Of course, it's all playing out across Twitter. Just as Martín Vizvarra had recently done in Peru, Moreno tweeted a picture of himself with the military leadership.  Then he retweeted Juan Guaidó's claim that Nicolás Maduro was responsible. Meanwhile, Rafael Correa is going berserk, calling Moreno a dictator, retweeting various videos of protesters confronting police, and telling him to resign.

Moreno called the protests a coup, and indeed Ecuador has a long history of them. It's worth remembering that Rafael Correa's extended time in office through elections is the exception in Ecuador's political history. In 2000, CONAIE (the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, which is now leading the protests) was central in bringing down Jamil Mahuad. A lot has been written on CONAIE's political activism. I don't know if this is a coup push, but if CONAIE's involved it means it's well-organized. It has called for a national strike tomorrow.

It's also worth remembering that cutting fuel subsidies is dangerous in general. In 2011, Evo Morales tried it and backed off immediately because of protests (the so-called gasolinazo). Among other things, messing around with propane played an important role in protests that ousted Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003. Mauricio Macri faced protests last year as he started cutting back on subsidies. There are plenty of examples across Latin America.

And yet Moreno says they aren't coming back. It doesn't help him that the International Monetary Fund, which he courted, wrote approvingly of the measures:

The reforms announced yesterday by President Lenin Moreno aim to improve the resilience and sustainability of Ecuador’s economy and foster strong, and inclusive growth. The announcement included important measures to protect the poor and most vulnerable, as well as to generate jobs in a more competitive economy.
The optics aren't good for him, but he figures that with the military's support he can wait them out.


Saturday, October 05, 2019

Do Vaguely Something in Venezuela

Conservative analysts remind everyone of what everyone already knows, that Nicolás Maduro is propped up by foreign governments. Like most other conservatives writing about Venezuela, they want something to be done, but will not actually say what. Here are the verbs they use:

--"unravel" the "network"
--"countering" his external allies
--"take into account" the external state actors
--"challenge" his source of support

So how do we unravel, counter, take into account, and challenge? They won't say, so I don't know, though President Trump is busily alienating most governments in the world except for Russia so does that count?

Or perhaps we could challenge the idea that dialogue never works, take into account comparative cases, counter the urge to hurt Venezuelans because of their governments, and unravel the corrupt networks.


Monday, September 30, 2019

The Larreta Doctrine

Max Paul Friedman and Tom Long have an opinion piece in Uruguay's El Diario on the Larreta Doctrine. Not familiar with it? That wouldn't be surprising because it's not brought up very often. But it was an effort by former Uruguayan Foreign Minister Eduardo Rodríguez Larreta in 1945 to get Latin American states to collectively protect democracy and human rights. Here is a longer English-language analysis they wrote for Perspectives on Politics.

They argue that there are three key points to Larreta's case:

1. Human rights and democracy are inseparable, and violations are a threat to regional peace.

2. There should be precommitments with regional mechanisms that focus on popular sovereignty. Basically, by definition violation of democracy (e.g. a coup) would be a negation of sovereignty.

3. The United States must commit to working multilaterally.

The idea is that given the current ramping up of rhetoric against Venezuela in particular, but also the erosion of democracy elsewhere, it is worth reconsidering valuable ideas from the past that emphasize collective non-military solutions to crises surrounding human rights and democracy. Otherwise the region seems largely stuck.

The devil is in the details. Aside from the question of sovereignty, the really big challenge here is defining democracy or human rights violation. Latin America has never found consensus about either (or anything, for that matter). For example, when a political figure is arrested in any given country, the region is split about whether that individual is a political prisoner or a golpista who deserved it. When a president is removed in an irregular manner--Zelaya, Dilma, Lego--there is no regional consensus on whether a coup took place. And if you cannot agree on basic concepts, then you cannot agree on what action to take or whether to take any action at all.

That doesn't mean it's not worth trying, though. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has wholeheartedly rejected the third point. "America First" is by definition a unilateral approach to foreign policy. But go check out their arguments--they're worth reading and pondering.


Friday, September 27, 2019

Parsing U.S. Policy Toward Central America

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Kozak gave testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on U.S. policy toward Mexico and Central America, thought he focuses mostly on the latter. It is a perfect summation of how sticks are characterized as carrots, and the U.S. is, as President Trump might say, perfect.

First, the history of Central American migration:
People have been heading north from the region for several decades, including during the civil war periods in El Salvador and Guatemala when violence in the region was rampant and tens of thousands of individuals were murdered.
This is excellent use of passive tense to avoid responsibility. Violence was rampant, of course, because of large-scale U.S. military aid and active support for dictators.

Fast forward to today. The United States simply wants to "messaging aimed at educating" people not to come. Oddly enough, he notes that the U.S. has wanted to "combat" the "antiquated economic models that protect those who have long benefitted from the status quo," which in fact El Salvador and Guatemala are pursuing precisely the economic models prescribed by the United States for decades.

Unfortunately, the "success of many of our foreign assistance programs" were not educating sufficiently because of  "powerful, entrenched forces." Therefore President Trump decided to "reprogram" aid, which was not "punitive" but rather just a "wakeup call" for those governments to prove their "political will." (Note: "political will" is mentioned six separate times).

Further, the U.S. decided to shift the burden of asylum to Mexico and Central America to create a "safe and legal way to pursue their aspirations" and to "discourage those who do not have genuine asylum concerns."

Oddly, he notes that in Guatemala "we have seen broad based protests against corruption and "impunity" but does not mention the administration actively dismantled the only organization capable of effectively combating it.

In sum:
There is nothing stopping the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras from adhering to their commitments under their own Alliance for Prosperity plan, other than a lack of political will. 
This is the core of U.S. policy toward Mexico and Central America. 


Monday, September 23, 2019

Jaime Manrique's Like This Afternoon Together

I read Jaime Manrique's new movel Like This Afternoon Forever, a novel about homosexuality, the priesthood, and drug politics in Colombia. Descriptions of it refer to the issue of false positives, though in fact that's just one part of the narrative. Two Catholic priests, Ignacio and Lucas, meet as children, fall in love, and eventually end up in Bogotá together.

The book's style is very straightforward, which belies the complexities of what's occurring. There is of course the fact that two priests are a couple, though in fact that is not so uncommon. But there is also poverty that drives them to deep frustration, doubts about God, the challenge of AIDS, alcohol and drug abuse, and Colombian politics. The government, the military, the police, the drug traffickers, and the paramilitaries are all complicit in the same game, all to the detriment of most Colombians.* That's the backdrop for the dramatic end of the novel. In and out itself, the prose is not so memorable but the story and images will stick with me.

*This is also a major theme about El Salvador in Sandra Benitez's excellent novel The Weight of All Things, where all sides in political conflict are bad for the ordinary person.


Friday, September 20, 2019

The Russians Hire Rafael Correa

I hadn't realized the Russians gave Rafael Correa his own talk show,"Conversando con Correa." He just interviewed Nicolás Maduro. His last interview was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Correa notes that hey, maybe there were some "errors" but Venezuela is a victim. He asks Maduro what went wrong, and his first response is the "physical loss" of the eternal commander. The rest is the fault of the United States, complete with Hitler reference. The show is punctuated by visuals to emphasize that fact. Thanks Obama!

This is a nice soft power platform for the Russians precisely at a time when the United States is basically ceding its position in the region. I have no idea how many people actually see it, but RT has serious reach in Latin America.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Podcast Episode 66: Chilean Terrorism & the Ghosts of Sheridan Circle

In Episode 66 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Alan McPherson, Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy at Temple University. He has published a ton on U.S.-Latin American relations, especially as it relates to intervention. In particular, he has a brand new book Ghosts of Sheridan Circle: How a Washington Assassination Brought Pinochet’s Terror State to Justice. That assassination took place September 21, 1976, almost exactly 43 years ago. I highly recommend the book, which reads like a thriller. Here is the review I wrote of it on this blog.

Go order a copy of the book at the University of North Carolina Press or at Amazon.

If you're going to be in DC on October 1, then go see him in person!

You can find this podcast at iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and anywhere else podcasts can be found. If there is anyplace I've missed, please contact me. Subscribe and rate, even if just to tell me I am wrong about everything.

Update (9/20/19) Go check out his op-ed in The Washington Post.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Someone Please Start Studying Latin American Twitter Diplomacy

Yesterday Juan Guaidó started negotiating with Nicolás Maduro and the international community via Twitter. For years now, well before Donald Trump was even a candidate, Latin American presidents have used Twitter to excite their base, snipe at foreign adversaries, and lay out their preferred policy options.

And yet no one is publishing academic works on the phenomenon. There are plenty of works on Twitter diplomacy in general, or on non-Latin American countries. But this has been a big deal in the region and deserves analysis. Up to now, there is virtually nothing.

There is one article examining "populism," but this is a term fraught with problems so it's of limited utility. Another simply argues that there is no common usage of Twitter by Latin American presidents. We need more than this, focusing on public diplomacy via Twitter. Latin American political leaders clearly view the medium as useful and important, but scholars somehow don't, ironically perhaps even as they closely follow such exchanges on their own.

So Guaidó talks to Maduro and the world, Hugo Chávez and Alvaro Uribe sparred all the time, Rafael Correa went and still goes on rants about foreign policy, post-presidency Vicente Fox got full-on weird about foreign policy, Evo Morales rails against the United States, and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. We need to study this stuff and figure out whether and how it changes our traditional ways of understanding international relations. For some reason, no one is bothering.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Hugo Chávez Drug Policy & U.S. Intervention

Juan Forero and José de Córdoba at The Wall Street Journal report on documents used by U.S. federal prosecutors alleging that Hugo Chávez had a cocaine plan for the United States:
In 2005, Chávez convened a small group of his top officials to discuss plans to ship cocaine to the U.S. with help from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said a participant in the meeting who, at the time, was a justice on Venezuela’s supreme court, according to the papers. The Bush administration was strongly criticizing his governing style then and had publicly approved of a 2002 coup that failed to oust him. 
“During the meeting, Chávez urged the group, in substance and in part, to promote his policy objectives, including to combat the United States by ‘flooding’ the country with cocaine,” said an affidavit in the documents written by a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent. The former supreme court justice was identified as Eladio Aponte, who fled to the U.S. in 2012 and has been a witness on drug cases, said a person familiar with his role in the investigations.
That Chávez and those around him were involved in some manner in drug trafficking has long been alleged, but this is a new twist. We always need a healthy skepticism about information yielded by someone trying to save their own neck. Is there any corroboration or is all this from a single source?

For the most part, I see this as another potential building block of a rationale to intervene militarily because it can be used as a national security threat type of argument, especially when added to the invocation of the Rio Treaty. Those building blocks remain sketchy, however, given Latin American and Trumpian hesitance to use force. Mexico, for example, is vociferous about its opposition to using the Rio Treaty for Venezuela.

Meanwhile, Juan Guaidó and his team announced that the Norway talks were officially dead, after Nicolás Maduro had already done the same. But Boston Group facilitated talks continue.

In other words, as always there is a lot of talk and not much changes. John Bolton is gone, which seems to decrease the chances of intervention, though it occurred to me that I could also imagine Trump dumping Bolton and then intervening just so he wouldn't have to share the credit. The administration's pattern thus far has been tough talk and sanctions.


Friday, September 13, 2019

The Politics of Latin American Aging

Some remarkable demographic projections from the Pew Research Center. The biggie is that the entire world is expected to experience fertility rates below replacement by 2100. But Latin America is news too: by 2100 it is expected to be the oldest region, a complete turnaround from fairly recent history.
The Latin America and Caribbean region is expected to have the oldest population of any world region by 2100, a reversal from the 20th century. In 1950, the region’s median age was just 20 years. That figure is projected to more than double to 49 years by 2100. 
This pattern is evident when looking at individual countries in the region. For example, in 2020, the median ages of Brazil (33), Argentina (32) and Mexico (29) are all expected to be lower than the median age in the U.S. (38). However, by 2100, all three of these Latin American nations are projected to be older than the U.S. The median age will be 51 in Brazil, 49 in Mexico and 47 in Argentina, compared with a median age of 45 in the U.S. Colombia is expected to undergo a particularly stark transition, with its median age more than tripling between 1965 and 2100 – from 16 to 52.
This is by no means the first time we've heard this basic story. International institutions have already been raising them.

These numbers have important political implications. Most prominently, who will take care of this older population? You need a solid number of younger workers to fund a social safety net, not to mention a well-functioning safety net. That burden will inevitably fall disproportionately on women, which will exacerbate gender inequality. Overall, pressure on pension systems is already a hot political topic, and it will become even worse. And by the way, improvements in health technology will keep people alive longer, so they will need resources for more years than in the past.

This shift will also exacerbate already serious urban-rural divides. Rural areas are historically underserved and ignored. A large older population will require assistance that simply does not exist, and the strain will be tremendous.

The combination of all these factors will lead to more political conflict, as if the region needs more. Chile has experienced serious protests over its pension system. Brazil experienced a general strike about pensions just a few months ago. Colombia faced similar protests. Ecuadorian retirees are protesting about their pensions. Argentina passed reforms two years ago after protests. Mexico is undergoing reforms right now.

If protest are big now, what will they be like when the population is much older and there are fewer younger people to fund those pensions?


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