Monday, May 23, 2016

The Venezuelan Military and Maduro

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde translate an interview with Maragarita López Maya, a Venezuelan history professor, about the crisis there. Her discussion of the military brought up a question I've been thinking about.

MLM: Who is sustaining Maduro in power right now?
HP: Yes, and I will allow myself to propose an answer: the military.MLM: The military. Maduro is sustained by the military sector, but also by a group of tribes, of political families that are drawing benefits from their links to the state, that have very important interests in the state, corrupt political families that are enjoying complete immunity.
HP: Why are the military playing into this game? And I ask because the model is obviously not workingMLM: The government is highly militarized, in the sense that it has been penetrated by the military sector. They now enjoy a role as protagonist that they did not have in the previous democracy, or even during Chavez’s period. They now control very important power spaces and money. I mean of course the top sectors of the military.
HP: Could the referent for this be the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez?MLM: No, because the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez was not a personalist government such as this one: in that case it was the rule of the military institution. Today it is not the military as an institution that is governing.
HP: Let’s say that it is inside the government.MLM: Yes, but is has also been hijacked by powerful ruling groups. It is an institution hijacked by military mafias that control contraband and very lucrative business interests. Remember that it is an institution that has been purged several times. And if we look at military promotions, Maduro has continued Chavez’s policy of only promoting loyal officers. There is a sort of mutual hijacking. The military has hijacked Maduro and he has hijacked the military. I believe the high command, even though this is an issue about which much remains in the dark, does not represent the military institution. So at this moment there is not actually a military institution governing. What we see are groups within the military that share illegal interests with the government and that enjoy immunity. The officers that are not connected with the corruption networks, the ones in the barracks; they are suffering from the same shortages, the same scarcities as the general population. They probably have sons and daughters attending the opposition marches and families complaining because they have to queue for food. I believe that there is also a lot of discontent there.  

I keep thinking about how this is Hugo Chávez. He was one of those officers on the outside, suffering like everyone else while higher-up officers were making decisions based on their own self-interest. The 1992 coup attempts were against the government but also the high command.

That raises the additional question of whether there is the mirror image of Hugo Chávez in the ranks. No one had heard of Chávez back then, and presumably we wouldn't know who a possible mirror image would be.

Remember too that the straw that broke the camel's back was the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez ordering troops to fire on protesting civilians. Chávez was sick and managed not to be in that position personally but it made a huge impression on him and many others. Many were traumatized. They were shooting at their own people and felt much more sympathy for them than for the generals giving them orders.

The referent, then, is not Pérez Jiménez, but Andrés Pérez.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Luis Almagro Goes off on Nicolás Maduro

Wow. That's all I can say after reading OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro's letter to Nicolás Maduro. It is the very definition of scathing. He is pissed.

I hope that no one commits the folly of carrying out a coup d’état against you, but also that you yourself do not do so. It is your duty. You have an obligation to public decency to hold the recall referendum in 2016, because when politics are polarized the decision must go back to the people. That is what the Constitution says. To deny the people that vote, to deny them the possibility of deciding, would make you just another petty dictator, like so many this Hemisphere has had.

There's plenty more in there as well. An important question is the degree to which he is saying what regional leaders are thinking but prefer not to say out loud. For an organization that Maduro (and Hugo Chávez before him) says is a tool of the United State, the OAS has been very cautious with regard to Venezuela. We'll have to see whether these sentiments get echoed elsewhere.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Time in Chile

I'm currently in Santiago and this WSJ piece on the confusion about Chile's changes in time hit me directly. The government had stopped changing times, but then was hit by complaints about how dark it was in the morning (quite late, really) so they switched back. On the day I arrived, as it turned out.

Therefore on the plane they gave us the wrong time. And my phone had the wrong time, and continues to do so. I have to keep reminding myself that my phone is an hour later. If it corrects itself, then I will be even more confused.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Daniel Ortega Wants Tanks

A retired Navy Commander writes about Nicaragua buying tanks from Russia.

Thus far, these Back to the Future Russian deals have not generated the kind of buzz here in the United States that they did in the heady days of the post-Sandinista revolution. If Putin was hoping to produce a mid-1980esque U.S. overreaction to Russian meddling in America’s sphere of influence, then he has failed. Rather, those who seem most upset by Nicaragua’s expenditure of millions of dollars on tanks, and the building of a Russian satellite tracking base, are the poor peasant farmers and fishermen who have for so long dreamed of a better future for Nicaragua.
I agree, and that lack of overreaction has been a hallmark of the Obama administration, despite calls for seeing Russia, Iran, etc., etc. as immediate threats in Latin America.
But I wonder: why in the world would Nicaragua want tanks? It has no one to fight and has pressing needs elsewhere. I would think, then, that it involves appeasing the military in some fashion. Daniel Ortega's response was, "Hey be quiet, because I know national security."


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dilma Rousseff Suspension Rundown

By a 55-22 vote in the senate, Dilma Rousseff was suspended (not impeached) and now the trial begins. That came after a weird and brief effort to annul the vote in the lower house.

Colin Snider looks at the saga in some detail and notes this:

Is that a coup? Not as we’ve often thought of coups, but it’s time to reconsider what the word means in the 21st century, and how coups can and do operate. It’s not an old-school coups of the 20th century, with sudden, violent, physical overthrow. What it is is much what it was in Paraguay in 2012, albeit in a different national context: one branch of the government – the legislative – dominated by elites who are the traditional power-brokers, bristling at the executive branch’s ability to disrupt the elites’ traditional monopolization of power by improving the lives of the marginalized and the masses. Being unable to win the presidency themselves in this new context, they have reacted by using institutional mechanisms to remove a democratically elected president.

I actually don't agree with this. If it doesn't fit the commonly accepted definition of a coup, then it's not a coup. It is something else. That something else is definitely not good for democracy, but it's not a coup.

Sean Burges and Fabricio Chagas Bastos view it in similar terms as Colin:

If you were under the impression that Dilma was impeached for corruption instead of the somewhat fuzzier idea of fiscal impropriety you stand in good company with most of the Chamber of Deputies. It was not until the 81st vote was cast last Sunday that a Deputy correctly identified the “crime” they were judging amongst their cries of “for Jesus”, “for my nephew”, “for Brazil”, and even “for Colonel Brilhante Ustra” (who tortured Dilma in 1973). Almost all of the deputies seeking Dilma’s ouster accused her of corruption with some directlylinking her to the Lava Jato investigation of malfeasance in Petrobras contracting. Aside from the handful that abstained, almost no one on either side of the aisle directly addressed the formal charge against her.

What this became is the equivalent of a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. Those happen when a majority in the legislature are unhappy, and doesn't have anything to do with corruption. The problem is that it can't work in a presidential system where the president is elected by a different constituency and does not serve at the pleasure of the legislature.

Further, as Ryan Carlin, Gregory Love, and Cecilia Martínez-Gallardo point out, the only reason this is happening is because the Brazilian economy is not doing well.

A decade ago, full of optimism about the country’s economic prospects, most Brazilians were willing to brush aside the accusations against Lula’s government and grant him a second term. Today, however, with Brazil’seconomic output in decline, commodity prices collapsing and inflation reaching double digits, Brazilians have shown substantially less tolerance. Instead they protested against government corruption, pressuring their representatives to impeach the president.
In a recent study examining how scandals shape presidential public approval, we find that the linkages between scandals and economic performance extend far beyond Brazil. In fact, looking at data from 84 presidential regimes across Latin America, we find that presidentialapproval ratings are very sensitive to charges of corruption, but only if the country is experiencing high inflation, high unemployment, or both.

Boz is a bit more positive:

To her credit, the president has allowed the institutional process to play out even as she has defiantly fought the charges against her. As Brian Winter writes, Rousseff did not stand in the way of the Lava Jato investigation, even at the risk to her own presidency. She isn’t AMLO, anointing herself the legitimate president in a farcical ceremony amid governing institutions that rule to the contrary. She isn’t Maduro, using dirty tricks and repression to hold on to power, even at the cost of repeatedly violating the country’s constitution. In every step up to this point, Rousseff has shown herself to be a democrat who respects the institutional and constitutional rules, even if she disagrees with how her opponents are using them to remove her from power.
Yes, this is definitely worth noting. AMLO's responses did not serve his own party or cause well. The Brian Winter article Boz links to discusses how she was steadfast in allowing the corruption probe to continue.

I covered Rousseff closely for five years as a reporter, and if there’s a more “Dilma” anecdote out there, I don’t know it. This one has it all: her blustery arrogance, her refusal to listen to even her closest aides, and her apparent inability to understand just how much trouble she was in, right to the very end. But it also has what may prove to be Rousseff’s saving grace in the annals of Brazilian history: her refusal, for the most part, to stand in the way of corruption investigations at Petrobras and elsewhere, even when it became clear they would contribute to her demise.

And indeed, people are going down for corruption in Brazil. We can only hope that the momentum continues, especially as the very corrupt new president Michel Temer takes office.

So now the trial starts, and we watch to see what Rousseff does, how the trial goes, and whether Temer's proposed austerity measures make Brazilians even more unhappy.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Latin American Voter Matters

Mark Weisbrot has an article in The Nation about how the Latin American left isn't going away. He's right, but for the wrong reasons. He frames the current political scene in Latin America as a titanic struggle between the left and the United States.

But don’t expect the current downturn in the region to repeat the lost decades of the late 20th century. That kind of long-term disaster generally happens when countries do not have sovereign control over their most important economic policies (as in the troubled eurozone countries today). For the past 15 years, Washington has soughtto get rid of Latin America’s left governments; but its efforts have really succeeded, so far, only in the poorest and weakest countries: Haiti (2004 and 2011), Honduras (2009), and Paraguay (2012). 
The Latin American left has led the region’s “second independence” in the 21st century, altering hemispheric economic and political relations, and — even including the economic losses of the recent downturn — presiding over historic economic and social changes that benefited hundreds of millions, especially the poor. Despite the electoral setback in Argentina and the current threat to democracy in Brazil, they are likely to remain the dominant force in the region for a long time to come.

Notice that Latin American voters, who are driving these changes, are absent from this analysis. It's far more accurate to frame Latin American political change as indicating shifts in voter preferences. There is ample empirical evidence to show that Latin Americans are pragmatic. They want solutions from their elected leaders, and make choices accordingly. Sometimes that is on the right and sometimes it is on the left. Pendulums swing. Chileans voted for Bachelet, then Piñera, then Bachelet. In the future Argentines will once again vote in a Peronist.

We need to start celebrating the Latin American voter. Notice that a number of countries are facing serious political crises, but that the military has largely (though not entirely) stayed out of things. Military leaders are looking to voters to adjudicate political cleavages.

Of course, voters don't determine impeachment hearings. But voters respond later and demonstrate whether they agreed or disagreed with the outcome. The impeachment process in Brazil has become a circus, but voters are paying attention.

So let's begin analyses of regional change not with ideology, which is less of a concern to the average Latin American than pundits (and many politicians) like to believe.


Monday, May 09, 2016

Evo Morales Economic Policy

On May Day Evo Morales talked about raising salaries. A few days later, it government announced a policy of austerity (a phrase it seems not to shy from) for this year, limiting who would get a boost and noting that there would be forthcoming austerity measures.

“Se ha comunicado la política de austeridad y se ha hecho saber que todos los funcionarios públicos que reciban un salario superior a los 15 mil bolivianos no van a tener este año ningún incremento y se van a tomar otras medidas en las próximas semanas vinculadas a la política de austeridad en cada uno de los ministerios. Se van a hacer los ajustes correspondientes”, puntualizó. 
El Jefe de Estado indicó este 1 de mayo que en el marco de la austeridad que vive Bolivia, por la baja de los precios del crudo este año, no se incrementarán los bonos sociales y que el aumento salarial del 6 por ciento al mínimo nacional no alcanzará a las autoridades que tienen sueldos por encima de los 15 mil bolivianos.

So if you make over 15,000 Bolivianos (about $2,200 a month) you don't get the announced increase.

As I've written before, Evo Morales is more fiscally careful than he is usually given credit for. I don't want to make too much of this, but it's clearly not free-wheeling populism, which is normally the image Morales gets in the U.S. media.


Friday, May 06, 2016

Patricio Aylwin's Legacy

Jenny Pribble looks at the legacy of Patricio Aylwin at The Monkey Cage.

Chile’s first four Concertación administrations (1990-2010) emphasized negotiation and consensus building — and achieved only piecemeal policy reforms. Several studies underscore the failure of these governments to adequately address citizen demands, particularly in the areas of socialpolicylabor market regulationshuman rights abuseswomen’s rights, indigenous rights and constitutional design.

I wrote about him in the context of civil-military relations, and my take is similar. Really, any analysis of Aylwin and the Concertación in general has to deal with the tension between wanting to work well with the right (and the military) and making significant reforms to push back against the Pinochet market model.

For those who argue the former, the answer is that piecemeal reforms were all that was possible. The right was resistant and the Concertación could either get a little or get nothing. In the 1990s there was also concern about the military itself being an obstacle with public displays of discontent.

For those who argue the latter, civilian governments didn't push as hard as they could've. Consensus can be useful, but it shouldn't always be the core goal. Why not push harder in some areas?


Thursday, May 05, 2016

Recommendations For U.S.-Latin America Policy

I was part of an effort along with a number of other scholars in a working group that put together some recommendations for U.S. policy toward Latin America. Of course, this comes in the context of the 2016 presidential election (since they are reasonable, they would not likely be taken too seriously by Donald Trump).

Overall, in my opinion the recommendations strike a balance between "paying attention" and "over-reacting" in the region. Take security threats seriously, but don't jump to conclusions; play a role, but keep a multilateral focus; encourage positive change (such as an anti-corruption effort) but don't play the role as director.

You may not agree with everything (and certainly I would tweak a thing here or there, but that's what a consensus document is all about) but it's worth chewing on.


Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Don't Just Blame Latin American Voters

Ricardo Hausmann wrote a pretty condescending op-ed on Latin American voters. He blames them for following false political narratives. What he actually describes, however, are rational voters looking for solutions to problems that governments of a particular party created. Now, as 20 years ago, voters get fed up when pressing issues--inflation, stagnation, whatever--aren't adequately addressed and they look for other parties.

Until voters learn what to ask for from their governments, they are bound to dislike what they end up getting. Unfortunately, Latin America’s dominant political narratives are not helping that process along.

Given popular concerns about crime, corruption, and sluggish economic growth now, it seems to me that Latin American voters know exactly what to ask of their governments. The question is whether those governments enact policies that fulfill those demands. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.

And when the traditional parties clearly have no answers, voters look elsewhere, which helps the slide toward populism. This isn't necessarily just about narrative, but rather it's pragmatic. If the puntofijista parties in Venezuela created the mess we're in, why in the world should I vote for one of their candidates? A Venezuelan in 1998 may not have liked everything he/she heard from candidate Hugo Chávez, but he seemed better than the others.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Timing in the Venezuelan Recall Effort

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz explains the importance of timing of the recall effort against Nicolás Maduro. This matters because if the referendum takes place after January 10, 2017 (which would be four years from when the term is commonly accepted to have started) then a successful recall would remove Maduro but not prompt new elections. Instead, the Vice President would assume office. If a successful recall occurs before then, there would be new elections. From Article 233 of the constitution:

Si la falta absoluta del Presidente o Presidenta de la República se produce durante los primeros cuatro años del período constitucional, se procederá a una nueva elección universal, directa y secreta dentro de los treinta días consecutivos siguientes. Mientras se elige y toma posesión el nuevo Presidente o la nueva Presidenta, se encargará de la Presidencia de la República el Vicepresidente Ejecutivo o la Vicepresidenta Ejecutiva.
 En los casos anteriores, el nuevo Presidente o Presidenta completará el período constitucional correspondiente.

This is why the government is already saying there is no way the process can move quickly enough to be done this year. But as Telesur itself notes, the 2004 recall process took about seven months, which would be early December 2016 and one month to spare.

So let's see how long it takes to confirm those signatures.


Monday, May 02, 2016

Maduro's Call For Rebellion

Venezuelans are gathering signatures to push for a recall referendum against Nicolás Maduro. In response, Maduro said that if a recall happened, people should rebel and launch a general strike.

Just stop and think about that for a moment.

Chavistas have controlled the state for 17 years, which of course includes all electoral institutions. The opposition can't cheat--there is no way for them to do so. Therefore he is basically saying that opposition may be so overwhelming that his own officials will not be able to stem the tidal wave. In other words, if a recall effort is that incredibly strong, then apparently you should rebel against the obvious strength of democratic processes.


Friday, April 29, 2016

In-State Tuition For Undocumented Students

A student from last semester's Latin American Politics class got an op-ed from that class published at Latin America Goes Global on in-state tuition for undocumented students. It's provocative and I think it's pretty cool. She is in fact undocumented so the stakes for her are high.

Those who are opposed to DACA (and immigration generally) argue that giving DACA students in-state tuition takes jobs away from native-born children and citizens.  This is a competitive country and a competitive market and the U.S. has survived and thrived because it is a meritocracy.

So go check it out. She believes in the American Dream.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Donald Trump Lies Constantly About Immigration

In the past, say, 10 years, on the topic of immigration I've given countless talks, written articles, wrote a book, participated on panels, gone on radio, gone on TV, you name it. Sometimes it feels repetitive. Am I saying something substantively different from 10 years ago? And then I read about Donald Trump and feel like it's necessary to keep talking, even if I'm just repeating myself. From The Los Angeles Times:

 On the campaign trail, Donald Trump consistently portrays illegal immigration as a mounting crisis warranting drastic measures. 
"Just look at the record number of people right now that are pouring across the borders of this country," Trump said to reporters Tuesday night at a party celebrating his victory in five more Republican primary states. 
But Trump's claims of record levels of illegal immigration don't match the facts. 
Multiple studies show rates of illegal immigration are declining. 
And federal statistics show the lowest number of border apprehensions in years.

This isn't about interpretation, or unrealistic policy ideas. It's about lying. Just lying. And when a major presidential candidate repeats a lie over and over, you know many people will believe it. The repetition alone helps that. The lie leads encourages bigotry, bad policy, and fear. So the rest of us also have to keep repeating the facts, in public.


Selling Arkansas Rice to Cuba

John Boozman is a conservative Republican U.S.Senator from Arkansas. He also wants to end the Cuba embargo and wrote an op-ed about it.

The Obama administration has made excellent progress on the path to restoring trade with our Cuban neighbors, but we are now at the point where any further progress is dependent on leaders in Congress. We are lucky to have strong representation in Arkansas, from Gov. Asa Hutchinson to Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Rick Crawford, each of whom has come out in support of expanded trade opportunities for businesses and industries like mine. However, we need additional champions in Congress to continue this momentum to normalize trade so that Cuba can once again become a major U.S. trading partner. 

I find it really interesting that he a) consciously praises President Obama; and b) does not mention human rights or anything about Cuban politics at all. It is a purely capitalist argument, whereby Arkansan farmers are being disadvantaged and as their representative he wants to correct that. Period.

This isn't new in and of itself. Republican governors have led trade delegations to Cuba for years. But Obama's policy shift has made the bipartisan possibility even more apparent. The political sands that serve as the foundation of the Cuba embargo are shifting.


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