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.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Reginald Hill's An Advancement of Learning

As a break from the craziness of the end of the semester, I read Reginald Hill's An Advancement of Learning, a Dalziel and Pascoe mystery published in 1971. It takes place in a small college in Yorkshire. It's well plotted narrative, but more interesting as an historical piece, for two reasons.

First, 40+ years ago people were already complaining about the corporatization of higher education. As one character says, "Governments started thinking industrially about education, that is in terms of plant efficiency, productivity, quotas, etc." (p. 31). Some things never change. Plus, professors complain about how lazy students can be.

Second, the sexism is pervasive. The core of the story is about a Biology professor who was accused of having an affair with an undergraduate. Multiple people repeated that they did not care about the affair itself. That's just what happens. The problem is that the professor flunked the student, and there was a hearing to determine if--you know, just possibly--that he was biased. They were sure, of course, that he would be impartial because nice men who have sex with undergraduates are trustworthy.


Corruption in Paraguay

The other day I met Allison Braden, a recent college graduate who is interested in Latin America. She just published a piece in War is Boring about corruption in Paraguay. Not surprisingly, it is not an uplifting story.


Venezuela's Got No Electricity or Money

Nicolás Maduro announced that Venezuelan public sector workers will only work on Mondays and Tuesdays. The headline in the national news agency was that public services would be "guaranteed" on the other three days, but it's not clear what or how, especially if there is no electricity. The government is also considering fiddling around more with the time of day, which Hugo Chávez famously did back in 2007.

Meanwhile, inflation is increasing so rapidly that the government cannot print money quickly enough to make up for it.

Last month, De La Rue, the world’s largest currency maker, sent a letter to the central bank complaining that it was owed $71 million and would inform its shareholders if the money were not forthcoming. The letter was leaked to a Venezuelan news website and confirmed by Bloomberg News. 
“It’s an unprecedented case in history that a country with such high inflation cannot get new bills,” said Jose Guerra, an opposition law maker and former director of economic research at the central bank. Late last year, the central bank ordered more than 10 billion bank notes, surpassing the 7.6 billion the U.S. Federal Reserve requested this year for an economy many times the size of Venezuela’s. 

The IMF forecasts inflation in 2016 to exceed 700%. It's an economy held together with duct tape.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bad Analysis of Latin America

Commentary on Latin America has often been bad. Over the past decade I've written all kinds of posts refuting bad arguments. However, I feel like we're in a particular time of badness, based on the electoral defeats of leftist governments and the corruption scandals hitting governments of all political stripes. Note, however, that these stem from all ideological vantage points.
There are more, even way more, but that's enough for one day.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Rousseff Asks UNASUR and Mercosur for Help

Dilma Rousseff wants both Mercosur and UNASUR to keep an eye on the impeachment proceedings, basically to determine if her possible removal should be considered a violation of their democracy clauses. This is based on her argument that this is a coup. I've written before that I agree with those who do not see this as a coup, but there is precedent for suspension based on fishy impeachment.

Paraguay was suspended in 2012 because of Fernando Lugo's removal from office (which, if you remember, allowed Venezuela to finally enter the organization). But once there was a new election, everything went back to "normal." UNASUR made it clear it did not want Paraguay suspended for very long.

There is an extremely strong non-intervention streak in Latin America, and even governments friendly to Rousseff don't want to stick their necks out too far, if for no other reason than to resist having the same spotlight placed on themselves.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Political and Economic Disaster of Venezuela

David Smilde looks at the political and economic disaster of Venezuela. He echoes a common sentiment, which is that even after winning elections the opposition simply cannot get its act together. There is no unified voice, coordination, vision, plan, etc., which means limited ability to mobilize supporters in an effective way. As a result, the economy is falling apart yet the opposition is on its heels.

The opposition seems to be counting on the economic and electricity emergencies leading to a crisis of governance that will bring the Maduro government down. However, Chavismo still has considerable institutional strength and seems intent on making change look impossible by styming opposition initiatives. It is not unlikely that they will try to further reduce the National Assembly’s power in the coming months. 
But the real losers from this stalemate are the Venezuelan people who now more than ever need politicians that represent their interests. When asked, 90% of Venezuelans think the relationship between the opposition and the Maduro government will continue to be one of conflict. But incredibly, when asked what kind of relationship they would like to see, 85% each of: government supporters, government opponents and independents, suggested they would like to see cooperation to resolve Venezuela’s problems. This suggests that what we are seeing more than anything else in Venezuela is a crisis of representation, as two sides struggle for power, instead of collaborating to resolve the problems affecting average citizens. 

The average Venezuelan is losing, and that's the real tragedy.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Brazilian Crisis Isn't A Coup

At The Monkey Cage, Amy Erica Smith asks whether the crisis in Brazil is a coup. The answer is no.

What happened Sunday is analogous to jurors ruling against a defendant based not on the charges, but because they think she is a bad person. This does not constitute a coup, but it is a misuse of democratic procedures.

Concepts and definitions matter. "Terrorist" gets thrown around a lot, as does "genocide," "communist," and "dictator." What often happens is that we take pejorative terms and apply them to people or situations we don't like. By doing so we devalue valid cases and end up with a poorer understanding of what's actually going on and what likely consequences are. Brazil experienced a coup in 1964. What's happening now bears no resemblance to that.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Patricio Aylwin Has Died

Former Chilean President Patricio Aylwin has died. He was 97. He was a major political figure in 20th century Chilean politics. As a leader of the Christian Democratic Party, he played an important role in opposing Salvador Allende's policies, and shed no tears when he was overthrown. However, he came to regret that attitude after seeing, as so many of course did, that the military solution was far worse. As a news article wrote at the time of Aylwin taking office:

A day after the armed forces and police toppled Allende's Communist-backed government after three years of strikes, inflation and conflict, the Christian Democrats said that Allende had brought the coup on himself. They added that "the armed forces didn't seek this, but rather acted out of patriotism, with a sense of responsibility in the face of the historic destiny of Chile." 
That embittered Allende's Socialists and others in Allende's ruling Popular Unity coalition. Aylwin would later acknowledge that while the majority of Chileans agreed at the time, "in a variety of our evaluations, we were mistaken."

He quickly became highly critical of the dictatorship and was elected president in 1989, taking office in 1990. I did my dissertation research (which became this book) in the mid-late 1990s, and although I never interviewed him I talked to many of his associates as well as military officers. With Augusto Pinochet hovering around, he faced difficult trade-offs between stability and military accountability. The Rettig Commission, which investigated deaths but didn't name names, is an example of that trade-off. The 1990s was a time of complicated civil-military incrementalism.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Who is Getting US Security Aid in Central America?

Sarah Kinosian and Adam Isacson at WOLA have a great article on the composition of U.S. aid to Central America. The get down to specific initiatives and organizations that are receiving money, such as Salvadoran Army Intelligence, about which we know almost nothing.

This increase comes as the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are ramping up drug interdiction and border security efforts, and deploying security forces—often trained in military combat tactics—onto the streets to respond to high murder and crime rates. These heavy-handed policies have generated serious concerns and allegations of excessive use-of-force and extrajudicial executions. They raise questions about whether the United States has truly broken with its history of supporting unaccountable security forces in Central America, and whether these strategies can really keep populations safe or prevent drugs from reaching U.S. streets.

Adam has been doing this sort of work for many years, and so when he writes that it's unclear who is receiving money, it's because the information just isn't there. That sort of lack of transparency obviously does not create confidence.

But what they also get at is efficacy. There is a lot of doubt about whether the money is achieving what it is intended to achieve. The problem with massive aid packages is that they funnel large sums to money to lots of different groups, without enough attention to what's working. So you may well end up with a policy that potentially damages democracy without even achieving its stated goals.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Arguing Venezuela

The Washington Post published an editorial yesterday calling for undefined "political intervention" in Venezuela. The WaPo periodically publishes poorly-argued editorials on Latin America, which are basically Cold War conservative.

What I found more interesting was a response in Slate, which adopted a kitchen sink response about why intervention was not necessary, going back to the Guatemalan coup of 1954. I don't understand these responses, which are similar to meandering LASA resolutions. Back in 2013 I wrote about one such resolution, concluding:

I dislike lumping tons of unrelated things together. Get one issue alone and drive it home. Even if this is approved, it is a jumbled mess, with parts of it perhaps written a very long time ago.

I felt the exact same way reading this article. You actually convince fewer people when you jump all around, from Venezuela to presidential approval ratings (why are these relevant?) to the Middle East to Honduras back to Venezuela to Cold War Latin America to Noam Chomsky.

Effectively refuting the WaPo is not hard, and should not include references to anything except the many ways in which "political intervention" (and since the WaPo didn't define it you would have to do that first) will backfire. Otherwise we're just in a loop of people saying lots of non sequiturs to each other.


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