Wednesday, November 25, 2015

100th Anniversary of Pinochet's Birth

Thanks to Robert Funk on Twitter for pointing this out. In Chile, people are honoring the 100th anniversary of Augusto Pinochet's birth by putting an obituary (honoring birth with death is a bit weird, I must say) in El Mercurio, the same newspaper that took great delight in encouraging the overthrow of Salvador Allende.

This is a minority but still. Plenty of Chileans don't regret the murders and repression, and instead see Pinochet as a savior. The tragically ironic view that his dictatorship saved democracy is still around. Weaker, but still around.

Next year will be the 10th since his death, so I assume we'll see similar sorts of things.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

ISIS in Latin America

I was waiting for this. I knew it would happen sooner rather than later. I actually just called it! Bad op-eds about ISIS and Latin America.

For Islamic terrorists to target the United States, the best foreign region from which to operate is Latin America. Intelligence agencies report that there are sleeper cells in the Tri-Border area; and it is conceivable that they could link up with their counterparts in U.S. cities such as Dearborn, Michigan, and Paterson, New Jersey. 
In the wake of the Paris bombings and shootings, I queried several U.S. intelligence experts about the chance of an ISIS attack on the U.S. homeland, emanating from Latin America. Their uniform response? “Highly likely.”

Read more here:

Mention the Tri-Border area. Mention Iran. Jump to conclusions and then ask a few of your conspiracy-minded friends, who can respond anonymously. And you have a threat all tied up in a bow.

Just wait for the congressional hearing, complete with a slew of alarmist speakers with flimsy evidence. We've been hearing for about a decade that Iran is about to attack us through South America.


Monday, November 23, 2015

What Argentina Isn't

Excellent op-ed in Bloomberg by Alejandro Rebossio on how changes in Argentina will be oversold. In general terms that is a theme I've returned to many times over many different issues. So many countries in Latin America have been labeled at one time or another as the star, as a game changer. This often is tied to ideology, where a new leftist government is solving the problems left by conservative governments, and vice versa. Over and over.

It is one thing for a country to earn money for its speculative investors for a season and quite another for it to develop in a sustainable and equitable way. Despite the boost in gross domestic product and reduction in poverty and inequality that Latin America enjoyed in the first decade of this century, such balanced development remains its most demanding challenge, even if it’s less eye-catching for the markets.

Balance is boring, so much so that it gets ignored. It's rare to read about Evo Morales' fiscal moderation, for example, because it doesn't fit prevailing narratives too well. Right now the Argentine election narrative in the U.S. is business-friendly growth, usually based on the assumption (spoken or assumed) that such a path is also optimal for the average Argentine. That's doubtful but will likely be the narrative for a while.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Tulchin's The Aftermath of War

I read Joseph Tulchin's The Aftermath of War: World War I and U.S. Policy Toward Latin America, written way back in 1971. His main argument was that the U.S. was concerned about European influence in three main policy areas--banking, oil, and cables--and that after the first few years after the war that influence waned to the point that the U.S. felt it need not intervene as much anymore. He ends on an almost idyllic note, about how all helped "provide the basis for mutual understanding and the hope for meaningful cooperation in the hemisphere" (253).

Given where U.S.-Latin American relations stood at the time the book was being written--intervention everywhere--this is a very curious conclusion. Tulchin notes repeatedly how the State Department worked to push U.S. companies onto Latin American governments, and how armed intervention continued in Central America and the Caribbean. For the most part, though, these are considered exceptions rather than the rule.

So it was an interesting read about a topic I enjoy--I just had to focus on the extensive archival work he did, which is thorough, and more or less ignore the broader theme of U.S. policy goodness.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Syrians Detained in Honduras

As has been widely reported, five Syrians were detained by Honduran authorities as they sought to get to the U.S. with fake Greek passports. Already members of Congress are using it as an example of why we should block Syrian refugees. I find this predictable but unwarranted.

First, this demonstrates how well the current system works. Even Honduras, which has a weak state, contributes.

Second, arriving with fake passports of another country is extremely hard. These people did not even speak Greek.

Third, if you use a Syrian passport there is going to be intense scrutiny. So stolen Syrian passports are not a particularly good option. Presumably the scrutiny of the Syrian refugee process was another reason they didn't try to use it.

Fourth, trafficking in fake passports--even for nefarious purposes--is not new. The U.S. has been dealing with this effectively for many years, which means we don't need to "pause." We already know it works, and officials are constantly updating technology, screening, etc.

I am also now waiting for the chorus of how Middle Eastern terrorists are storming through Latin America on their way to the United States.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Accepting Refugees

Yesterday at Steven Hyland's invitation I participated in a panel discussion at Wingate University on unaccompanied minors from Central America. That is a crisis that requires compassion, generosity, and complex thinking. U.S. policies (not to mention drug consumption) helped exacerbate many existing problems in Central America, and we need to acknowledge that. It's not easy for local governments and schools to deal adequately with the challenge, but we need to do it because as Americans that's what we should do.

Coincidentally, yesterday was also when Governor Pat McCrory joined many of his counterparts across the nation when he announced he would ask the federal government to stop sending Syrian refugees to North Carolina (some governors had even stronger wording). One member of the General Assembly actually said we should deport the Syrian refugees (numbers vary, but under 60) already in the state. Just because.

The utter lack of compassion and responsibility just floors me. We've been bombing Syria for over a year, which means that people who are already terrified of ISIS are even more on the run, not knowing where to go or what to do. Refugees have not been sources of terrorism. We are contributing to the refugee flow and need to acknowledge that.

Even worse is that anti-immigrant arguments are being made by people who strongly self-identify as Christians. As the spokesman for the Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte said:

“Refugees have been fleeing terrorism since the family of Jesus fled from Bethlehem to Egypt to escape the edict of King Herod that all baby boys under the age of 2 should be put to death.”

Read more here:

But this comparison doesn't seem to resonate, and I can't express how much it saddens me. I've been reading internet trolls and ignorant shares on Facebook/Twitter for years, not to mention the fact that I study politics, where hypocrisy is rampant. But for some reason this saddens me in particular. We are engaged in a war and there are innocent people, including young children, running for help. And for many people the response is the middle finger. Chris Christie even said we should not let in orphans under 5 years of age. That's who we are as a nation? Really?

During the panel discussion at Wingate, Federico Rios, who works with undocumented children in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools through the nonprofit Communities in Schools, gave accounts of seven-year old children sitting in front of an immigration judge and getting grilled, then given a deportation order. My youngest daughter is seven years old, and it is overwhelming to try and picture her in the same situation. We need to show compassion and we just aren't doing it. We are better than this.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Roadblock to Approving Roberta Jacobson

I wrote about how Roberta Jacobson's nomination as Ambassador to Mexico is being held up by Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio because of Cuba. Now there seems to be only one roadblock left:

Cornyn said he hasn’t spoken yet to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about how the chamber’s top leader plans to handle the proceedings, but said he will ask him to hold a vote soon. 
He said he hopes an agreement can be reached with all senators that will allow a vote on her nomination while also allowing senators opposed to her role in the Cuba policy or the policy itself a chance to say so. 
“There could  be some sort of set period for debate and then a vote that would allow senators to express themselves and put on the record how they feel about the Cuba policy. But my point is that his relationship is so important to the U.S. and especially to Texas that we simply need to fill that position. And this is the nomination that has been voted out of committee.”

Put differently, Marco Rubio needs time to make a speech. He is running for president and does not want to quickly nominate her without some cameras on him while he criticizes the Obama administration's opening toward Cuba.

The good news it that she'll be approved. So let candidate Rubio bloviate about Cuba and let's get on with it.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Facebook and Disasters

The Brazilian fake news site Sensacionalista has a story which, like The Onion, is close enough to be true. It says that to avoid controversy Facebook would allow people to change their profile to honor the dead in Minas Gerais.  I could in fact see that sort of thing happening. Bad news and disasters are big deals on Facebook, where people rush to show their "solidarity," whatever that actually means (usually, think, it means nothing other than "I want to say publicly that I am against bad things"). Of course, the current profile image is of the French flag--Facebook makes it as easy as possible even just to temporarily change it.

And what of other disasters around the world? They don't get profile changes, yet I wouldn't doubt that Facebook will start thinking regionally, just in case you prefer to honor a different disaster than the Paris attacks. You could honor 3-4 at time if you didn't want to offend people by what you're not honoring. What you fail to honor would became a hot topic of debate. We'd spend so much time debating what to honor that we'd make sure never to actually do anything about any of them. I could really see that happening.


Friday, November 13, 2015

U.S. Goals in Cuba

Richard Feinberg has an article in Latin America Goes Global on President Obama's Cuba policy, exhorting him to take further measures to stimulate trade. One part in particular merits attention:

To strengthen the pro-reform elements—the strategic goal of U.S. policy—the U.S. government needs to issue clarifying regulations permitting engagement with Cuban state intermediaries. 

This is a key point. Opponents of policy reform claim the administration has loftier goals, thus setting up strawman arguments. Obama is not claiming human rights problems will disappear, that democratization is on the way, or that Cuba will stop criticizing U.S. policy. He has never claimed those things. What the administration aims for is more modest, but modesty is the only way toward success in this case. The administration wants to gradually help pro-reform Cubans gain traction and establish some level of trust.

So the critics are criticizing goals that do not in fact exist. Obama's policy shift should be judged on its own merits, and I agree with Feinberg that the only way forward now is...forward.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Luis Almagro's Letter to Venezuela

Read the text of the scathing letter OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro wrote to Tibisay Lucena, the president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council. Adam Isacson noted approvingly on Twitter that it even quotes Bob Marley. But it goes into extensive detail about problems in Venezuela, and maintains a critical but not aggressive tone.

This part struck me especially:

It has been some time in our region since a top opposition figure was imprisoned around the time of an election. The last such case was that of Wilson Ferreira Aldunate in Uruguay in 1984.

At that time Uruguay was still a military dictatorship. That's not the sort of company you want to be in.


Saudi Arabia and Iran in Latin America

People in the United States obsess about Iran's presence in Latin America, all too often blustering about the threat. But Saudi Arabia reminds us that it may well be better to view it in terms of Iran's weakness.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Arab countries’ rapprochement with South American countries will increase Iran’s isolation in the world ahead of a Latin America-Arab world summit in Riyadh on Tuesday 
Prior to the Summit of the Arab and South American countries, Jubeir told Al Arabiya News Channel that South American countries have always supported Arab causes, adding that “Iran seeks to establish relations with these countries due to its weak international stance and because it does not have many friends across the world.” 
Jubeir added Tehran has become “weak” and “seeks to gain favor from any country.”

What this "rapprochement" means is less clear. Saudi Arabia is important to Latin American governments almost entirely in terms of oil prices, and right now the Saudis are squeezing oil producers tightly. Nicolás Maduro and Rafael Correa asked for the Saudis to support a plan to stabilize oil about about $80 a barrel. So far OPEC has kept the price low, but the International Energy Agency sees prices moving up:

The process of adjustment in the oil market is rarely a smooth one, but, in our central scenario, the market rebalances at $80/bbl in 2020, with further increases in price thereafter. 

Now, that's five years away, which is a long time for cash-starved oil producers in Latin America. So is there is more to rapprochement?

If there is something more (or if this somehow mollifies Maduro and Correa) then Iran will be the loser. It is already much less threatening in Latin America than alarmists claim, and this will reduce its influence further.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Endless War of the Pacific

I'm quoted in this Bloomberg story on the latest Chile-Peru flap. I've blogged about this so many times (here's one from seven years ago). What's really left to say? This particular dispute seems unrelated to resources--it's nationalism and symbolism. And this:

As international relations fray, the dispute may bolster the popularity of both nations’ leaders, which have touched record lows in recent months. 
Humala had 18 percent approval in a Datum Internacional poll published Monday. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet had 29 percent approval in a survey by Adimark GfK published Nov. 4

The War of the Pacific just won't end! And there's nothing like a good border dispute to boost your approval ratings.


Monday, November 09, 2015

Presidential Election in Peru Next Year

Cynthia McClintock takes a look at the April 2016 presidential election in Peru. Ollanta Humala cannot run again and fortunately is not trying to change the constitution to allow it. Her main take is that voters seem to be leaning to the right but there is a lot of time left. Whether or not a candidate is involved in corruption scandals will mean a lot, and potentially open the door to a surprise candidate.

The good: Otto Pérez Molina's resignation and Dilma Rousseff's troubles, among other things, have focused people on corruption, which is a step toward making politicians more accountable. Making candidates accountable before they're elected is good for everyone.

The not so good: when the established parties are so strongly connected to corruption, you run the risk of encouraging outsider candidates with little experience, which poses risks but also further undermines the party system. That was Ollanta Humala. That is also Jimmy Morales. The trick is creating new parties with real infrastructure that are not so corrupt. And that's quite a trick.


Friday, November 06, 2015

North Carolina Trade With Cuba

The North Carolina Farm Bureau is working hard to trade more with Cuba, and recently visited there. NC now exports poultry (which makes sense) and apples (which surprised me because it's not a typical NC product). This is yet another example of the countless visits made by officials of Republican-dominated states to expand trade.

I was confused, however, by the quote from Senator Richard Burr:

"We don’t change our policies just because they don’t work. We change them because there has been a change in our policy," Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said.

I've now read that quote ten times and I still don't understand it.


Thursday, November 05, 2015

Accepting Franklin Nieves

I'm quoted in this McClatchy article about Franklin Nieves and how he's viewed by anti-Chavistas in Miami.

In an interview at the Capitol’s Speaker’s Lobby, just off the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, said he was skeptical about Nieves’ request for asylum considering that his role “in the oppression machine of going after political opponents” was very recent. He noted that López was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison only two months ago. 
“We have to be very, very careful to make sure that anybody who seeks asylum in the United States is in fact somebody who deserves asylum, not someone who is part of the regime,” Díaz-Balart said.

Read more here:

The point I make is that from a strategic perspective you deal with dirty people in order to get dirt. If Nieves has concrete evidence (documents, for example) then I would be surprised if he was rejected by those who want to discredit the Maduro government. This is especially true because of the timing--a bombshell just a few weeks before the legislative elections would be highly valuable to the opposition, even if they despised the messenger.

To be more specific, if Nieves can prove that Leopoldo López was put in jail simply because Maduro wanted him there, he gives a boost to the opposition because of Ni Nis, those Venezuelan voters who are skeptical of both the government and the opposition. Even if it doesn't prompt them to vote for opposition candidates, disgust may keep them at home rather than voting for government candidates.

Now, if he doesn't have concrete evidence and he's just a disgruntled person (the Venezuelan government claims he was bribed) then I don't know how much impact it will have. Likely more than zero, though, which may well still make it worth the opposition's while.


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