Sunday, April 30, 2006

Some Thoughts on Bachelet and Business

A friend of mine in the business world is currently working in Chile, and has now spent several years there. He said he had been thinking about the feedback he’s been getting from Chilean business people about President Bachelet, namely that they don’t like her economic strategies, and believe that with Piñera the current economic boom could have led to 8-9% growth, whereas Bachelet will be unable to achieve the same.

My first reaction is that we should not be surprised that conservative business people would grumble after seeing a socialist elected instead of one of their own. When has business anywhere ever rejoiced about such an outcome?

But I also wonder about the power of perception and conventional wisdom. I tend to agree with Matthew Shugart’s appraisal of Bachelet, that she really has no record of being “leftist” and therefore somehow unfriendly to business. It may well be that business people will either a) change their minds, as many have with Lula in Brazil; or b) keep complaining even while making very nice profits.

What also struck me was that even if the Chilean business right is so concerned, it has clearly been unable to convince the rest of the country. President Lagos left office with a 70+% approval rating. Bachelet’s, meanwhile, is not as high but still over 50% in her first several weeks. It also may well be that people in business are among the few who look back with nostalgia on the economic policies of the Pinochet years, while many Chileans—especially women and the young—are more skeptical.


Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Dancer Upstairs

Last night I finished the novel The Dancer Upstairs, by Nicholas Shakespeare. It is a fictionalized account of the hunt for and capture of Abimael Guzmán, the leader of the Shining Path in Peru. It centers on the police officer who eventually found him in Lima. I enjoyed it--it’s added my book list on the left side--and it made me want to find a good biography of Guzmán. I haven’t found any in English, though maybe there is one published in Peru.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Day Without an Immigrant

I’m getting emails about the Day Without an Immigrant on May 1. What I find most interesting is how new this is. Over the past several discussions in my U.S.-Latin American Relations class, my students have been debating whether it will be effective, and whether there will be a backlash of some sort—we just don’t know. Perhaps the key is whether it remains totally nonviolent.

If anyone is interested in North Carolina activities, check out this blog.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Jorge Castañeda's article on the left and populism

I finally got around to reading the Jorge Castañeda's article in Foreign Affairs, which I think is thought provoking and worth reading, but still incomplete in its analysis of the “two lefts” in Latin America.

Here is Castañeda’s definition of “left”:

“that current of thought, politics, and policy that stresses social improvements over macroeconomic orthodoxy, egalitarian distribution of wealth over its creation, sovereignty over international cooperation, democracy (at least when in opposition, if not necessarily once in power) over governmental effectiveness.”

Is it analytically useful to put Perón in the same category as Hugo Chávez? Or, for that matter, to label Néstor Kirchner as an unrepentant leftist? He argues that populists are ardent anti-Communists, which fits Perón but not Chávez (I am not sure about Kirchner). We are all familiar with Chávez, but is López Obrador in Mexico really the boogeyman that Castañeda makes him out to be, i.e. that he “loves power more than democracy, and…will fight to keep it at great cost”?

I think Castañeda conflates populism and “leftism,” which bring us back to the problem of over-simplifying political realities in Latin America. It is more useful to argue that there are indeed two strands of the left in the region, but that populism (and corporatism) is also present, such that not all leaders can easily be categorized as leftist. As political scientists, we need to dust off these old concepts, which were so prevalent in the 1970s, and rethink them. It would be a great idea for an article (if only I had the time).


Cuba trading with Alabama

Just a small piece from the Miami Herald about how Alabama and Cuba are doing business, given the very limited opportunities offered by the U.S. government (in particular, the transaction has to be done with cash prepayment--no credit--and can only be agricultural or medical goods).

HAVANA -- Cuba agreed Wednesday to buy another $20 million in agricultural goods from Alabama, among several U.S. farm states still pushing for more trade with the communist-run island despite tightened U.S. restrictions.
Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks told a news conference that his southern state's relationship with Cuba in recent years had been ``extremely important to the farmers of Alabama.''

This is another fascinating example of how U.S.-Cuban relations create very odd bedfellows. Alabama business organizations have been arguing for more trade with Cuba, especially for catfish, forest products, poultry, peanuts, and cotton. Googling "alabama trade cuba" brought a surprising number of hits, including open calls to end the embargo.

This is a Republican state, not one you would expect to be pushing hard to restore ties, but even many conservatives are beginning to wonder whether U.S. Cuba policy is worthwhile.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chávez spending his money on a good cause

The BBC article says it all.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

U.S. policy toward Cuba

Ironically, just after meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, President Bush made a public statement about U.S. policy toward Cuba, saying, "I have taken the position that trade with the country enables a tyrant to stay in power." It's an echo of the old argument made by Jeane Kirkpatrick that greatly influenced the Reagan administration, namely that there are good (authoritarian) dictatorships and bad (totalitarian) dictatorships, and we should stop moaning about human rights abuses when the government is favorable to us.


Saturday, April 22, 2006


I'm in San Diego for a very quick trip, and whenever I come back I have to go to Rubio's to get a fish burrito combo. If at all possible we also go to El Indio, especially since it's conveniently close to the airport.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Journal Submission

I just sent an article manuscript off to an academic journal. It is always a nice feeling, where you have accomplished something and have a span of time during which you don't have to deal with it. And maybe that span of time is also like Spring Training, where every team can think about winning the World Series...


Populism in Latin America Part II

Wow. Yesterday I said I hoped U.S. media would finally pick up on the nuances of populism in Latin America, and today the NYT did just that. The article uses the word "leftist" only once, and focuses on the rise of populist leaders in the context of the disintegration of traditional parties. Let's hope this reporting trend continues, so that we can get past the wearying stereotypes.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Populism in Latin America

The Economist offers up a good analysis of populism in Latin America, and is one of the very few media sources that is finally getting past the antiquated “leftist” label. Let's hope the U.S. media follows suit. Some important points the article makes is that populist and leftist are not synonymous, and that even “leftist” lumps together social democrats and socialists. Labeling most South American presidents simply as “leftist” totally ignores the political diversity in the region.

The article concludes by arguing that although populists appeal to the poor, ultimately they do very little to alleviate poverty. All too often, populism becomes a platform for personal power, to the detriment of both democracy and equality. Is it possible to have a president who goes around traditional elites and appeals directly to the poor, but who simultaneously promotes transparency, rule of law, equality and democracy?


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Karen Hughes' Visit to Latin America

The president is sending Karen Hughes down to Latin America to improve the image of the U.S., which is extraordinarily negative. Such a visit is not necessarily bad, and has a long history (Eisenhower famously sent his brother Milton, who then a wrote a book about Latin America entitled, The Wine is Bitter). The serious problem, however, is that the trip is based on the idea that the U.S. is doing great things, but just not getting any credit.

According to Hughes: "The way she sees it, the Bush administration is doing plenty, but most Latin Americans just don't know about it."

According to Secretary Rice: ''in some ways we, I guess, don't toot our own horn.”

In other words, on this trip Hughes will not discuss any ways in which U.S. policy might better address the political realities in the region, or ask for Latin American opinions about how to counteract the negative image of the U.S. She will go and say, “We are doing great things, and we want more credit.”

It is very hard to imagine any positive reaction to such a message.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Demography and Mexican Immigration

The Washington Post has a solid article on the “push” factors in Mexican emigration. Unlike the vast majority of such articles, it addresses demography, albeit only briefly. But even that is a very incomplete picture, for two main reasons. First, as my dad and I argue, you can’t look at Mexican demography in isolation, because increases in the young Mexican population came precisely at a time when the U.S. population was getting older, thus producing what we’re calling a “demographic fit.” Second, that demographic fit is almost over, because—contrary to conventional wisdom—Mexican birth rates have been falling steadily in recent years, and the percentage of young people in the U.S. has been rising.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Steroids in Baseball

I finished reading Game of Shadows, which was light and fluffy. The overall messages are that steroids are rampant in baseball, MLB is doing as little as possible, and Barry Bonds has been let off lightly. I understand all the BALCO details better now, but I can’t say the book told me a whole lot I didn’t already know.

One less reported outcome of the entire affair is the crackdown on amphetamines, which have been common in baseball for decades. I wonder whether we’ll see any difference, maybe late in the season, when players often use them frequently to recover.

I am also concerned that the Padres may need numerous performance-enhancing drugs to compete this year. There was some spark in today’s comeback victory against the Braves, but lately we’ve just been shelled while scoring no runs. Maybe the West will stay weak enough to win.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Peru, North Korea, and Violence

Here’s a disturbing story about former Peruvian President (and current candidate once again) Alan García’s creation of a paramilitary group (and very likely more than one) to combat the Shining Path in the late 1980s.

Especially noteworthy is the fact that Peru was sending members of the paramilitary to North Korea for training. Upwards of 1,000 (!) were trained there. I shudder to think what Kim Il Sung’s soldiers were teaching them--ironic that they were being trained to fight Marxist guerrillas. No wonder that Peru’s Truth Commission reported that 69,280 people were killed as a result of political violence in the 1980-2000 period.


Friday, April 14, 2006


A new report reveals that Santiago, Chile has the worst pollution of any Latin American city, even beating out Mexico City. Not the kind of thing you want to be known for, but I know Chileans with young children who go to the coast as many weekends as possible to get them out of that air.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

How Much Do Americans Care About Immigration Reform?

I had mentioned in a previous post that it seems Americans in general are not really very impassioned about the immigration reform debate. A Times/Bloomberg poll published today reflects that same conclusion. I think one of the distinctions people fail to make is that although Americans believe illegal immigration is a problem, a minority (31% according to this particular poll) see it as one of the country’s “major problems.” Marc Cooper has a good discussion about trying to interpret polls on this issue.

I tend to think that those who were proposing enforcement-oriented or enforcement-only policies believed that the country was up in arms, and that their proposals would really resonate. This was a miscalculation, because it helped create the massive rallies we’re seeing all over the country. If the majority of Americans do not care too much about the issue, then there will be no political momentum for a restrictionist bill; on the contrary, there will be tremendous political pressure to pass the opposite. The Senate leadership has already been backpedaling.

Andres Oppenheimer writes that James Sensenbrenner, Lou Dobbs, and Samuel Huntington are the restrictionist “three amigos” who may have actually contributed to the rallies, and thus are partially responsible for the fact that Congress will very likely not pass a restrictionist bill.


Classes Cancelled

I arrived on campus about 7:45 this morning to find that every building was dark due to a power outage, and my own building (Fretwell) was completely closed due to a manhole explosion that injured four workers (no word yet on their condition). The problem with the power was ultimately deemed so extensive that classes were cancelled for the entire day.

Although I am sure students are perfectly happy to have the day off, I was already a bit behind my lectures (not entirely a bad thing, since much of it is due to class discussions). Maybe now I will have to talk twice as fast to get it all covered...


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

More on Coca Sek

In answer to my question in the previous post about why all the sudden hits about Coca Sek, it seems the Los Angeles Times published a story today. What's strange is that it contains nothing new from the story published two months ago. It's just recycled.


Coca Sek and the Mystery of the Internet

I just happened to notice that throughout the day, this blog has had quite a few hits from people doing searches for Coca Sek (the new cola made with coca), and therefore they are looking at an entry from February. I have no idea why--as far as I know, there have been no new stories on it, though it is entirely possible that I've missed something.


Second Place in Peru

The second place spot is still too close to call in Peru, though former president Alan García leads Lourdes Flores, 24.6% to 23.4%. It might take two weeks to get a final count. Do they have hanging chads in Peru?


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Potential Leverage of Latino Immigrants

There were immigration rallies held all around the country and/or some worker walk-outs. I think this latter phenomenon is especially interesting. Tyson foods announced it would have to reduce production on Monday because it relied so heavily on immigrant labor. Tyson also said specifically it would not penalize workers who did not come yesterday. In short, Latino immigrant workers have a considerable amount of leverage, something that is occasionally talked about but not often seen in practice.

Thanks to my student Jose Posada, who last year loaned me A Day Without a Mexican, a fake documentary about a mysterious cloud that envelopes California and makes all Mexicans disappear. The state then falls apart. It’s a comedy—and a very corny one at that—but it is thought provoking.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Election in Peru

Looks like Peru will have a presidential run-off, a result that won’t surprise anyone. Results at this point are the following:

Ollanta Humala: 29-30%
Alan Garcia: 26%
Lourdes Flores: 25%
There are 17 other candidates behind that

Originally, a run-off would take place in May, but apparently it may not happen until June. The campaign until then will be intense, especially if it is Humala-Flores, who stand so starkly apart. The fact that Garcia, a widely disliked ex-president (perhaps not unlike Goni in Bolivia) did so well appears to be related to the fact that he successfully painted himself as a centrist.

This Herald article--like so many others--also has the requisite “wave of leftists” remark. On this issue, check out Boz’s questioning whether Pat Buchanan would be called a leftist in Peru.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Small vs. Large Conferences

I presented my paper on immigration at SECOLAS yesterday, and like numerous times over the years I was struck by the fact that very often I get the best feedback and discussion at small conferences. I don’t know if other people have the same experience or not. In particular, at large conferences the “questions” frequently are just speeches, intended to highlight the knowledge of the audience members. One time, I had to think quickly about how to respond politely to such a speech—ostensibly directed at my paper—because it contained no question at all. People also seem more relaxed at small conferences, and so are less concerned about betraying their ignorance on a given topic. Yesterday, we were having a great discussion, and suddenly someone mentioned that time was up. An hour and forty-five minutes had really flown by.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Mexican Politics

Last night’s keynote speaker for the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies conference was Roderic Camp, a prominent political scientist who has written massively on Mexican politics. Very interesting talk, though there was some sobering food for thought. In Mexico there is general apathy, low adherence to political parties, distrust of politicians, and a general sense that democracy doesn’t work. So far, then, this election is not exciting the Mexican electorate.

Camp argued that like in 2000, independents will play a key role, and how they will shake out is not predictable. As of now, Lopez Obrador still has a lead. La profesora links to a new poll showing Lopez Obrador slipping, and Boz shows some other polling data, arguing that attempts to link Lopez Obrador to Hugo Chavez may account for the slip in the polls. Meanwhile, the NYT discusses how President Fox has been active in attacking Lopez Obrador, presumably as a way to scare middle and upper class voters.


Friday, April 07, 2006

No Senate Bill

Despite all the nice talk and press conference, the Senate bill collapsed, after Democrats refused to allow votes on a number of amendments. The most prominent was to have the Department of Homeland Security “certify the border was secure” before any guest worker program began. Tough call—that particular amendment is clearly intended to destroy the bill, but Senator McCain claimed the proposed amendments would be voted down, and so it was acceptable to allow a vote.

So we’re back to where we were when I blogged back on February 1.


New Editor at The Latin Americanist

It is now official—I am going to be the new editor of an academic journal, The Latin Americanist, which is a small but growing journal associated with the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies. The outgoing editor, Bruce Wilson at the University of Central Florida, has done a lot with it in the past 5-6 years, so that now it has a solid and international readership, and a competitive acceptance rate.

I’m really looking forward to it, and I’ll be very interested to see how it is on the other side, being the person who ultimately decides what will be published. Thus far, like most everyone else, I’ve been in a position of complaining about editors of journals when my own article submissions not been accepted…


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Senate Development

More developments in the Senate, which is now discussing whether to put illegal immigrants into three different categories:

1. Been in the U.S. five years or more: pay fine, learn English, get a background check, and various other requirements, and you can become a legal worker
2. Been in the U.S. between two and five years: go to designated point of entry and apply for temporary worker permit
3. Less than two years: still being debated, but likely you would go back to your home country, then be at the end of the line for a temporary work permit.

There are all sorts of rumors about other possible compromises, but nothing is entirely clear. Frist wants a vote this week, but it is also unclear whether that will happen. If not, senators are leaving this weekend for a two week spring recess, during which time both sides will rally their supporters and try to influence the vote.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Our Brand is Crisis by Rachel Boynton

Yesterday on campus I had the opportunity to see the documentary Our Brand is Crisis and talk to the director, Rachel Boynton. The timing was perfect, because it was exactly when I teach U.S.-Latin American Relations, so I just had my entire class go. It was a great movie—anyone interested in Latin American politics would find it fascinating. It follows the 2002 presidential campaign of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (known as Goni) in Bolivia, and specifically how he used the same James Carville team of consultants that became famous from the Clinton years.

It is a very balanced movie, which lets everyone speak for themselves, but the theme was to question whether it is feasible to bring the U.S.-style of politics to a very poor, politically unstable country. In fact, the consultants did get Goni the victory, but he was forced out soon thereafter, as massive protests would pave the way for Evo Morales to be elected. Anyhow, there was a good Q&A with Rachel Boynton after the screening—she said that when she conceived of the movie, she wondered how to get access to everyone, and a friend recommended just printing up business cards. She did so, which made her look official, and started getting green lights. Not a bad research tip.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I talk a lot about how U.S. actions and words in Latin America (though elsewhere too) often end up having the opposite effect than intended. The movie had a perfect example, from the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia. At one point, the U.S. said that Evo Morales claimed that the U.S. government was trying to kill him. The ambassador reacted by reading a statement, which had the following logic (and I am not making this up).

1. Evo Morales thinks the U.S. wants to assassinate him
2. The only person the U.S. wants to assassinate is Osama bin Laden
3. Evo Morales is thus equating himself with bin Laden
4. Therefore Evo Morales is just like bin Laden

Apparently that statement alone boosted Evo’s numbers, and he said that he hoped the ambassador would keep saying such things.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

More Senate Debate on Immigration

Debate in the Senate continues, certainly more smoothly than I would’ve guessed. Even Frist is differentiating between illegal immigrants who are recently arrived and those who have lived in the U.S. a long time, arguing that the latter deserve to be made legal (thus invoking the buzzword “amnesty”). The sticky point is that he would offer nothing to the former, but there is still much to be decided. Frist wants a vote this week, though there have consistently been delays.

Best quote comes from Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) who says:

"I don't think you need a professor to understand that when you import substantial cheap labor, it displaces American workers.”

I’m still not sure whether to take that as an insult…


Monday, April 03, 2006

Adding to the blogroll

Bit by bit, I am adding to my blogroll. At some point I will figure out how to organize them by category, of which currently there are three—Latin America, general academia, and baseball. Today I add three in the second category: Signifying Nothing, Poliblog, and vegreville. The first two are political scientists, while the third is anonymous.


AP-Ipsos Poll on Immigration

Here is another poll (from AP-Ipsos) about American reactions to immigration:

56% favor or somewhat favor allowing illegal immigrants to apply for legal, temporary work status
51% believe illegal immigrants contribute to society
42% believe they are mostly a drain
67% are not confident that a wall would reduce illegal immigration
65% believe that illegal immigrants take jobs that Americans don’t want

This really reiterates the Pew Hispanic Center's poll results, which I discussed a few days ago.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Opening Day

It’s baseball’s opening day, and the winter wait is finally over. I can’t help but comment on MLB’s newly hatched investigation of steroids. Even Commissioner Selig admits it is largely in response to the book Game of Shadows, which I recently ordered but haven’t received yet (yes, I have the right to read trashy books every once in a while). But last year, I read a very good book called Juicing the Game, by Howard Bryant, which colors my view of the current situation.

Bryant’s main thesis is that MLB—and even Selig himself—launched the steroid era by consciously looking the other way as the massively bulked up Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa made baseball popular again with their home run race in 1998. MLB knew what was going on, but loved the PR boost. Now things have soured, so MLB is suddenly shocked to learn that the steroids issue hasn’t gone away (despite new punishments imposed last year) and launched an investigation headed by George Mitchell, a respected former politician, but someone very close to the owners. The bottom line is that the “holier than thou” line coming from Selig is tough to swallow. As sportswriter Buster Olney writes, “Summon the hounds. Sound the horn. Let the hunt for scapegoats begin.”


Saturday, April 01, 2006


The Peruvian presidential elections are coming right up (April 9) and Marcela Sanchez at the Washington Post offers a very sobering look. For example:

18% of Peruvians say they live in a democracy
60% say they do not care about democracy or know how to define it

Such disgust leads to presidents like Fujimori, and could potentially lead to Ollanta Humala, who has a Chávez-style background in terms of having led a military rebellion (albeit much smaller) having no political experience, and offering populist-leftist rhetoric. How he would actually govern is anyone’s guess—presidents like Gutierrez in Ecuador and Lula in Brazil were viewed a potentially problematic leftists, then shifted once in office (though the former was forced out) while Chávez, of course, did not shift. The jury remains out on Evo.


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