Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Castro: still around

There is yet another video of Fidel in the ubiquitous Adidas track suit, hanging out with Hugo Chávez, though the video I’ve seen stays on the waist up. My conclusion: he’s not dead yet.

Simultaneously, however, there is considerable discussion in Miami about his impending demise. More specifically, there were plans afoot to have a big celebration in the Orange Bowl, including specially made t-shirts. Only when public reaction made it clear that this was in terrible taste did the city start backing off. Of course, I am not living in exile and have never lived in a dictatorship, but still. A public celebration for death (which doesn't even mean the end of the regime) is too much.

This also makes me wonder what the reaction will be in the U.S. generally when Castro dies. Will the jubilation in Miami turn people off? Or will they just not care one way or the other?


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Decree power

So the Venezuelan National Assembly is soon expected to approve decree powers for Hugo Chávez, which would last 18 months. There are eleven different areas that will fall under this decree power:

  • Transformation of state institutions
  • Popular participation
  • Essential values in the exercise of public administration
  • Economic and social matters
  • Finance and taxation
  • Citizen security and justice
  • Science and technology
  • Territorial arrangement
  • National security and defense
  • Infrastructure, transport and services
  • Energy

I’ve been chewing on this a little bit, and trying to think of something that isn’t included in these categories. I wonder what the current rate of capital flight is.


Happy blogoversary to me

One year ago today I started this blog, largely as a way to explore current events in Latin America in a way I didn’t have time for in class. I spent a lot of time lurking in other people’s blogs, looking at what they did, got a little help from Michelle, and away I went.

It has been an enormous amount of fun, just writing about Latin America and having people comment periodically and send me emails. I think about the issues more because I know my comments will sit out there for many people to read, and I engage in debate every once in a while—even on other blogs as we cross fertilize. After a year, I’m enjoying it more than ever.

There has been one unexpected element to all of this. I chose the name quickly, just a play on my name (though in one conversation, my Mom kept saying, “Yes, but what does it mean?”). I did not realize that when people want to leave their jobs, they google “two week notice” or “how to write a two week notice” or “template two week notice.” And they find me. There was quite a rush of them right before Christmas. Funny thing is, a few of them actually stop for a while and read.


Monday, January 29, 2007

India and Latin America

In response to yesterday’s blog about Venezuela, I was very pleased to receive an email from Rengaraj Viswanathan, who was India’s Ambassador to Venezuela from 2000 to 2003, and currently Head of the Latin America and Caribbean Division of India’s Ministry of External Affairs. For everyone interested in Latin America, I would recommend his blog Latin American Affairs. I’ll get it up on my blogroll when I get a chance. This is definitely one of the great aspects of blogging.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

NYT Magazine on Chavez

The NYT Magazine has a piece by David Rieff on Hugo Chávez, which is annoyingly bad. The primary problem many U.S. observers have is that they ascribe too much power and influence to Chávez, even believing a lot of what he says. In addition, there is a strong tendency to equate Chávez with Castro in his early years, even when the comparison just doesn’t work. The problems with this article are similar to those in a recent CNN article. So we learn that:

--Chávez is creating a “Soviet-style command economy.” Who knows, maybe someday, but Venezuela is still a very capitalist country.

--he plays the same role in 2007 as Fidel Castro did in 1967 as an “iconic” figure for the world. This is incredibly overstated—just look at polls showing what Latin Americans, for example, think of him. He certainly has supporters, but he is nowhere near Fidel in his prime.

--“the left-wing surge throughout Latin America continues unabated.” Oh man, are people still writing this sort of nonsense? He claims that this “Castroite Latin American left” will unite with Iran and Hezbollah in a global fight against the U.S.

His arguments require that you ignore Latin American (and even UN) resentment about Chávez’s meddling, ignore internal politics in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, ignore the intricacies of the Venezuelan economy, ignore the complexities of political shifts within Latin America, and that you swallow whole all the claims that Chávez makes.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tortilla crisis

I had written briefly a few weeks ago about the rise of tortilla prices in Mexico. This is growing into a serious crisis, and the Washington Post has a good article on the problems involved. Conventional wisdom is that rising demand for ethanol is the culprit, but Mexicans are increasingly blaming the shady relationship between the government and huge corporations. For example, ethanol is made from yellow corn, but tortillas are made from white corn, yet the price of white corn is indexed to the price of yellow corn. Further, one company (Grupo Gruma) controls about 80% of the tortilla flour market, and both the Fox and Calderón governments routinely make policy based on the desires of corn brokers. So far, Calderón’s solution has been to reach a “gentleman’s agreement” with companies to cap tortilla prices, though there are already charges that it is not being followed.

The article also does a nice job of outlining the health issues at stake. Tortillas are an important source of both protein and calcium, but when the price is too high, people are shifting toward cheap instant noodles, which are starchy and loaded with sodium.


Events in Ecuador

A student, Mark Rowsey, had emailed me several days ago about the death of Ecuador’s defense minister, who had been at her job nine days. The minister, her daughter, and five officers died when two helicopters collided. He mentioned that friends of his in Ecuador indicated that rumors were really flying—Correa would run the ministry himself, the U.S. was involved, the military did it, there was no way the helicopters would crash without sabotage, etc.

The sad truth is that Ecuador’s military is so politicized that even conspiracy theories seem less outlandish. Sam Fitch, a very well known scholar who has studied civil-military relations in Latin America for years, wrote a book about Ecuador entitled, The Military Coup d’Etat as a Political Process, which says it all. It was only seven years ago (almost to the day) that the military overthrew a government.

Fortunately, however, the reaction to the deaths has been measured and fully in line with democracy. President Correa has said that not only will he name a new minister, his nominee will be another woman. He has ordered a special commission to study the circumstances of the crash. A government spokesperson advised against any speculation. She had a large funeral with full participation by the armed forces. And as far as I know, the military itself has kept totally quiet.

So far, this incident just doesn’t have the flavor of a conspiracy. There doesn’t seem to be much more tension than there ever was: at least in public, Correa and the military leadership have remained mutually respectful. Of course, there are many things we don’t know. But at the moment, you could make the argument that this is a successful handling of a potential civil-military crisis in a coup-prone country.


Friday, January 26, 2007

President Bush and immigration policy

I hadn’t had an opportunity to discuss President Bush’s mention of immigration reform in the SOTU. Here it is:

Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America, with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. When laws and borders are routinely violated, this harms the interests of our country. To secure our border, we’re doubling the size of the Border Patrol and funding new infrastructure and technology.

Yet even with all these steps, we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border, and that requires a temporary worker program. We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis. As a result, they won’t have to try to sneak in, and that will leave border agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists. We’ll enforce our immigration laws at the worksite, and give employers the tools to verify the legal status of their workers, so there’s no excuse left for violating the law. We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals. We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country, without animosity and without amnesty.

Convictions run deep in this Capitol when it comes to immigration. Let us have a serious, civil, and conclusive debate so that you can pass, and I can sign, comprehensive immigration reform into law.

I’m glad he added this to the speech, and in particular I totally agree with the notion that we need a system that has the Border Patrol going after dangerous people, as opposed to those looking for work. The problem, however, is that he said similar things last year, but never went beyond just talk.

Stung by the president’s past refusal to actually push for immigration reform, Democrats are now demanding that he deliver at least a quarter of House Republicans. This seems a shrewd move, as it tells the president to put his money where his mouth is. If he does it, Democrats can take a large share of the credit for reform; if he fails, he looks even weaker, which could make it easier for Democrats to block him in other areas.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Final thoughts on Iran in Latin America

I had written (for example, here) about President Ahmadinejad’s recent mini-tour of Latin America, which was intended—in conjunction with Hugo Chávez—to rouse anti-imperialist sentiment against the United States. My own conclusion was that it had almost no effect at all.

Now The Economist reveals that the Latin America trip was very unpopular in Iran:

Mr Ahmadinejad's anti-American bluster has also been attacked in light of his recent visit to Latin America, widely viewed as ill-timed and unnecessary. A reformist daily, Etemaad-e Melli, called the Venezuelan, Ecuadorean and Nicaraguan presidents, who embraced Iran's president, “left-wing friends, good for coffee-shop discussions but not for setting our security, political and economic priorities”.

During the trip, Mr Ahmadinejad announced he would put $1 billion into an Iranian-Venezuelan fund to help countries “free themselves from the yoke of American imperialism”. That sharpened the more serious criticisms he faces at home over Iran's economic performance.

A recent statement signed by 150 members of parliament imposed conditions on the president in drawing up the budget for the next Iranian year, which starts in late March. The MPs are now calling on him to defend his record before parliament.

In short, I don’t think Iran will be much involved with Latin America. Unfortunately, however, the U.S. government has yet to demonstrate that it can offer any real alternatives to the rhetorical bluster. Instead, it usually just offers up its own bluster.



There is much to blog about, but I've had a very nasty case of Strep Throat. Around here, January has been quite an active month for kid-induced illness.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tijuana police

In one the odder stories I've read in a while, police who patrol tourist areas in Tijuana were issued slingshots and bags of ball bearings. Their guns had been temporarily confiscated because of charges that corrupt officers were working with drug traffickers.

I'm trying to conjure up the image. Police have a slingshot hanging out their back pocket like Dennis the Menace, and if they see a problem, they yell, "Halt, or I'll shoot!" while they fumble with the thing, ball bearings flying every which way. Are there professional slingshot masters to teach them how to use it?


Monday, January 22, 2007


A quote from President Bush’s 60 Minutes interview a week or so ago has been percolating away in my mind, as I think about how in some ways little has changed in the last 80-100 years in U.S. policy. Here is the quote:

We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude. That's the problem here in America: They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq.

In my U.S.-Latin American Relations class, just today we discussed U.S. intervention in the early twentieth century, which helps us understand the resentment that built up in a number of countries (most notably in Cuba and Nicaragua). A major theme at the time, which was bipartisan, was that Latin Americans should be grateful for our efforts, and we wondered why in the world they kept fighting against us. We had invaded and occupied for their own good to teach them how to run their countries, policy makers believed, so why can’t we convince them of that?

Secretary of War Elihu Root talking about Cubans in 1901: there would never be independence “if they continue to exhibit ingratitude and entire lack of appreciation of the expenditure of blood and treasure of the United States to secure their freedom from Spain.”
--Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States, 1998, p. 150

A State Department official spoke in 1926 about Central America: “If the United States has received but little gratitude, this is only to be expected in a world where gratitude is rarely accorded to the teacher, the doctor, or the policeman, and we have been all three.”
--Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions, 1984, p. 301


U.S. policy toward Cuba

It is widely argued (including by me) that although the U.S. embargo against Cuba damages the country economically, it bolsters the Castro regime politically. The Miami Herald has an article arguing that the embargo is also making it more difficult for the U.S. to get global support to condemn human rights abuses in Cuba.

In short, our strong-arm tactics turn everyone off. Plus, Europe is annoyed by Helms-Burton, which is the U.S. effort to extend the effects of the embargo into other countries. Finally, a number of governments believe that U.S. tactics just don’t work:

European diplomats interviewed by The Miami Herald, many of whom declined to be identified because Cuba is a delicate subject, say all its members want democracy in Cuba. But some governments like those in Spain, France and England feel that condemning Havana at this time would prompt the communist government to dig its heels rather than embrace change.

I don’t think that positive statements about desiring democracy in Cuba (which, after all, is clearly a dictatorship) would have a negative effect. But at the very least, let’s admit that our Cuba policy has been a miserable failure and talk about what else might actually work.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Negro League Baseball

Yesterday I had the very cool opportunity to meet and get the autograph of Larry LeGrande, a former Negro League baseball player who was Satchel Paige’s last catcher. For anyone who doesn’t know, Satchel Paige is in the baseball Hall of Fame and is one of the best pitchers of all time, in any league. LeGrande now sells memorabilia here in Charlotte as a way to raise money for former players who are struggling financially. In recent years, it’s been nice to see how MLB and the general public is becoming more interested in Negro League baseball and honoring the people who played it.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Quick Chavez note

Hugo Chávez says that Fidel Castro is "battling for his life." In itself, that's not terribly interesting. But recently I've been making fun of the U.S. media a lot, so I thought I would acknowledge when it does something right. In that article, the Associated Press does a nice job of summing up one of Chávez's defining characteristics:

Chavez is known for making bold statements without elaborating.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Mercosur and Venezuela

Last July, I wrote about the challenges Mercusor would face as a result of Venezuela joining. Now those very issues are starting to emerge as representatives come to Rio for a conference. Hugo Chávez wants the organization to be more political, and Brazil is chafing at the sudden challenge to its leadership.

So, for example, Chávez says Mercosur should be about “decontaminating the contamination of neoliberalism.” This would mean changing it entirely, since Mercosur is based on the idea of open markets and capitalism.

Chávez wants it to reflect “anti-imperialism.” Yet most of the countries, even the supposedly “leftist” ones, have good relationships with the United States and don’t want to antagonize it unnecessarily.

A former Foreign Minister of Brazil summed it up nicely:

Mr. Lampreia, referring to his former colleagues, said, “They’re starting to realize they’ve fallen into a trap.” He added: “They thought they could influence Chávez, but he can’t be influenced. He’s the owner of the ball, rich and all-powerful, and says and does what he wants.”


Thursday, January 18, 2007


From the Miami Herald:

GUATEMALA CITY -- Former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt announced on Wednesday that he plans to run for Congress in Guatemala's September elections, which could make it harder to prosecute him on charges of violating human rights during the country's 36-year civil war.

Ríos Montt said he would not run for the presidency -- he ran in 2004 and came in third -- but expressed confidence he would win a congressional seat. Members of the country's Congress enjoy immunity from prosecution unless they are suspended from office by a court.

It would be truly disgusting if he won. Coincidentally, I’ve been reading the book When States Kill to review it for a journal, and one of the chapters (by M. Gabriela Torres) is an interesting though very sobering analysis of cadaver reports in Guatemala in the 1980s. The government used the announcements of discovery of bodies to instill more fear into the population and to send messages about what might happen to anyone who opposed the dictatorship. Ríos Montt, who was in power only about 16 months (in 1982 and 1983), was one of the most vicious. In that short time, there were over 12,000 politically motivated murders and disappearances.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

CNN on Venezuela

Periodically I get annoyed with U.S. media portrayals of Latin America. I wrote yesterday about CNN, and here is another example, from someone who is labeled the “business and financial news anchor and reporter for CNN en Español.” The subject is Venezuela.

From him, we learn that Venezuela is following the “North Korean style” of communism. Readers of this blog know I am very skeptical of Hugo Chávez, but come on. He is not closing his borders, killing thousands of people, or getting a poofed-up hairdo and big sunglasses.

We also learn that “Nestor Kirchner in Argentina and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil have similar ideologies to Chavez but don't share his statism.” His ideology is based on statism, so if they are not statist, what is their similar ideology?

Further, “like Cuba, Venezuela will remain an economic island, at least in the medium-term.” Countries that pump out large quantities of oil do not become economic islands without outside intervention (e.g. war with the U.S.). They have governments lining up to talk trade. Anyhow, Cuba’s problems with isolation stem from the U.S. embargo, not from anything intrinsic to the Cuban economy.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Castro: Not Quite Dead

Rumors of Fidel Castro’s imminent demise are flying around once again. In this case, a Spanish doctor who came to Havana was reported to have said that he had diverticulitis. That same doctor quickly claimed that he was not the source of the report. This story has become more about the media than anything else. For example, CNN’s resident talking head doctor wrote a column thanking all the reporters for their work in giving him just enough grist to continue speculating wildly about Castro’s condition. Repeating rumors is an essential role for a free press.

What amuses me the most is this: since last August, when he admitted having health problems, we have learned almost exactly nothing. All our best government intelligence, reporting, and speculation leads us to the following conclusions: he is an 80 year old guy with a serious intestinal problem, and that’s just not good for his long-term chances.

I think Castro may have the record for most times 1) diagnosed with a serious illness and 2) diagnosed as dead because he happened to take a one day vacation.


Inauguration in Ecuador

Rafael Correa’s inauguration was relatively tame, and Ahmadinejad’s mini-tour of Latin America did not yield some sort of anti-U.S. alliance. The U.S. press generally played up Correa’s criticism of U.S. policy, even while admitting it has not been extreme.

And really, his overall message is hard to contradict. Corruption is rampant, foreign debt has become an unbearable weight, poverty is serious, and U.S. policies are not necessarily consistent with Ecuador’s interests. Let’s just see what happens with his call for a new constitution, as that has become one of the most problematic issues in Bolivia.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Ahmadinejad in Nicaragua

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s current Latin American stop is Nicaragua to see Daniel Ortega. Although the two governments agreed to open embassies, the meeting fell very short of representing any sort of evil alliance. In fact, the two leaders spoke in very different terms.

Ahmadinejad: ''Our two countries have common interests, enemies and goals.”

Ortega: He spoke of ``constructive agreements to combat hunger, unemployment and poverty.''

Ortega avoided the “imperialist” rhetoric, and I think is perfectly willing to open an embassy in exchange for some sort of energy deal, while also working with the U.S.

Next stop: Ecuador's presidential inauguration. This will be a more interesting case, because Correa ran more toward the middle to win the runoff, so will he embrace the more radical rhetoric of Chávez or not?


Sunday, January 14, 2007

More from Hugo Chávez

Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are all hugs and have announced vague plans to fund unspecified projects around the world to counter U.S. imperialism. My best guess is this means free or heavily subsidized oil.

Chávez said the U.S. needs to accept the "new realities of Latin America," which suggests that once again he might be overplaying his hand, as he did when inserting himself into the Mexican and Peruvian presidential elections. The "new realities" will not likely include an enhanced role for Iran, as its role in funding terrorism in Argentina does not sit well with President Kirchner.

One reality in Latin America is that the Bush administration is exceedingly unpopular, but Chávez is mistaken if he thinks this automatically translates into his own popularity. He's dusting off some slogans that are oldies but goodies (e.g. "Death to U.S. imperialism!") but so far I'm not seeing this as a regional trend.

However, as long as U.S. policy is being made by Cold Warriors who believe it is still 1985, the U.S. will remain a legitimate target for complaint, and will be the perfect enemy for Chávez to use in speeches.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Globalization and tortillas

The NYT has a small note about how the Mexican government is concerned about the rising cost of tortillas, and will end tariffs on imported corn to keep them affordable (though I must say I thought NAFTA was ending them anyway). This is caused in part by high demand for ethanol made from corn. So there is a chain reaction: instability in the Middle East, the invasion of Iraq, development in China, etc. lead to high oil prices, which lead to demand for alternative fuels, which leads to corn demand, which leads to higher prices for tortillas.

Stephen Dubner at Freakonomics Blog recently crafted a related hypothesis. Given rising prices for corn, some food manufacturers were looking to replace high fructose corn syrup, which is associated with obesity. Therefore, high oil prices spark a chain reaction that might ultimately lead to Americans losing weight.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Accepting pesos

Steven at Poliblog has been following the story of a Texas pizza chain that is under fire for accepting Mexican pesos. I agree with his assessment that this is good old fashioned American capitalism at work. In fact, mega-corporations on the border—even Wal-Mart—already accept pesos at some stores.

What strikes me is that for being such a rich, powerful, and swaggering country, we often show a tremendous insecurity. Hearing Spanish or reading it in official documents makes us afraid. If you accept pesos, then you’re “unpatriotic.” I’m still trying to figure that out. You do a legal transaction, receiving money you wouldn’t otherwise get because it was stuck in a drawer, in a capitalist transaction on the basis of supply and demand. Isn’t that the American Way?

Racism is certainly part of it, but alone does not explain it. We proclaim diversity but don’t like the change that accompanies it. We keep up a blind insistence that we’ve done things the same way for years, and this is why we’re successful, so we shouldn’t change, ignoring the fact that it’s all a myth. For example, we want to believe (a la Samuel Huntington) that WASP ingenuity makes the country go ‘round, willfully ignoring the fact that the economy would come to a standstill if the immigrant population stopped working for us.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

The OAS and Venezuela

In my previous post, Ka asked about the potential OAS role in the Venezuela saga. OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza (a well known Chilean politico) criticized Chávez for denying the opposition TV license (again, see previous post) and in return Chávez called him a “pendejo.” In the mainstream U.S. press it was translated as “idiot” but “asshole” is a closer translation. In a rare move, he admitted the statement was “imprudent” though said he did not regret saying it.

Chávez said Insulza had no business poking his nose into Venezuelan affairs. Given that the OAS is committed to promoting democracy, I believe he did. I think the OAS can play a positive role in Venezuela and elsewhere by publicizing/criticizing practices that are clearly undemocratic. The fact that Insulza struck such a nerve demonstrates that the OAS is not simply powerless. I certainly do not want to overstate its importance, but at the very least it can contradict autocratic rhetoric. Plus, you can’t call Insulza a lackey of the U.S., because he was elected in the face of U.S. opposition. The OAS constitutes a uniquely Latin American voice.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Developments in Venezuela

I’ve been asked my opinion about all the news in Venezuela. The big news, of course, was President Chávez’s announcement that telecommunications and electricity would be nationalized. Despite the NYT’s emphasis on investor concerns, we have to wait and see—I think investors are perfectly willing to keep bringing their money as long as the government ensures some profit (e.g. in Bolivia). Let’s see how much of the profit Chávez takes for himself, not to mention what kind of compensation he offers.

Having said that, though, nationalization does not tend to produce the desired results because all too often the businesses become bloated, corrupt, politicized and unaccountable. I am not sure how to avoid that. No one in Venezuelan history has done so.

On the political side, Chávez says he’s a Trotskyist, without explaining how he interprets that. When you hear Trotsky, you might think immediately of ice pick to the head. Other than that, I guess Chávez means that socialism in Venezuela requires the promotion of socialism abroad, without cooperating with capitalists. Again, let’s see—so far, he has talked socialism while happily promoting capitalist relationships.

He says he wants to change the “geometry of power.” What does this mean? Is it different from the algebra of power? I guess it is an indirect way of saying he wants to change “the ways in which other people besides me have power.” He wants to bypass the legislature with decree power, allow himself permanent re-election, and eliminate the independence of the Central Bank. He already refused to renew the license of a TV station he considered “counter-revolutionary.” I consider myself an open-minded person, but for the life of me I can’t see how this leads to anything but autocracy. He uses Fidel’s language of “the people” but, like Fidel, conflates himself with the people.

The general plan of state control over the economy combined with autocracy has not been a successful combination in Latin American history, or elsewhere for that matter. I don’t see how this will turn out any different.



Tony Gwynn was elected to the Hall of Fame along with Cal Ripken. There was never any doubt, but it is still very cool. He is the only Hall of Famer I got to watch on a constant basis, and has always been one of the class acts of baseball. At 97.61% He received the 7th highest voting percentage ever (Ripken's 98.53% was third behind Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan). At least two voters said they'd never vote for anyone from that era because of the possibility of steroid use (though Tony's gut seemed to reflect pizza more than steroids) but who were the people who chose not to vote for Tony or Ripken?

Goose Gossage narrowly missed making it in. Even more than today's closers, he deserves it. He dominated even while going 2-3 innings, without an obsession with number of saves. His vote total went way up from last year (52 votes) and so he may look good for next year. I think that after Bruce Sutter got in last year, there was a re-examination of the older relievers.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The military and race in Bolivia

The Bolivian army is getting into the news more these days, which is never a good sign. About three weeks ago, it reiterated that it had the right to intervene in domestic affairs, in the context of the Venezuelan ambassador saying Venezuela might send troops if the Morales government were threatened. Now we also learn that more than two dozen uniformed Venezuelan officers came to Bolivia without congressional approval.

These political developments have angered dissident members of the military, but the NYT article also reveals the racial side of the issue. Morales has pushed for the ascent of indigenous officers, and to some extent (how much I don’t know) this is also responsible for some discontent:

Gen. Marcelo Antezana, who was fired by Mr. Morales as army commander, said in September that there was discontent in the armed forces over what was viewed as subjugation to “Caribbean mulattoes” of a “Cuba-Venezuela axis.”

I find it quite telling that the opposition openly uses the word “mulatto” in a derogatory manner. There are, certainly, many Bolivians who oppose Evo Morales for perfectly logical reasons, generally based on his economic policies. But I wonder how many are angry because these darker skinned upstarts are taking over.


Monday, January 08, 2007

NAFTA and Mexican emigration

The Washington Post offers up a solid analysis of how the implementation of NAFTA has spurred emigration from Mexico. The agreement has different phases, and the final protections are gradually being removed.

In particular, agribusiness (especially in the U.S., but also in Mexico) has made it difficult for small producers to compete. In an interesting twist, even Mexican farms aimed at export have hurt local farmers. Since we in the U.S. are obsessed with how produce looks, perfectly edible but imperfect looking food is rejected, and therefore is sold locally in Mexico for greatly reduced prices.

The article does mention demography, but only in passing, arguing that a Mexican baby boom outpaced job creation. This is true, but it fails to note the subsequent significant decrease in the average number of babies being born to Mexican mothers. Therefore, the rapid population growth is not so indefinite as the article suggests.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Copper revenue in Chile

The NYT has an interesting look at Chile’s copper windfall, which is bringing in greater than expected revenue, largely because of very high demand in China. Although it doesn’t mention the issue explicitly, it highlights the fact that “socialist” in Chile doesn’t mean much anymore, and so the government cannot be lumped together with Venezuela or Bolivia. The Bachelet administration is talking only about responsible spending and putting money away for a rainy day.

The article also brings up the infamous Copper Law, whereby the military gets a 10 percent cut of copper revenue for acquisitions. This blatantly undemocratic law has been a bone of contention for years, with constant rumors of getting rid of it. Bachelet brought it up and then dropped it as Defense Minister, and now her own Defense Minister is mentioning it again. Politically, the timing could be right as the armed forces are weakened after all the Pinochet scandals as well as serious fatal accidents involving conscripts.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

The embargo against Cuba and hotels

A U.S.-owned hotel in Norway told a group of Cubans that they could not stay there because of the U.S. embargo. In early 2006, a Cuban delegate was kicked out of a Mexico City Sheraton for the same reason. They were actually talking to U.S. oil executives about exploration possibilities.

They fall under the Helms-Burton law, which focuses on punishing activity in other countries. Of course, this puts any company in the difficult position of sometimes being forced to break national laws in order to comply with U.S. law. The Sheraton, for example, had to pay $112,000 in Mexican fines.

The embargo (the term used to refer to all the laws restricting economic interaction with Cuba) is intended to put such tremendous pressure on the Cuban people that they will reject Fidel Castro. At the very least, it is supposed to hurt Fidel Castro and his cadre of leaders.

These moves, on the contrary, will:

1. Preserve Fidel’s international image as a martyr to U.S. hegemony
2. Reinforce the notion of U.S. policy being utterly petty
3. Bolster the sentiment of Cubans that they are under attack and that the U.S. is not interested in their well-being

It seems to me that the Cuban government benefits from these actions, while the loser is the Hilton Hotel Corporation. Nice policy.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Another barrier to immigration reform

If immigration reform is going to work, then the U.S. government must have a sophisticated computer system to keep track of everyone and to avoid the massive backlog currently in evidence. It’s depressing to read in the Washington Post, therefore, that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials themselves say their computer system is totally inadequate even for the current workload.

A report released Dec. 20 by Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner cited a long list of setbacks and concurred with internal USCIS reviews that the bureau "lacks the processing capacity, systems integration and project management resources needed to manage a potential increase in workloads."

A project to replace the nationwide computer network has been halted because the agency lacks $72 million to complete it. A staff reorganization was frozen because of deficiencies "that hinder day-to-day IT operations," according to the report.

This is one of many reasons it will be tempting for Democrats to avoid the issue. Immigration policy is so broken, and has been so neglected, that only a politically risky, Herculean effort can really begin to fix it.


Thursday, January 04, 2007


Of all the many aspects of parenting, there is nothing quite like being vomited on. My two year old daughter has a stomach bug, and I’ve been puked on multiple times in the past 24 hours or so. When they don’t feel well, children want reassurance, so they get extremely close to you when they’re ready.

It’s like the movie Parenthood, where Steve Martin’s character asks his sick daughter if she feels like she wants to throw up. She says, “OK” and then boots all over him.


The military and security in Latin America

I am following up on a post by Boz, as he wonders about the role of the military as security issues become more important in Latin America, especially in light of recent stories about Mexico sending soldiers to Tijuana and Brazil to Rio. A few thoughts.

First, military politicization in Latin America has never turned out well for democracy. This doesn’t necessarily mean a coup, but can come in the form of intimidating elected officials, human rights abuses (as soldiers seek out the “enemy”), mission creep, and the like. Plus, it will almost certainly entail the shift of scarce resources to military budgets.

Second, in almost every Latin American country, the military has a legally established domestic role, and utilizing soldiers only reinforces the military’s notion that it is the rightful protector of la Patria, and that it is being called upon because civilian governments are failing to do so.

Third, the dynamics of this domestic role are different. In the past, the military became involved in political and/or ideological conflicts. It would support a government against opposition, or vice versa. Gang-based violence and organized crime isn’t the same, as they are well-armed but socially and politically isolated phenomena. It may well mean that there is greater popular support for military action (as there is in Colombia) because the targets are widely viewed as illegitimate. There was widespread support for Marxism, but not for drug trafficking and kidnapping.

Boz brings up some other pertinent questions, such as how different governments will respond. How do security and populism work together? Will we see more presidents elected on a security platform?


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Latin America Blogroll

Ricardo Carreon of Ricardo's Blog is starting up a "Latin America Blogroll" to connect bloggers who cover the region. I now have it on my sidebar. From the comments, it looks like at some point there will also be links to people who cover specific countries, perhaps as some sort of megablog.

If you have a Latin America blog and want to have it listed, just click on the link above and let Ricardo know.


New Defense Minister in Ecuador

President-elect Rafael Correa named a woman as his new Defense Minister. This makes Ecuador the third country to do so, behind Chile and Colombia. In general, it is becoming more commonplace for Latin American women to obtain positions of political power, either elected or appointed. More so, I would say, than in the United States, where the process is much slower.

It is also positive to break the traditional mold of a defense minister as a male, either active-duty or retired military. The armed forces of Latin America have been so insular for so long that any change is welcome. Naming a woman to this post will not prompt earth shattering changes, but can contribute in its own small way to bringing the armed forces into a more democratic 21st century. This is especially important in Ecuador, where the military has been very active politically in recent years.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Very fitting

The first baby born in Charlotte in 2007 was Latino: Josue Eduardo Martínez Calleja. His parents had to respond through an interpreter. These days, about 1 in 5 babies born here are Latino.

My Dad and I just signed a book contract with the University of New Mexico Press to write a book on Latino immigration, focusing on the South, based on the political demography work we've already been doing. I've found this endlessly fascinating.


Cuba and Saddam

The Cuban government has denounced the execution of Saddam Hussein, calling it an “illegal act” and “assassination.” You can also check out Human Rights Watch’s analysis of the problems with the trial.

The problem, though, is that the Cuban government found itself compelled to acknowledge that it also uses the death penalty. You can also see Human Rights Watch’s discussion of how political prisoners do not receive fair trials in Cuba.

If you accuse another country of manipulating trials and killing people for political reasons while you do so yourself, how do you justify it? Easy. Blame someone else for your own laws:

The statement acknowledged that Cuba ''has not yet abolished the death penalty because of the brutal war imposed on it by the United States,'' referring to the U.S. government's policy to undermine the communist country, including trade and travel sanctions.

How much brutality around the world centers on blaming others for your own actions? The Bush administration ignores the constitution and blames Al Qaeda. The Cuban government ignores due process and blames the U.S.



For the past several days, I've been out of town with no internet access, but I'll be resuming blogging today.


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