Saturday, March 31, 2007

Latin America news

I got an email from Josh Flory, a journalist in Knoxville who recently started a blog ( on Latin America news in English.


Friday, March 30, 2007

White House immigration proposal

The White House has offered its own immigration proposal. It can be summed up as the “Welcome to the USA, now give us all your money and kiss your family goodbye” solution.

If you are here illegally now, then you would have to return to your home country, then pay a $10,000 fine and get in line for a green card. Yes, ten thousand dollars. And if you do eventually become a citizen, you should probably forget applying for family members.

If you want to be a guest worker, you would be eligible for two three-year contracts, but would have to pay $3,500 each time. Yes, seven thousand dollars. In that six year period, you could not bring any family members.

And yet fervent restrictionists like Brian Bilbray say it is too lenient and that it sends the “wrong message.”


More on Chilean politics

The Economist offers up a scathing analysis of President Bachelet’s first year, which I think goes a bit over the top.

  • Although rumors of the Concertación’s demise have been more or less permanent, the article claims that since it is the region’s “strongest political coalition,” she may be personally responsible for its disintegration.
  • It blames her for not preparing the public for Transantiago, when in fact it was President Lagos’ project and so at the very least blame should be shared. Thanks to Mike for pointing out this LA Times story on Transantiago.
  • It says “some” want José Antonio Viera-Gallo to become “de facto prime minister.” Using the vague “some” is a cop out.
  • Finally, it really takes her to task for “gesture politics” (like naming a gender balanced cabinet) and naming people “of no great ability.” But the article never talks about the political fight going on in Chile, as discussed in a recent post and comments about the old vs new guard. Year after year, you see mostly the same names and faces at the highest political levels (which can also help explain the corruption scandals bubbling up during the Lagos administration) and so carping could also easily reflect discontent about feeling left out.

Clearly, though, Bachelet is in trouble and knows it, which is why she named people like Viera-Gallo, who has been a major player for years. Her approval rating is under 50%, and 61% lack confidence in her ability to handle a crisis. Having nutcases trash Santiago doesn’t help either.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cuba trade

Granma has an article about Nebraska’s governor signing two trade agreements with Cuba and calling for normalization of relations.

The U.S. government doesn’t prohibit such agreements, but the transactions must be up front, in cash. According to the director of Cuba’s food import company, Cuba has bought $108 million worth of U.S. goods so far this year, and $560 million last year. In fact, he said the U.S. was Cuba’s leading source of food and agricultural products.

Most politicians haven’t been particularly interested in Cuba, and were willing to delegate decisions to the small minority that are. As such trade agreements increase, however, that could potentially change. The Nebraska governor, a Republican, makes a very big deal about trade with Cuba, and he took 31 people with him—other Nebraska politicians are also on board. The Alabama state legislature passed a resolution last year in favor of more trade with Cuba. You can find many similar examples from other states.

The question is at what point such advocates can actually manage to push the issue to the forefront, face the opposition within their own party, and change our ancient policies.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spam in Spanish

I wonder exactly how I ended up on a spam list in Spanish, wanting me to buy a hand dryer for bathrooms. It does, after all, pay for itself with the savings on towels.





I just noticed that the Washington Post's editorial about Gutierrez-Flake refers to the process by which an illegal immigrant would leave the country, then come back legally. The point is to establish a legal date of entry. The editorial calls it "rebooting."

Makes logical sense--when things get totally screwed up, you reboot.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Doing the cabinet shuffle

President Bachelet has shuffled her cabinet for the second time in her year in office. Her approval rating is now down to 47 percent. First the student protests and now Transantiago, the major transportation plan that is screwed up so badly that everyone is mad.

The moves included sacking Vivianne Blanlot in Defense and replacing her with José Goñi. I don’t know for sure, but I am guessing she had been wanting to get rid of Blanlot (her son had been prosecuted for burglary, so maybe she became a liability) and this offered an opportunity to include her in a package of firings. Goñi, who is ambassador to Mexico and from what I can tell is a career diplomat, follows the general pattern (broken only with the appointment of Bachelet herself) of naming Defense Ministers who know nothing about the military or defense.

I find it interesting that despite the president’s current implosion, the Chilean right remains too divided to take advantage. UDI criticized her, while RN offered a good-natured “good luck to your new cabinet” statement.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Plan Colombia II

The links of Colombian officials to the paramilitaries is creeping closer and closer to President Uribe, with the leaked information that his army chief collaborated with them (see Plan Colombia and Beyond for details).

Most likely not coincidentally, from Colombia we are also hearing about a proposed “Plan Colombia II,” which is supposed to back off the current mostly military-oriented strategy and include much more funding for economic development. The price tag is hefty at $43 billion over six years, but the idea is to get European help, which was not forthcoming with the first Plan Colombia. Here is the link (in Spanish) to the proposal.

The original Plan Colombia also had those lofty economic development goals, but then ditched them, so Plan Colombia II should be viewed with some skepticism. Since its genesis coincides with the implication of so many officials to paramilitaries, it may also be intended as a distraction.

And, of course, none of this can put a serious dent in drug trafficking and the associated violence as long as people in the U.S. keep snorting cocaine in very large quantities.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

The ACLU and STRIVE/Gutierrez-Flake

The ACLU has criticized the STRIVE Act (aka Gutierrez-Flake) because of the inclusion of a national ID card:

Sadly, Title III of the bill attacks privacy by creating a national ID card. Creating a national ID card under the guise of a ‘secured’ Social Security card is not only financially and logistically daunting, it creates the possibility that we will become a society where ‘your papers’ will need to be presented at every turn.

This puts the ACLU right in step with many Republicans, who have argued against the Real ID Act, which presumably would be issued alongside the new Social Security card (or perhaps one would replace the other). Both argue that the Real ID Act and other national ID measures are almost certain to compromise constitutional rights. The state of Maine, in fact, passed a resolution in January refusing to comply with the Real ID Act.

McCain-Kennedy passed the Senate with an ID component, so this may not be an insurmountable obstacle for Gutierrez-Flake (that doesn’t have a ring to it either, but much better than STRIVE). On the other hand, as the Real ID deadline looms in 2008, opposition could very possibly gain momentum.

It comes down to whether people like the idea of a considerable amount of personal information in an ID card.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

STRIVE for a bad title

As I had mentioned a few days ago, we now have a proposal in the House for immigration reform. I sometimes think there are paid consultants whose job is to come up with inane acronyms, though the title itself is also pretty bad. The bill is called the “Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act of 2007,” which in turn is shortened to STRIVE. Here is the link to the text via the Library of Congress.

Unlike the immigration legislation of 2006, the longest of which topped out at about 300 pages, this one is a behemoth at 697 pages. [Incidentally, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was literally only three pages long].

I haven’t had time to go through the entire bill yet, but it does contain promising elements. For example, it discusses cooperation with not only the Mexican government (including facilitation of circular migration), but also Central American governments. Really, there is no way any type of law will succeed without working with Latin American governments.

Although I might have missed it, I did not see any estimate of overall cost. Instead, there is just that common phrase, “such sums as may be necessary.”


Friday, March 23, 2007

Plaza Fiestas Carolinas

An Atlanta-based company is buying a failing strip mall just over the border with South Carolina, and will transform it into “Plaza Fiestas Carolinas,” a “Latino-themed shopping mall with a bandstand, soccer fields and restaurants.” One such mall already exists in Atlanta.

This fascinates me in several ways. It is a perfect symbol of the phenomenal growth of the Latino population here. Ten years ago (maybe even five), such a thing would not have been contemplated.

Next, contrary to the popular image of Latinos simply being illegal immigrants with no money, this type of economic development shows very clearly that Latinos have significant buying power. There may be various attempts (especially legislative) to make immigrants feel unwelcome, but ultimately money talks.

In the Charlotte metro region, Hispanic buying power reached $2.3 billion, up from $135 million in 1990, according to the Selig Center. Hispanics now account for nearly 5 percent of the metro area's buying power, up from less than 1 percent in 1990.

But also, it will have a “traditional Latino marketplace with bright colors and cobblestone streets.” Of course, there is no such thing as a single “traditional Latino” marketplace, or anything else for that matter. Instead, it will be an amalgam of what developers think people believe such a marketplace would look like, stripped of anything remotely unpleasant. It recalls Disneyland’s Main Street, a beautifully bland, artificially clean and entirely fictitious re-enactment of what Walt Disney thought people wanted a main street to look like.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fidel is not dead (again)

The U.S. government is now backing off its claims that Fidel is about to die. He’s been bugging Hugo Chávez on the phone, telling Evo Morales he wants to visit Bolivia next month, hanging out with Gabriel García Márquez, etc. Thomas Shannon argues that Fidel is an obstacle to democratization since he remains powerful.

Here’s the part I really like:

Intelligence agencies are taking into account the new information on Castro's health, but officials declined to elaborate.

''The intelligence community is continually reevaluating our assessment of Fidel's health based on any new information,'' said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which coordinates the work of all U.S. spy agencies.

After news stories pop up about Castro, the U.S. government often makes a statement, couching it in terms of gathering intelligence. If events of the past year or so are any indication, this top secret intelligence work mostly involves googling “Fidel.”

So, why make such statements, which only reiterate our utter lack of knowledge? I suppose we’re trying to send signals, hoping to prompt some sort of power struggle, which of course has always worked so well in the past. I would really love to be a fly on the wall at Cuba policy meetings in the White House and State Department. Does it not start bothering anyone that they’re wrong almost all the time?


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New immigration proposal in the House

Looks like we’ll get our first immigration proposal of the year from the House tomorrow. It is bipartisan--Reps. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Like the past Senate bill (S. 1033, aka McCain-Kennedy) a guest worker/temporary worker angle, but with a twist. Unlike McCain-Kennedy, after six years they could apply for legal permanent residence, and so the bill refers to them as “new workers.” It would also allow people here illegally a path toward permanent legal residence after a complicated series of stipulations:

Illegal immigrants would be eligible for legalization if they arrived in the U.S. before June 1, 2006. They would have to pay a $2,000 fine and back taxes, and pass background and security checks. If after six years they have learned English and civics, kept a clean record, and the head of household has left and reentered the U.S. legally, they could become legal permanent residents, a step toward citizenship.

Unlike a Senate bill passed last year, those leaving the U.S. would not have to go to their home countries, but could travel to Canada or Mexico. Exceptions to the requirement would be made for children, the elderly, single heads of households, business owners and those in military service.

They figure they need to get something passed by July, or the presidential race will wreck any chance at reform. The odds are not good, but let’s see what happens.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Smuggling Cuban baseball players

A federal court in Miami is hearing the case of baseball smugglers. That is, the seemingly ever growing number of people trying to smuggle Cuban baseball players out of the country and bring them to the United States. Attorneys of five accused smugglers wanted to use the “wet foot/dry foot” immigration policy as defense, saying that once the men were in the U.S., everything was legal. “Wet foot/dry foot” refers to the bizarre idea that if a Cuban reaches U.S. land, he or she can obtain asylum, but if caught in the water, they usually can’t (there is a hearing at which they must prove a “well founded fear of persecution”).

The judge refused to let them use that argument, which is fortunate. Otherwise any criminal activity would be perfectly acceptable as long as everyone managed to reach the U.S.

The entire issue of smuggling Cubans is troubling. Last year I wrote about the book The Duke of Havana, about Orlando Hernández’s odyssey to the U.S., which covered the same issue. Yes, it’s absurd that players cannot leave the country legally. But it’s all about greed, where Cuban players are promised fat MLB contracts and then many (or even most) are discarded if they can’t make a team. Of course, these same smugglers will take their cut, and if there is no payoff then they are no longer interested in the player.


Monday, March 19, 2007


Since the federal government refuses to address immigration in a meaningful way (i.e. something other than a fence) local governments are stepping in. The problem is that they are making even more of a mess. Case in point, Hazleton, PA, which is now the epicenter of the local enforcement debate, and is currently in the middle of a major lawsuit that will have a significant impact nationally.

The Hazleton mayor believes that illegal immigration is a source of crime (suspects in a local murder case were undocumented immigrants from the Dominican Republic) and with allies on the city council passed a law (the Illegal Immigration Relief Act) punishing landlords who rented to illegal immigrants and business owners who hired them. The council also passed law requiring all tenants to register at City Hall.

The essential question is whether local authorities have the constitutional right to pass laws related to immigration at all, since it is related to foreign policy, which is the exclusive authority of the federal government. There is, however, a lot of ambiguity, which ultimately the courts will have to clarify.

The Hazleton case is also revealing in terms of perceptions people have about illegal immigration. Testimony shows that the town never studied whether there was any relationship to crime, law enforcement did not have the slightest idea how to enforce the laws, and no one understood exactly how the laws would work in practice. In fact, the city council’s president claimed that research wasn’t feasible:

“There is no 100 percent (certainty), and to have studies done ... I pass the pooper- scooper law, what am I going to do — study that? We can’t have consultants come here every two seconds.”

The prosecution presented its case last week, and so starting today (for a two week trial) the town will lay out its argument. Their lawyers have conceded that town leaders had no empirical data, but will now lay out what they say is proof that illegal immigrants are destroying their way of life.


Sunday, March 18, 2007


I have an Op-Ed about Bush's trip in today's Newsday. The editors rearranged a few things and tweaked it a bit, I think to make it sound a little more controversial.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Colbert on Bush's Latin America trip

Thanks to Ka for pointing out this very funny segment with "Esteban Colberto."


Friday, March 16, 2007

Kirchner's game

Conventional wisdom has it that Argentine President Néstor Kirchner is moving into Hugo Chávez’s camp. The two have made fuel deals and Venezuela has purchased $3 billion of Argentine bonds. Then while Bush was in Uruguay, Chávez gave a speech in Argentina denouncing him. The Miami Herald has a solid analysis laying out the delicate balance Kirchner is trying to strike, and the flavor is similar to the Cold War for non-aligned countries. You don’t want to openly alienate either side and you want to reap benefits from both. You get fuel from Venezuela, and talk terrorism with the U.S.

For the moment at least, it is possible Kirchner is ticking off both sides. Bush visited Uruguay and ignored Argentina, right when the two countries are in the midst of a major dispute over a paper mill, and did not mention Argentina with regard to biofuels. Chile’s La Tercera published a story arguing that Chávez also left the country angry with Kirchner. Why?

  • Chávez believed that a government official would attend his rally, but none did
  • There were only 20,000 people at the rally, which Chávez thought was too small, and he blamed Kirchner for not getting more people there
  • Chávez assured the crowd that the state’s television channel was showing the rally live, when in fact it wasn’t (instead, it was showing the first lady)
  • The Venezuelan embassy was informed that it needed to reimburse all the costs of the rally
  • Kirchner declined to accompany Chávez to Bolivia

I don’t think Argentina is in any “camp.” Kirchner will side at any given moment with whatever leader offers him something he wants. It may well be that he figures Argentina is important enough that he can anger each side at some point and still come out ahead.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Chile and the UN

Thanks to my friend Mike for pointing out this story about the Chilean ambassador to Venezuela. Apparently he claimed that President Bachelet really wanted to vote for Venezuela for the UN seat, but then later changed her mind after consulting more with members of the Concertación. He was then recalled by the Chilean government for such inappropriate revelation of the president’s thoughts.

This issue stymied Bachelet. Last June, her administration indicated she would vote against Venezuela, then later she mentioned the possibility of a “consensus candidate,” and then perhaps abstaining. This now former ambassador claims she decided to abstain, but given the secret vote we don’t know how Chile ultimately voted.

BTW, Mike, looking back over my posts, you predicted it was a “foregone conclusion” that Venezuela would win. Too many pisco sours.



Bananas you ate might have been helping to pay terrorist organizations in Colombia. Chiquita has been fined $25 million for protection money it paid to the AUC, ELN and the FARC (all of whom are also fighting each other) between 1997 and 2004. In what has to be one of the understatements of the year, company attorneys had indicated the payments were “improper.”

Chiquita traces its history back to United Fruit, which started breaking up in 1958 after an anti-trust lawsuit. United Fruit, of course, is the most famous (or infamous) company ever to operate in Latin America, as its monopoly status and close ties to the U.S. government gave it an enormous amount of power.

It is incredible how the seemingly innocent banana has contributed to so much suffering. There is a certain logic (even if perverse) to the violence associated with diamonds and gold, which are items humans have coveted for centuries. They are, however, not nearly as mundane and familiar as something you give your kids at lunch.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Immigrants and Medicaid

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that less than 1% of North Carolina’s spending on Emergency Medicaid goes to illegal immigrants. Most of that money was spent on pregnancy and childbirth complications. The overall conclusion is that greater attention to prenatal care would be even less expensive, and even fewer people would go to an emergency room at all.

But it also chips away at conventional wisdom. First, we find out that recent immigrants (many of whom are here illegally) are less likely to commit crimes. Now we find out they use Medicaid less than people assume.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

You know you've had a rough presidency when... say loading Guatemalan lettuce onto a truck was "one of the great experiences of my presidency."


Monday, March 12, 2007

Marriages in Chile

Divorce was legalized in Chile in 2004, and an article in La Tercera addresses a curious fact. In 2006, the number of marriages increased dramatically, whereas since 1996 it had been steadily decreasing. Correlation is not necessarily causation, of course, but one hypothesis is that people are more willing to get married if they know that if it goes wrong, there is an orderly and legal way to deal with it. Apparently when Chilean couples get their marriage licenses, they often ask about the way in which everything would get divided.

The logic seems weird to me, but I suppose it’s the same idea as prenuptial agreements in the U.S., when people get married only after they’ve mapped out what will happen if it all goes wrong. I wonder, though, about the long-term effect of planning for divorce before you’re even married.



Generally lost in the news about the U.S.-Brazil ethanol talks is the fight they will prompt in Congress. For example, check out the way in which the issue is being reported by what seems to be the farmer equivalent of the Associated Press:

The Renewable Fuels Association is not opposed to the agreement, although Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said, "We'll be watching very closely to make sure that someone doesn't morph this into a mechanism or a tool for sucking U.S. taxpayer dollars to Brazil or other countries."

President Bush already very curtly rejected the idea of reducing the tariff on ethanol (“It’s not going to happen”) and I have to wonder whether any significant deal on ethanol will happen given the domestic political interests involved. Since he can’t be re-elected, Bush is in a good position to ignore them, but the effect it would have on an already reeling Republican Party might be too much to risk.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Calderón interview

President Calderón gave an interview in which he explicitly rejected Jorge Castañeda’s suggestion that he become an ideological counterweight to Hugo Chávez ("I am not interested in playing a role with Bush in that aspect”).

His discussion about issues he would raise during Bush’s upcoming visit also highlight how the administration needs to reframe the way it interacts with Latin America. In short, the U.S. has supply-obsessed policies. With regard to immigration, we blame Mexico for its failure to keep its own people in, and we build a wall to keep them out, without acknowledging that we share the blame for the huge number of illegal immigrants in the country. With drugs, we want a militarized solution (indeed, much of that vaunted aid President Bush talks about is military) and routinely criticize other countries’ failure to fight drug trafficking without admitting it would evaporate if Americans stopped snorting cocaine in large quantities.

And then we want more credit.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

More on the trip

With the addition of Hugo Chávez, the Latin America trip is becoming a duel of caricatures. Chávez seeks every source of media he can to come up with anti-U.S. insults. On Argentine state television, he chanted the very original and uplifting, “"Oh, ho ho! Gringo go home!"

On the Bush side, it’s all about getting more credit for things we don't really deserve. So once again:

"I don't think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people's lives. And so my trip is to explain, as clearly as I can, that our nation is generous and compassionate."

I hope we see something different, but it is entirely possible that my next post will once more simply quote Bush (“I’m here to get some credit, dang it!”) and Chávez (“Bush is worse than Severus Snape”).


Friday, March 09, 2007

On the lighter side of the Latin America trip

Via Vivir Latino, a photo of Bush and Lula (they ask readers to add their own caption). This photo cracks me up, as this is no true Latin American embrace. This is one of those "we sorta feel obligated to hug, but we don't really want to, so we'll go side-to-side and just pat each other" embraces. Even more disconcerting is that Lula appears to be plugging something directly into Bush's navel. If anyone can figure out what that is, let me know. Looks like a microphone, but I am at a loss to explain why Lula would want to listen to Bush's stomach.


U.S. aid and Latin America

President Bush keeps insisting that the U.S. deserves more credit for what it does in Latin America:

"And yet we don't get much credit for it," Bush told CNN's Spanish-language network. "And I want the taxpayers, I want the American people to get credit for their generosity in Central and South America."

Yet both the Latin America Working Group and Adam Isacson have shown very clearly that the administration’s claims are false. That fact is now making its way into the mainstream media. In particular, much of the increase of aid is military in nature, and aimed at only a few countries, especially Colombia.

This seems indicative of the administration’s general problem with Latin America. Its claims to paying attention—combined with demanding credit—are based on evidence so flimsy that it is refuted before his trip even gets going. In short, the administration pays so little attention to Latin America that it believes it can fudge numbers and everyone will smile and say, “Thank you, O Great American Taxpayers, for your generosity.”


Thursday, March 08, 2007

"Losing" Latin America

I’ve been browsing through the news on Bush’s trip to Latin America (google news can be addicting) and the wide divergence of opinions. One in particular caught my eye, from the conservative Washington Times, penned by Senator Kaye Bailey Hutchison. It’s disturbing.

The overall message is that we are “losing” Latin America to Hugo Chávez. Further, we need to use the same strategies we employed during the Cold War (“we need to dust off the Cold War playbook”) to deal with him. As one reason she cites the fact that U.S. citizens might end up paying more for gas because of Chávez machinations.

She then moves on to the Iran connection, which certainly bears watching, but as I’ve argued before is wildly overstated:

Left unchecked, Messrs. Ahmadinejad and Chavez could be the Khrushchev-Castro tandem of the early 21st century, funneling arms, money and propaganda to Latin America, and endangering that region's fragile democracies and volatile economies. If these two pariahs succeed, the next terrorist training camp could shift from the Middle East to America's doorstep.

The Cold War has thus started again. What to do?

We need to face reality and confront this threat head-on. At the pinnacle of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan seized the initiative and repulsed Soviet efforts to set up camp in our hemisphere. The Gipper's leadership should serve as a model in thwarting the advance of tyranny and terrorism in our times.

If you dust off the Cold War playbook and follow Reagan’s example in Latin America, then you come up with one thing: indiscriminate use of massive violence. Otherwise terrorists will control the hemisphere and patriotic Americans will pay more at the pump.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Another Castañeda article

Recently, I wrote about a Jorge Castañeda analysis of Hugo Chávez. He has another article in the Washington Post, which is better than the Newsweek one. This time he argues that Felipe Calderón is the Latin American leader best positioned to act as an ideological counterweight to Chávez. I agree with the idea that Latin American presidents should not be so mute about the challenges to democracy in Venezuela.

He also sums up Bush’s role in Latin America very nicely:

George W. Bush is the least appropriate person on Earth for this mission; he is immensely unpopular in Latin America -- not since Richard Nixon's trip to Caracas in 1959 have so many protests been likely -- and since Sept. 11, 2001, he has neglected the hemisphere. Many snicker that if he defends democracy in Latin America as well as he has in Iraq, only God can help Latin American democrats.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Latin America speech

In anticipation of his upcoming trip, President Bush gave a speech on Latin America. He compared it to Kennedy’s speech that introduced the Alliance for Progress 46 years ago. The theme then was that we needed to address poverty as a way to counter communist advances. The theme now is to address poverty as a way to counter Hugo Chávez.

Thus, the speech discussed programs for education, transparency, health care, housing, debt relief, and micro loans. Any attention paid to these critical issues is certainly welcome. It is worthwhile to focus attention on them.

As an alternative to the alluring message of Hugo Chávez, however, the speech falls short. A key missing piece can be found in the following quote:

They've enhanced and undertaken fiscal policies that bring stability.

Yet, despite the advances, tens of millions in our hemisphere remain stuck in poverty, and shut off from the promises of the new century. My message to those trabajadores y campesinos is, you have a friend in the United States of America. We care about your plight. (Applause.)

I think to offer a real alternative vision you must explain why those “trabajadores y campesinos” remain stuck in poverty. In those fiscal policies, they see personal ruin. When they hear free trade, they see the U.S. protecting major crops. When they think of debt relief, they picture the international institutions that compelled structural adjustment. They like aid, but they also see it as the crumbs offered when the overall structure appears to be tilted permanently against them. If the U.S. government wants people to believe that Hugo Chávez is wrong about the pitfalls of global capitalism, it needs to be clearer.


Monday, March 05, 2007

LASA 2007

I got the notice that the panel I helped organize for the Latin American Studies Association meeting was accepted. The good: it is a great collection of people, all focusing on Chile, and I am looking forward to visiting Montreal, where I've never been. The bad: it is at 10 am the first morning, which means turnout will likely be pretty low.


Sunday, March 04, 2007


I happened to hear this story on NPR yesterday, which made me chuckle. It is about the affinity Latin American immigrants have for country music, and how that actually has helped to revive country music radio stations in markets like L.A. where it was disappearing. The industry has taken notice and now is more actively courting Latinos.

At one point, the reporter went to a festival, and approached a family that looked like a typical group of American country music fans--pick-up truck, cowboy hats, and listening to "Sweet Home Alabama." Turns out they were Salvadoran, spoke no English, and said simply they liked country music because it was "bonita" and "alegre."


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ecuador update

A follow-up: the commission set up by President Correa of Ecuador to study the helicopter crash that killed the defense minister and others has issued a report. It attributes the crash to “human error.”

Conspiracy theories have abounded, generally involving the U.S., and probably will continue. Notably, however, the commission included a Venezuelan member, in addition to Ecuador, Chile, and France. In other words, it was hardly a group of U.S. lackeys.


Friday, March 02, 2007

INCSR Report for 2007

The U.S. State Department just released the 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. One inescapable conclusion is that we are not winning the drug war.

It has some kind words for Colombia, but then an examination of the data itself shows that coca cultivation (144,000 hectares in 2005, the last year they have data) is tied for the highest of any year going back to at least 1991.

Bolivia also gets pretty good treatment, emphasizing cooperation, though skepticism shows through (“although the President did not find in his September 15, 2006 Majors List Report to Congress that Bolivia had failed demonstrably in counternarcotics cooperation, he requested that an evaluation be conducted in six months to gauge the GOB's progress on counternarcotics efforts”). Incidentally, net cultivation in Bolivia has remained steady, though it is down considerably since the mid-late 1990s.

Now on to Venezuela, where no holds are barred. The report on Venezuela begins with:

Counternarcotics successes in Colombia are causing a shift in trafficking patterns toward neighboring countries like Venezuela, whose geography, rampant high level corruption, weak judicial system and lack of international counternarcotics cooperation are increasingly enabling a growing illicit drug transshipment industry.

I really don’t know the degree to which Venezuela is enabling drug trafficking. What stood out for me, though, was the idea that we continue to believe there are “counternarcotic successes in Colombia” when this same report says that Colombian coca production is way up.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Guest worker program in Mexico

There’s an AP story about President Calderón’s call for immigration reform in Mexico, which includes making illegal immigration a civil rather than criminal offense, improving conditions at detention center, and expanding a guest worker program.

That’s right, a guest worker program, aimed at Central Americans:

Details have not been released, but experts expect an expansion of Mexico's seasonal farm worker program, which issues at least 40,000 temporary visas a year, mostly to Guatemalans. Most work in coffee plantations in southern Chiapas state, and many often face problems over pay, medical care and housing.

Migration experts say Calderon wants to stop those abuses while also allowing Central Americans to work in the construction and service industries in the south.

I have to admit that I did not know Mexico had one, and it raises some questions.

  • can we determine empirically what jobs will not be filled by native workers, even in a situation of high unemployment/underemployment? We’d have to address location, pay, conditions, duration, etc.
  • how many Central Americans come to Mexico to work rather than continue through to the United States?
  • since Mexico’s immigration laws are very harsh (far more so than in the U.S.), yet ineffective, what can that tell us about the efficacy of certain types of laws?


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