Sunday, September 30, 2007

New ambassador to Argentina

I am rather late to this story, since he had posted it about two weeks ago, but Rengaraj Viswanathan has been appointed Indian Ambassador to Argentina, starting October 2007. Congratulations! He was Ambassador to Venezuela from 2000 to 2003.

The reason this is cool is that he blogs at Latin American Affairs, and tells me that he will continue to do so after he takes his new post. Obviously, we can’t expect him to give away state secrets, but he offers a really unique perspective for anyone interested in Latin America. You can also take a look at his website, where he provides links to quite a few articles he’s written, especially about opportunities for India to pay more attention to Latin America.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Aid war

Here is something you won’t see every day, as the Washington Office on Latin America is applauding a proposed U.S. policy. In this case, it is a proposed Senate bill to send $2.5 billion over 10 years to Latin America. I am a bit surprised that it is receiving no media attention, but I suppose aid is only newsworthy when it comes from leaders we don’t like. (Well, and there is that little problem of actually getting it passed in a Congress mostly intent on pretending Latin America doesn’t exist except as a source of immigrants we don’t want).

Thus, there is tremendous coverage of Iranian President Ahmadinejad pledging $1 billion to Bolivia, which should be grist for many apocalyptic Op-Eds. Given his shaky internal position in Iran, I really have to wonder how much of that will come through. Nonetheless, it is always a bummer to see Latin American presidents follow the U.S. example of embracing dictators.

And, apparently, Shakira is also sending aid to Latin America ($40 million worth). Hey, every little bit counts.

At the UN, Lula called on the U.S. to become more involved in Latin American economic development. It’s a sad commentary when you need a foreign leader to remind you that, by the way, the Cold War has been over for quite some time so let’s start moving on.

Who knows how much of all this aid will materialize, how it will be used, etc. but an “aid war” is far preferable to the alternatives we’ve generally seen in the past.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Latin Americanist

I am off to Boston for a quick trip. The academic journal I edit, The Latin Americanist, is starting a partnership with Wiley-Blackwell, which is a major journal publisher. Our journal has been around for decades, but has been small. Starting in 2008 its audience will grow dramatically with Wiley-Blackwell’s marketing, and the purpose of the trip is to deal with the details of the transition. Obviously, I am really psyched about it.

For all my readers, please pass the word along to fellow faculty and advanced graduate student colleagues who might have article manuscripts they’re working on. Here is a link (which will change next year) and below is the flyer WB made.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I'm coming Elizabeth!

Now that he's in Peru, Fujimori's people say he needs to be in the hospital but prison doctors disagree. I guess he figured it was worth a shot, as Pinochet would always pull a Fred Sanford when legal problems got hot.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Evo Morales interview

Evo Morales will be interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show tonight. I don’t know enough about his personality to predict what that will be like, but he will have an enormous audience who most likely has never heard of him, or only vaguely knows who he is. He can therefore generate some sympathy, though if he bombs the bad PR could be pretty nasty.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Opposing Chávez regionally

This is a story I saw in Chile’s La Tercera, which cited an original article in Mexico’s Reforma, but I couldn’t find the original. Apparently former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo wants to create a formal coalition that would counteract Hugo Chávez. He claims to have the support of former presidents Vicente Fox, Ricardo Lagos and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, though people close to Lagos have denied it. There are no real details, as it seems Toledo is just sounding out possibilities.

Maybe I’m wrong, but this seems like the wrong approach if you oppose Chávez, as it simply looks like a capitalist cabal to unseat him, which is the sort of thing he will use to his own political advantage. In addition, the idea of Toledo as a regional leader who would help counterbalance Chávez is laughable (e.g. his approval rating as president was often single digit).

The bottom line is that if you want to convince people that Chávez’s economic and political model is wrong for Latin America, then you need to point to a viable alternative, and show how that alternative will work well for the majority of the population. If you can’t, or if you just use a generic free market argument, then your coalition will likely just end up boosting Chávez’s popularity.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Center for International Policy

Anyone interested in security issues (broadly defined) in Latin America should definitely check out the Center for International Policy's beta news database. Their site has always been really useful for keeping up with current events--they're trying to improve it and want feedback. My own problem is that I can't seem to subscribe to it successfully.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Remembering the Chilean 9/11

If anyone is interested in understanding the Chilean right's view of the 1973 coup and subsequent dictatorship, I recommend reading the statement of Diputado Jorge Ulloa (UDI) that he recently read into the record. For example:

Hoy, estoy evocando una misión que, desde mi perspectiva, cumplieron muy bien las Fuerzas Armadas y de Orden, a las cuales les estoy agradecido y les reconozco el tremendo esfuerzo que desarrollaron y la tarea que pusieron sobre sus hombros. Pero lo que más quiero destacar –de lo cual me siendo orgulloso- es que nuestras Fuerzas Armadas cumplieron y sacaron al país adelante.


I love it when a plan comes together

To the surprise perhaps only of a select group of the brain dead, the virtual fence at the border does not work. A winning quote:

"The integration of all the systems into a common operating picture continues to be the challenge," said Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke. Boeing has put new people on the project who are working to resolve the problems, he said.

Good, now I feel better. But there is an even better quote:

Boeing has "retooled their team on the ground and replaced some of the managers. ... They are now working through the problems of system integration as we speak," Chertoff said. "I think they put their A-team in place to do it."

If the real A-Team was on it, then it would get done, because Hannibal always has a plan. But this is the federal government, where pilot program failure just means you spend more money to make it fail even better.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

More on Republicans and immigration

There was an Op-Ed yesterday by Michael Gerson (a former top Bush aide now at the Council on Foreign Relations) in the Washington Post about Republicans and immigration, on the heels of a similar analysis from the WSJ that I recently critiqued. The overall argument is the same: the Republican stance on immigration is alienating Latino voters. It’s safe to say this is reaching conventional wisdom status.

I didn’t think this was a particularly compelling Op-Ed. For example, he argues that at the beginning of his political career, George W. Bush took a balanced stand on immigration. “The political effects were immediate. Bob Dole got about 21 percent of Hispanic votes in 1996.” So Dole’s gains were due to newly minted Governor Bush?

Gerson lumps together three issues and collectively calls them “immigration,” but it occurred to me that understanding this issue requires separating them. They are immigration reform, treatment of immigrants, and attitude toward Spanish. I would argue that failure to enact immigration reform will not doom Republicans, especially since Democrats have similarly refused to do so. Treatment of immigrants, however, becomes more important, and respect for Spanish even more so.

There is a difference between legislative failure and moral failure. Although many people may believe the former as an example of the latter (as I often have) I’m not sure how widely shared that view is. Moral failure is telling people they should stop speaking their native language, otherwise they are not sufficiently “American.” Undocumented immigration can fall somewhere in between. Many Latinos (as many other groups in the U.S.) do not support a legalization path, or at least wish it to be quite stringent, but also do not support local harassment policies, detention camps and forced separation of families. One is about rule of law while the other is about dehumanization.

Separating the legislative and moral tells us more about what types of policies will alienate Latino voters, and also what either party should do if they wish to court those voters. Conflating them leads to unconvincing hypotheses.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Venezuelan education

The latest flap over Venezuela is the announcement that private schools must submit to the state’s socialist curriculum or be shut down.

"We must train socially minded people to help the community, and that's why the revolution's socialist program is being implemented," said Zulay Campos, a member of a Bolivarian StateAcademic Commission that evaluates compliance with academic guidelines.

"If they attack us because we're indoctrinating, well yes, we're doing it, because those capitalistideas that our young people have — and that have done so much damage to our people — must be eliminated," Campos said.

But Adan Chavez said the goal is to develop "critical thinking," not to impose a single philosophy
It is well worth reading the interview of Adán Chávez, who is the Minister of Popular Power for Education. Unfortunately, the ministry’s site does not provide specific links to different pages, but it can be easily found by searching for “Entrevista a Ministro del Poder Popular para la Educación,” on September 19, 2007.

El punto fundamental está en que sectores de la oposición han utilizado el término para tratar de confundir, como si eso fuese algo pecaminoso. No. Es la lucha de las ideas, repito. Se trata de transformar el viejo sistema capitalista, salvaje, destructor,basado en los antivalores que mencioné, en una nueva sociedad, en un sistema educativo que nos va a permitir construir, definitivamente, el hombre nuevo, la mujer nueva.
What bothers me is the insistence that it is a battle over ideas, when in fact the state is telling you that one idea must die and the other is the only future for the country. It reminds me of all the junk being taught in U.S. school systems, where capitalism is shining, triumphant and flawless. For all his criticism of the U.S., Chávez is just doing the same in reverse. One thing is evil, one is good; you’re for us or against us. Neither involves much critical thinking.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dice-K, the fifth Teletubby

Hilarious. This is rookie hazing time in baseball, and Dice-K had to clear customs in Toronto like this:



I happened to see that Alan García’s approval rating has jumped to 44%, as Peruvians respond to his handling of the earthquake (though, as the article points out, the people in Pisco are not exactly happy). Of course, it may not stay there long.

A quick look at Boz’s last list of polls (now almost month old) shows high numbers for Correa, Calderón, Morales, and Kirchner, while Uribe and Chávez have also consistently been high. Lula has been hit by a variety of scandals but hovers around or just under 50%.

In sum, at 39% approval Michelle Bachelet is currently one of the least popular presidents in the Americas, and that’s no easy achievement. Most recent polls put Bush in the low to mid 30s, not even so far behind.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Assumptions about the "Latino vote"

The Wall Street Journal has a story on courting the Hispanic vote, which I found very superficial. The problem that this and many other popular analyses have is that they treat Latinos as a bloc, assume that they are united about immigration policy, and then assume they base their vote largely on a party’s perceived stance on immigration policy. No mention, for example, about whether Cuban Americans in Florida have the same political goals as Mexican Americans in Arizona. Other differences include younger vs. older, foreign born vs. native born, or even the way in which someone became a citizen (originally undocumented or not, for example).

Those sweeping assumptions then leads to other sweeping assumptions:

Republican opposition to immigration overhauls could further mobilize Hispanic voters and drive them from the Republican Party, some analysts warn. They see a parallel to California in 1994. That year, Republicans passed Proposition 187, which denied illegal immigrants public services but was later ruled unconstitutional in federal court. The measure alienated Hispanic citizens and Republican candidates have fared poorly in the state ever since.

California has a Republican governor and is home to two of Congress’ more outspoken Republican anti-immigrant members, Duncan Hunter and Brian Bilbray. California politics do not revolve around immigration alone.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World

I just read Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World: An (Unlikely) Theory of Globalization, which my brother bought me as a gift, and which Miguel uses in a comparative politics class. I enjoyed it, though I had one nagging question that never quite went away.

His main argument is that globalization tends to reinforce local identities. Despite having foreign players and advertisements for multinational corporations on the players’ jerseys, fans still view their teams in highly parochial terms. The argument is not exactly like Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” because he doesn’t assert that globalization necessarily intensifies differences. Rather, it is that people (or, in this case, soccer fans) continue to filter their experiences through local lenses, which include nationalist antagonisms, socio-economic differences and racial/ethnic conflict.

The nagging point for me was that Foer is a self-described soccer fanatic, yet the chapters (each of which covers a country) almost uniformly discuss the dark side of soccer fandom. Xenophobia, racism, corruption, abuse of power, violence, bigotry, ethnocentrism, the list goes on and on. An alternative title could easily have been “How Soccer Reflects the Worst in People, and How Globalization Reinforces It.” An avenue is thus left unexplored—is there something intrinsic to soccer that produces such outcomes, despite globalizing forces? Or, more specifically, is there something about soccer that creates a certain type of fan who has such characteristics?


Friday, September 14, 2007

AMLO and the tax bill

The Mexican lower house just passed Felipe Calderón’s tax bill. That is of significance because Andrés Manuel López Obrador had called on the PRD and others to physically block the vote, in particular because the gas tax was regressive.

``Put in practice, if it is necessary, peaceful civil resistance inside this chamber until they withdraw the initiative,'' Lopez Obrador told supporters during a news conference at the congressional complex.

The PRD ended up bringing placards in protest, but did not stop the vote. I had written a few days ago about how AMLO’s connection to national politics seems weaker. Maybe his grassroots approach, where he barnstorms and makes speeches at the local level, will pay off politically, though recent polls reported that 71% of Mexicans disagreed with the call to block the vote, while 65% approved of Calderón.

At least for now, Calderón is steamrolling AMLO, and successfully convincing the PRI to work with him. Maybe AMLO simply believes that the policies will get passed, but their effects will anger the average Mexican, who will then be ready to look again at AMLO as a political leader.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

More Fidel death rumors

The Economist notes the rumors about Fidel’s death, arguing that it’s getting harder and harder to cover up such things. The article also argues that the announcements of Franco’s and Mao’s deaths came on “suspiciously symbolic” dates, so predicts that around October 10 (the date of Cuba’a declaration of independence from Spain in 1868) there will be a new round of rumors.

Adding more fuel to the fire is Fidel’s latest article in Granma, which once again focuses on history, in this case how Cuba helped foil an assassination attempt on Reagan (and then it jumps to 9/11 conspiracy theories). Thus it has been a while since he has mentioned something recent, and there hasn’t been a photo in a while. I suppose that if rumors of his death are protracted, then his actual death won’t be viewed with as much shock.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Remittance slowdown in Mexico

The Migration Policy Institute just released a fact sheet on the slowdown of remittances to Mexico. Of particular interest is the breakdown by state, which shows that some states have seen a 5% increase or greater (still much smaller than the national 19.1% growth between 2003 and 2006) while others have dropped more than 5%. Further, some states are more highly dependent on remittances than others.

A major issue, then, is the economic and social (and perhaps ultimately political) impact in those states with decreased remittances and high dependence (e.g. Michoacán). If families are hurt more economically, one response would be to migrate, but the decrease of remittances itself may constitute a disincentive, since it is a potential sign of fewer opportunities in the U.S. It may spur internal migration or, perhaps, greater political opposition. On the flip side, states that see an increase in remittances but are not dependent on them will get an economic boost (e.g. Baja California del Sur, though the absolute number there is the lowest in the country).

I think this type of subnational view is really useful, as the aggregate numbers can hide a lot of what’s going on in different parts of the country.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chilean politics on 9/11

Since this is a blog focusing largely on Latin America, it is fitting to discuss Chile on September 11. The Socialist Party seems to be going through a personality crisis, between those who want to reclaim some of the more activist energy of the pre-dictatorship era, while others (including Bachelet) see a key lesson of 9/11/73 as the need for consensus-building before moving forward with policies.

A recent Adimark poll puts Bachelet’s approval rating as 39.1% in August, while I had mentioned an Angus Reid poll showing her at 51% for the same month. Given the intense criticisms, street demonstrations, and coalitional conflict, the lower figure (which they attribute to the “Transantiago effect”) makes more sense. At my LASA panel there was considerable discussion about failures of management, as Bachelet named poorly qualified people to important posts, and a perception that some ministries are very inefficient. Her cabinet shufflings reflect the problems that emerged as a result.

One person in the audience raised the possibility (which, as he pointed out, could be considered heresy) that change will only come if the Alianza wins, i.e. there is a major political shake-up. The Alianza is so divided that I am not even sure what their policy priorities would be. After all, they can hardly make Chile more market oriented.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Venezuela at LASA

One of the more interesting sessions I attended at LASA was about Venezuela, organized by Greg Grandin and chaired by Daniel Hellinger (who I give credit for making a concerted effort to get audience comments from different viewpoints). The real draw was the Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Alvarez. Also on the more “pro” Chávez side was Mark Weisbrot, who these days is almost ubiquitous in the debate on Venezuela. On the “other” side were Javier Corrales (a Chávez critic from Amherst College) and Jennifer McCoy from Georgia State, but more notably from the Carter Center.

The panel was definitely worth attending but ultimately not exactly what I expected. I hoped for some real debate, both with the panelists and the quite large audience. What I found, however, was that each side spoke very cordially past one another. Not that I wanted sparks to fly, but I felt like neither side really sought to engage the other—all had their points to make, and at least in my opinion generally brushed aside opposite arguments.

The ambassador made a point that I found notable. He said he felt that the presence of Hugo Chávez as an individual was critical for transforming Venezuela, and that this represented a weakness for the movement. This comment shouldn’t be taken too far, as part of an entire talk and panel, but I wondered the degree to which Chávez supporters would like to see the development of other leaders who embody the general tenets of “chavismo” without being Chávez.

On the other side, one of the more provocative comments (for me, anyway) was from Javier Corrales, who said that constitutions should not “empower people” but should only “limit government.” I thought it an important statement (in the sense of being a core part of the constitutional debate) that only the ambassador addressed—he very politely disagreed and that was it.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Latin American Studies and blogs

Regarding blogs, several things struck me at the conference, and remember this is a very big conference with a wide range of people and disciplines:

1. I saw no panels on blogs or other types of electronic media (unless I happened not to see it)
2. Whenever I happened to mention blogs to people, I often received a rather blank look. Those who did not give me a blank look were generally those who already knew about mine
3. There is a massive disconnect between academia and the many, many non-academia people out there who are deeply interested in Latin American politics. I've received a lot of comments on the blog from people who never would've heard of me otherwise (and vice versa)


Teaching academic life

At LASA I was having a conversation with a full professor at a school with a very good Ph.D. program in Political Science. I broached the idea (which I've raised here before) that graduate students would benefit from getting some sort of workshop on academia--just some of the basics of what would be expected of them when they began their careers as assistant professors.

I was a bit surprised when he almost completely dismissed the idea, saying that the variety of schools and their job expectations was so great that no generic model could even be offered. I didn't feel like arguing (and there was no point) so the conversation shifted fairly quickly to something else.

Of course, he's right that there are many different types of academic positions out there, but I still think you could give quite a few general pointers that could save people time and energy later because they would know better what to expect.


Debating Chile

I am back from LASA, which I really enjoyed, and I’ll be doing several posts on it. My Chile/Bachelet panel produced a good discussion—the theme coming out of the papers was the nature of political consensus in the country. Looking at a number of different areas, the argument was generally that a) the “consensus” refers to a relatively small number of political and economic elites, and streets demonstrations are composed of those who do not feel part of it; b) since the economic model is a central part of the consensus, any major policy changes would entail changing the model (at least to some degree); and c) that Bachelet has not been willing to challenge it.

Subsequently there was discussion about whether the Concertación (Bachelet or anyone else) was even capable of enacting substantive change. After having been in power for 17 years, the Concertación has embraced the economic model and so it can hardly even be really called “pinochetista” anymore. Any Concertación president would have to start fighting her/his own coalition to dismantle any part of it.

Finally, there was a question about whether the disparate opposition movements could come together to put significant pressure on the government. At this point, there are no strong horizontal linkages, but some thought there might more than in the past. Very hard to tell.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

LASA 2007

I am off to LASA, so there will be light or no blogging until this weekend.


Monday, September 03, 2007

Mexican politics

Felipe Calderón made his State of the Union address yesterday, but at the National Palace instead of Congress because members of the PRD vowed not to let him. There were 3,800 invited members of the audience, and only two were from the PRD. There were also protesters outside, though certainly nothing compared to last year (I’ve seen estimates from “dozens” to 1,500).

I was reading about all this, and yet never saw a mention of AMLO, who was not involved in the protests, though members of the PRD in Congress are obviously acting in solidarity with him to protest last year’s election. I had to go to his website to discover that he was in Tlaxcala giving a speech, and his own press release didn’t even mention the PRD’s actions in Mexico City. Instead, he said that on November 20 he would come to Mexico City for an “informative assembly.” There is still a disconnect, but at this point I don’t know how serious it is, or how it will affect AMLO’s political future.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Operation Condor

J. Patrice McSherry, “Death Squads as Parallel Forces: Uruguay, Operation Condor, and the United States.” Journal of Third World Studies 24, 1 (Spring 2007): 13-52.

The article doesn’t have a formal abstract, but the general argument can be summed up from a paragraph early on in the article:

The article argues that the death squads that emerged in Uruguay and elsewhere in Latin America in this era were parallel forces created and used by states as counterinsurgency tools. They resulted from a strategic and calculated choice by state elites seeking to neutralize social sectors that were demanding a fairer distribution of economic resources and political power. The death squads were instruments used to command and confrol civilian populations through the use of terror, and were part and parcel of unconventional warfare strategies and national security doctrine condoned by elite groups as well as Washington. Most importantly, the system of state terror was international, sustained by arms, technology, finances, and other forms of support from Washington and the collusion of Latin American military regimes, united in the inter-American military system as well as the covert Operation Condor. Inspired by a national security doctrine that legitimized harsh and illegal methods against "internal enemies," U.S-backed counterinsurgents built a parallel apparatus, a set of invisible structures and forces of the state, in order to eliminate political opposition while ensuring deniability. The case of Uruguay reveals the tight interconnections among U.S. military and police training programs, inter-American counterinsurgency strategies, right-wing death squads, and the Condor system of cross-border political repression. Theoretically, the case of Uruguay sheds light on why, and when, states form death squads.

This article builds on the framework she used in her book, which I reviewed here (and a formal review will be coming out at some point in Journal of Latin American Studies) but focuses specifically on the Uruguayan case. Uruguay often receives less attention, but its dictatorship was exceptionally brutal. The Uruguayan case is notable as well for the fact that construction of the parallel state began even before the 1973 coup.

Obviously, there there are tons of books and articles on the general topic of Cold War dictatorships in Latin America. For me, the key insight here is to view U.S. policy, Latin American dictatorships, and Operation Condor all as elements of a parallel state, linked to the government but operating according to its own rules. It’s not simply a matter of disparate organizations influencing each other, but rather all fit together organically. They come together when threats from below are perceived to be strong (and getting ever stronger) which also justifies the tactics used by parallel forces.


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