Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Time flies

I can’t believe it’s that time of year again, when at the UN the entire world save Israel and 2-3 very small countries votes to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The more the U.S. tries to isolate Cuba, the more the rest of the world views Cuba with sympathy, which the Castro regime successfully milks for all its worth.

But the embargo is for your own good, since we want what's best for you. As Nick Lowe says, you gotta be cruel to be kind.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Supply side

If you’d like to get a succinct view of supply side arguments about immigration and drugs, then check out Vicente Fox being interviewed by Bill O'Reilly. O’Reilly calmly explains why it’s mostly Mexico’s fault, though he does allow that the U.S. shares “some” of the blame.

My favorite quite is from O’Reilly: “The fence would help Mexico.” That is a new one.

My question: why did Vicente Fox even bother doing the interview? Something tells me most Fox News viewers aren't likely to buy his book anyway.

h/t Global Voice Online


Monday, October 29, 2007


I got an email from Jeb Sprague, who has a blog (PopDem) focusing largely on Latin America and Haiti, with links to other blogs he writes for that focus exclusively on Haiti, so I thought I would pass that along. His "about me" says he is a graduate student and a writer, though I don't see where he is graduate studenting (if that's a word).


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Abuse of executive power

A few days ago I mentioned the laws being circumvented in order to build a border wall, since the REAL ID Act allows the Department of Homeland Security to bypass laws and court orders whenever it wants. Here is the official statement in the Federal Register, whereby Michael Chertoff announced the need to build 4.75 miles of wall.

SUMMARY: The Secretary of Homeland Security has determined, pursuant to law, that it is necessary to waive certain laws, regulations and other legal requirements in order to ensure the expeditious construction of physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international land border of the United States in Arizona.

The number of such “laws, regulations and other legal requirements” is astounding and depressing. Take a look at what the federal government is choosing to ignore:

The National Environmental Policy Act (Pub. L. 91–190, 83 Stat. 852 (Jan. 1, 1970) (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)), the Endangered Species Act (Pub. L. 93–205, 87 Stat. 884 (Dec. 28, 1973) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.)), the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act) (Act of June 30, 1948, c. 758, 62 Stat. 1155 (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.)), the National Historic Preservation Act (Pub. L. 89– 665, 80 Stat. 915 (Oct. 15, 1966) (16 U.S.C. 470 et seq.)), the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703 et seq.), the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq.), the Archeological Resources Protection Act (Pub. L. 96–95, 16 U.S.C. 470aa et seq.), the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300f et seq.), the Noise Control Act (42 U.S.C. 4901 et seq.), the Solid Waste Disposal Act, as amended by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (42 U.S.C. 6901 et seq.), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq.), the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (Pub. L. 94–579, 43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.), the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (Pub. L. 73–121, 48 Stat. 401, 16 U.S.C. 661 et seq.), the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act (Pub. L. 86– 523, 16 U.S.C. 469 et seq.), the Antiquities Act (16 U.S.C. 431 et seq.), the Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act (16 U.S.C. 461 et seq.), the Arizona-Idaho Conservation Act of 1988 (Pub. L. 100–696, 16 U.S.C. 460xx et seq.), the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (Pub. L. 90–542, 16 U.S.C. 1281 et seq.), the Farmland Protection Policy Act (7 U.S.C. 4201 et seq.) and the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 551 et seq.).

h/t Bender's Immigration Bulletin


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Follow up on Cuba speech

A follow up on Bush’s Cuba speech: the State Department forum may well have been a signal to State that it needs to accept the administration’s hard line stance.

This is nothing new. Henry Kissinger hated the people who worked at State because many of them questioned the Nixon administration’s unqualified support for dictatorships—he mocked them constantly. Over time I’ve talked to State Department staffers (mostly talking about Chilean politics) and there are many very thoughtful and intelligent people working there, i.e. they aren’t political appointees. Right now they’re being told to keep reasoned analysis to themselves and follow orders.


Friday, October 26, 2007

U.S.-Cuban relations

The Cuban government showed about half of President Bush’s recent speech and provided extensive excerpts, which is unprecedented.

Some experts wondered whether the decision to air and print the speech was part of interim President Raul Castro's campaign to open the Cuban news media to criticism. Castro, in office since his brother Fidel fell ill 15 months ago, has allowed the media to run articles critical of the system, and also has convened neighborhood meetings to air complaints.

"I am not surprised, because there have been changes in the media which are definitely part of Raul Castro's decisions," Rafael Hernandez, editor of the political magazine Issues, said by phone from Havana. "The changes in the press are something that should have happened sooner."

Hernandez said the Cuban leadership also probably decided to run the speech so Cubans could see Bush and judge for themselves.

"I think U.S. policy is like any horror-movie monster," Hernandez said.

What a strange combination. On the one hand, Raul has widely been viewed as more pragmatic than Fidel, and therefore more open to the idea of criticism, albeit tightly controlled (as the article notes, for example, the government did not allow the airing of the names of political prisoners). This could therefore signal some type of real change, the extent of which is impossible to guess.

On the other hand, Bush’s speech and his policy in general are so poorly thought out (one part of the speech suggested radical change in Cuba, in exchange for which we’d allow religious groups to give them some computers and internet access) that the Cuban government can safely broadcast it. In other word, U.S. policy is so off the deep end that it doesn’t even require much censoring.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

More on the Venezuelan constitutional debate

My student Kelby continues to follow the Venezuelan constitutional debate and sent me news about article 337 (part of the state of emergency proposal). The president of the National Assembly proposed adding more individual rights when a state of emergency is declared: the rights to defense, personal integrity, to be judged by “jueces naturales” (which I take to mean not automatically by an ad hoc, possibly military court) and not to be sentenced for more than 30 years (which is still a really long time!).

With any luck the Assembly will also address the lack of legislative and judicial power vis-à-vis the executive once the state of emergency is declared.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007


This morning Matthew Shugart wrote that if he didn't post for an extended period of time, he probably had to evacuate, and he hasn't posted since this morning.

Fire has been moving roughly in the direction of my parents, who were visited by their local fire fighters. They pointed out a ridge about 4 miles away and said my parents would need to evacuate if they saw fire there. They felt there was a good amount of clear defensible space around the home, but we can only hope.


Republicans and Latino voters

A number of times I’ve written that we shouldn’t assume Latino immigrants vote based on immigration issues, so there won’t necessarily be an exodus from the Republican Party. Given recent events, however, I’ve been pondering this more.

--Fred Thompson “called for stripping federal funds from cities and states that do not report illegal immigrants and criticized Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney for allowing so-called sanctuary cities in New York and Massachusetts.” He did this because “Party officials in key primary states said yesterday that the candidate who can win voters' trust on immigration could make significant gains.”

--RNC Chair Mel Martinez resigned the position. The Bush administration had put him there to counter the image of being anti-Latino, but Martinez supported comprehensive immigration reform and became frustrated at the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the party. “Mel Martinez was a symbol of the party's outreach to Latinos, and that seems to be disappearing," said Lionel Sosa, a longtime Republican strategist and advisor to GOP presidents since Ronald Reagan. ‘It is not a good day for Latino Republicans, that's for sure.’”

--Michael Chertoff says the administration will ignore laws potentially blocking construction of a border fence. Doesn’t matter what laws stipulate, doesn’t matter what judges say. The REAL ID Act of 2005 allows the executive branch to move forward no matter what.

The Republican Party is becoming even more anti-Latino than I anticipated, since increasingly candidates feel immigration is the only issue that gets the Republican base energized. What I really don’t know is where the tipping point might be. Many Latinos like the Republican Party for other reasons (social issues, etc.) but at what point is the rhetoric so incendiary that they a) don’t vote; or b) vote Democratic in protest?

At least at the national level, the Democratic Party is only barely more pro-immigrant (or seems more talk than action) so it’s not clear how much it would benefit. It might if Latinos either vote Democrat because it’s the least bad option, or if they’re focusing more on local issues, where I think (anecdotally) that Democrats have been more active in engaging the Latino population in a positive way.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hugo Chávez and free trade

I do think the following argument reaches an entirely new level of absurdity in U.S.-Latin American relations, which is no easy accomplishment. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns says a free trade agreement must be ratified with Colombia. Why? For the sole reason that if it doesn't happen, Hugo Chávez will get a "public relations benefit."

"If it doesn't pass, someone like Chavez if not Chavez himself is undoubtedly going to make the argument that the United States doesn't take care of its friends," said Burns, "and we wish not to give that argument to our adversaries in the region."

So the entire issue of free trade now is based on how it affects Hugo Chávez? Debating the actual merits of the policy is, it seems, passé these days.


Human rights in Chile

Here’s a story you don’t see every day. The Chilean government has announced an amnesty for the estimated 20,000 illegal immigrants in the country, mostly Peruvians, but also a sizeable number of Bolivians and a scattering from other countries.

We can juxtapose that with the release of a report last month on human rights from the Universidad Diego Portales. Patricio Navia has an analysis of it here, reasonably arguing that if Chile really is a democracy then it needs to take human rights more seriously than ever before. The report has eleven themed chapters: jail conditions, freedom of expression, impunity and human rights of the past, access to family courts (e.g. to deal with domestic violence), the environment, juveniles in the justice system, rights of sexual minorities, immigrants and refugees, the handicapped, and rights of the indigenous (readers may remember, for example, that Ricardo Lagos used a Pinochet-era anti-terrorism law against the Mapuche a few years ago).

These are obviously huge, long-standing problems but will serve in part to show the problems Michelle Bachelet has had in addressing them, since she has really emphasized these sorts of issues. I am awaiting the latest round of polling numbers to see if she has bottomed out yet.


Monday, October 22, 2007


No Latin America connection, but fellow political science blogger Matthew Shugart notes the terrible fires raging in San Diego. Fortunately he was still home (and hopefully still is). Like many others who haven't yet been told to evacuate, my parents (who live in the east county, several miles from one of the fires) can only watch the wind and wait with their essential belongings ready to be packed into the car. The wind is intense, even uprooting trees in the yard. Very scary, and very hard for me to concentrate on anything else.

Update: San Diego State University literally went from holding classes in the morning to becoming a shelter by the afternoon. The fire is just moving so fast.


Refugees in Brazil

Brazil is accepting Palestinian refugees (approximately 100 in all) displaced by the Iraq war (they had fled to Jordan). The decision is based on the 2004 Mexico Plan of Action, under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Up to this point, it has focused mostly on Colombians escaping the violence there. A quote from the plan:

The Mexico Plan of Action, adopted by 20 governments, is a continent-wide framework for the protection of displaced people. By adopting the Plan, governments have committed themselves to strengthening refugee protection and implementing an integrated approach to durable solutions.

This story really deserves more attention—I had missed the original story last month when the first group arrived. This is obviously a very generous decision, and I’d be interested to learn more about how Brazil became involved—Lula is never mentioned in the articles yet he has to be central. The Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce discusses it a bit, but is rather short on details.

The U.S. government, which created the mess in the first place, remains mum. It may be that the refugees are subsequently cited as a potential Middle East terrorist threat in Brazil…


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Women and politics in Latin America

McClatchy has a story about the increased political status of women in Latin American politics (which even showed up in my Charlotte Observer this morning). I was pleased to see such a story get wide coverage, since the popular impression in the U.S. of Latin America is generally so negative.

This raises interesting questions about causal relationships. In the article, a former human rights official from the Bolivian government argues that women have been making gains as a result of the governments that are focusing on the underprivileged in general, led by presidents from disadvantaged backgrounds. As I mentioned the other day, the Venezuelan constitutional reforms include gender equality. The argument makes intuitive sense if a political movement is pushing for equality—I don’t know if anyone has tested for a correlation between ideology (though even defining it can be challenging) and gender equality outcomes in Latin America.

Yet if we look at another angle, namely legislative gender quotas, the countries with quotas are all over the place ideologically. Actually, there’s an interesting UCSD working paper on Latin American quotas by Jennifer Piscopo.* Costa Rica, Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil, and Honduras don’t have much in common on the surface, so what commonalities can we find that help explain the outcome? Venezuela had a quota, but it was revoked in 2000, and the same was true in Colombia in 2001. Both are polar opposites ideologically, but did the same—why? Regardless, Venezuela and Nicaragua both had more female congressional representation than the U.S even without quotas, which may point (at least to some degree) to ideology. At the same time, Chile, which is less oriented toward economic equality than any other Latin American country, recently had the divorce law, elected a woman president, while the forerunner for the next election is also a woman (nonetheless, many activists are definitely unhappy with the pace of progress on women’s issues in Chile).

Much food for thought. I’ll definitely discuss this in class tomorrow.

* In fact, she is pessimistic about the impact quotas have on women’s rights generally, though I would think it might be too soon to understand fully the ways in which they transform politics and society.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lake Norman 15K

This morning I ran the Lake Norman 15K, pushing my son Ben. This has become my favorite race of the year—the weather is almost always perfect (clear and comfortably cool), there’s nice scenery, and the hills aren’t too bad. Ben started getting a bit bored, but I had promised him we’d go to his favorite restaurant—IHOP—so during various parts of the run he talked about which syrups he would use in which order.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Latin America and Islamic terrorism

Steven Taylor at Poliblog has a good discussion of the latest U.S. military claim about how Latin America is a hotbed of Islamic terrorism. He cites an article I published last year about how the U.S. suddenly found terrorism everywhere in Latin America after 9/11 and every so often we’re told there’s more. The U.S. government does a pretty good job of finding Islamic terrorists everywhere it looks (they’re smuggling nukes from Mexico across the Arizona desert, etc.).

One unfortunate result is that such talk accumulates and becomes a rationale for intervention of some kind. Another unfortunate result is that, like the boy who cried wolf, in the unlikely event there ever is a real threat no one will believe it.

Coincidentally, the CIA is honoring one of its dismally failed past efforts to intervene by hanging on oil painting depicting the Bay of Pigs invasion.

''The fact that the overall [Bay of Pigs] operation didn't achieve its objectives in no way diminishes the lasting example of courage of those who risked -- and in some cases gave -- their lives to support it,'' agency spokesman George Little said of the Bay of Pigs painting.

Titled Lobo Flight, the 40- by 30-inch painting shows a vintage B-26 twin engine bomber flown by Connie Seigrist -- the lead pilot of a convoy of B-26s painted to look like Cuban aircraft -- dropping bombs onto a column of Cuban troops heading to the beach, where a group of CIA-trained Cuban exiles had landed to attempt to overthrow Castro.

Perhaps this is part of an exhibit entitled “Ways in Which We’ve Made Our Enemies Stronger by Attacking Them.” Or maybe part of the “How Overheated Rhetoric Leads to Disastrous Invasions” series.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

States of exception in Venezuela

Thanks to my student Kelby for sending me a copy of the additional 25 constitutional reforms proposed by the Venezuelan legislative constitutional commission. They were added after all the traveling around the country to debate the original proposed amendments, but will not be formally debated nationally themselves. Here is a link to that additional list from the Asamblea’s site. There is much to think about, as the scope of the amendments is broad.

Some seem quite good. For example, article 21 specifies equality before the law, and includes ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, creed, social condition, and health “o aquellas que, en general, tengan por objeto o por resultado anular o menoscabar el reconocimiento, goce o ejercicio en condiciones de igualdad, de los derechos y libertades.”

The most controversial are articles 337-339, focusing on states of exception (though the definition of the military’s role also deserves attention). Here is the Spanish (apologies to those of you who don’t read Spanish—I don’t have time to translate).

Artículo 337. El Presidente o Presidenta de la República, en Consejo de Ministros, podrá decretar los estados de excepción. Se califican expresamente como tales las circunstancias de orden social, económico, político, natural o ecológico, que afecten gravemente la seguridad de la Nación, de las instituciones y de los ciudadanos y ciudadanas, a cuyo respecto resultan insuficientes las facultades de las cuales se disponen para hacer frente a tales hechos. En tal caso, podrán ser restringidas o suspendidas temporalmente las garantías consagradas en esta Constitución, salvo las referidas al derecho a la vida, la prohibición de tortura, incomunicación y la desaparición forzosa.

Artículo 338. Podrá decretarse el estado de alarma cuando se produzcan catástrofes, calamidades públicas u otros acontecimientos similares que pongan seriamente en peligro la seguridad de la Nación o de sus ciudadanos y ciudadanas. Podrá decretarse el estado de emergencia económica cuando se susciten circunstancias económicas extraordinarias que afecten gravemente la vida económica de la Nación.

Podrá decretarse el estado de conmoción interior o exterior en caso de conflicto interno o externo, que ponga seriamente en peligro la seguridad de la Nación, de sus ciudadanos y ciudadanas, o de sus instituciones.

Los estados de alarma, de emergencia económica y de conmoción interior o exterior, durarán mientras se mantengan las causas que los motivaron.

Artículo 339. El decreto que declare el estado de excepción, en el cual se regulará el ejercicio del derecho cuya garantía se restringe o suspende, será presentado, dentro de los ocho días siguientes de haberse dictado, a la Asamblea Nacional, o a la Comisión Delegada, para su consideración y aprobación. Al cesar las causas que lo motivaron, el Presidente o Presidenta de la República dejará sin efecto la medida adoptada.

La declaración del estado de excepción no interrumpe el funcionamiento de los órganos del Poder Público.

This is building on a long-standing Latin American political tradition of states of exception (the 1999 Venezuelan constitution as currently worded also includes it, with a 60 day limit). One problem, of course, is defining “national security,” which has been abused so often in Latin America and elsewhere (including, of course, the United States). Further, although the president would need congressional approval for the decree within eight days, after that it would be up to the president alone to decide when to end it. This sort of thing should not be a part of a democracy, no matter what you think of your enemies (or how much your enemies hate you).

Because of its controversial nature, this will be debated in the entire legislature. Assuming it won’t be removed, at the very least there should be:

1) more legislative oversight, including authority over when the state of exception is lifted, and with specific (and very short) time limits that must be constantly approved by the legislature and defended publicly (the 1999 constitution allows the legislature to end it)

2) a role for the judiciary (the 1999 constitution requires the decree to be declared constitutional)

3) a specification of the votes necessary to get initial approval (e.g. a supermajority)

4) more restrictions on what can’t be done to people (the 1999 constitution has more)

5) very specific mention that the legislature and judiciary will continue to function during this time (and not just “los órganos del Poder Público,” which is vague, unless it has a specific legal meaning I am not aware of)


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Corruption in Mexico

A recent poll reveals that 70% of Mexico City residents believe that a new anti-smoking law is just a way for authorities to shake more people down. They figure that everyone knows it will be impossible to enforce, so there is no other rationale for its passage. They also believe that new regulations about driver’s licenses will have the same effect.

I haven’t studied corruption in detail, and I wonder if anyone has done work on laws being passed almost entirely to facilitate bribery (there have, for example, been studies of how citizens accept corruption if they also benefit). It’s common for public officials to pass laws that enrich them, but this is more indirect. At the very least, it is a strong indicator of low regard for legislators, as people assume that a law ostensibly aimed at public health is simply corrupt.

This also leads me to wonder about how people feel about their local legislators in federal systems. This story is about the Mexico City legislature, not the national one. We see presidential approval ratings all the time, but not much about legislatures, and never anything on the local level. Many presidents (including Calderón) are very popular, but what about other elected officials?

On a side note, Transparency International’s 2007 corruption perception index has Mexico tied at 72 (along with Brazil, China, Peru and a few others) a drop of two spots since 2006.

h/t Héctor Tobar at La Plaza


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dusty foot

Really interesting article in the NYT about Cuban immigrants increasingly going through Mexico to reach the United States, which has become a multimillion dollar smuggling industry. There has been a surge of Cuba immigrants since Raúl took over (the most since 1994) and even the Cuban ambassador to Mexico is expressing concern.

U.S. immigration policy bears considerable responsibility for the Mexico route. In the wake of the 1994 crisis with Cuba, the Clinton administration created the “wet foot-dry foot” policy whereby Cubans reaching land in the U.S. would be given asylum, whereas those caught at sea would likely be returned.* Going through Mexico removes the threat of return—in fact, Cubans just need to walk up to Border Patrol and they’re golden. It’s being called “dusty foot.”

So guess what? The border fence, sensors, beefed up patrols, cameras, etc. are useless. In addition, other immigrants are trying to practice Cuban accents to trick immigration authorities, thus avoiding dangerous desert routes into the U.S.

On the Cuban side, the increased emigration suggests anxiety about the transfer of power, which contradicts the general sense of calm (noted even in the U.S. press). I’d like to see the specific reasons why people are choosing to leave now.

* You may remember the story of Cubans who reached a disused bridge in Florida last year and were returned because it wasn’t “land.”


Monday, October 15, 2007

Leadership and fashion in Latin America

Through Juventud Rebelde we learn that Fidel is looking OK and is hanging out with Hugo Chávez—here is a link to the video, which begins with Chávez singing (not half bad, actually, and apparently he has released a CD).

That encounter prompted me to ask the critical question, “Why do some leaders wear the same clothes all the time?” With Fidel I can understand, it’s habit. Back in the day, he wanted to keep up the guerrilla vibe so wore fatigues all the time, so now he segued easily into eternal Adidas. Chávez wears a red shirt in pretty much every picture I’ve seen for years, save perhaps major speeches at the UN.

The list of same-clothes leaders isn’t one you’d want to be on. Kim Jong Il with his big glasses and plain dark gray suit, Ahmadenijad with the tieless light suit, or go back to Mobutu with the leopard-skin hat. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting. Before long, it becomes schtick.

Granted, just wearing a suit and changing the tie color like everyone else can be pretty dull. But Chávez should get out of that rut, and take a cue from Evo Morales—the colorful sweaters are his trademark but it’s not obsessive and he mixes it up.

Are there any political theories about leadership and fashion? Probably not.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

At the NC State Fair... of the longest lines was at the place with all the weird deep fried food. This, my friends, is a deep fried Snickers. Well worth the wait. Beware: you might gain weight just looking at it.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Latin America and WHINSEC

Evo Morales has announced that Bolivia will no longer send soldiers to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC, which is the name change for the School of the Americas). Other countries similarly refusing are Argentina, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Every year, there are failed efforts to get Congress to cut WHINSEC’s funding. School of the Americas Watch is working to get more co-sponsors for a bill to suspend operations, but it’s tough to get enough votes. The funding is a drop in the budget bucket and few members of Congress pay enough attention to Latin America to care much.

Military training, however, is both a supply and demand issue. Dealing with supply (i.e. the training) is difficult, and I also wonder whether, if even SOAW can put the votes together, something else will be created in WHINSEC’s place.

Even more effective, however, would be to dry up demand simultaneously—Latin American leaders (with some exceptions, such as in Colombia and El Salvador) may well be receptive to avoiding WHINSEC. I’m actually curious why Ecuador and Nicaragua have not made the same pledge. In fact, I think an interesting research idea would be to analyze the demand side over time—even in work I’ve done on WHINSEC/SOA, I’ve focused on supply.

h/t Plan Colombia and Beyond


Friday, October 12, 2007

Blog stuff

Just a few blog-related things. Adding to the blogroll:

Backyard Briefing covers Latin America news, written by Ben Whitford, a freelance journalist in the UK.

La Plaza also covers Latin America news and comes out of the Los Angeles Times. One of the reporters is Héctor Tobar—he’s Mexico City Bureau Chief for the paper, but also author of Translation Nation, a book on Latino immigration I highly recommend.

Latin American Politics is the new blog for the Political Institutions Section of LASA.

Finally, I know I am late to this, but there’s a political science wiki. I am listed on there and I didn’t even know it.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Iran and Latin America

Check out Time for a surprisingly insightful look at the relationship between Iran and Bolivia, emphasizing the fact that Evo Morales has almost nothing in common with Ahmadinejad and is just looking out for Bolivia’s economic interests. It also notes the ways in which the U.S. government has discriminated against MAS.

Then there’s this article in Foreign Policy about the relationship between Iran and Venezuela. It is among the worst analyses I’ve seen in some time, based almost entirely on rumors. You know an article is worthless when it constantly uses words like mystery, sinister, whispers, rumors and—my favorite—oozing. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a little paranoia.

There is nothing to applaud about Ahmadinejad and I wish he would receive no lauding as he deserves none. Nonetheless, an Iranian relationship with any Latin American country does not signify the end of civilization as we know it.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Es otra cosa

Fifteen years after it gave up, Taco Bell is once again moving to Mexico with the slogan “Es otra cosa” (it’s something else). The slogan seems unnecessary, as I don’t think anyone in Mexico is under the impression that Taco Bell is Mexican food. Perhaps a better slogan would be “What exactly is it?”

The story has some great quotes. One is that it might succeed precisely because wealthy Mexicans will see it as a status symbol of the U.S.:

“It's like bringing ice to the Arctic,” said pop culture historian Carlos Monsivais. “Taco Bell wants to take advantage of the perception that if something comes from the U.S., it tastes better, that a country that has been Americanized is willing to Americanize food that is central to its cuisine.

“It is an absurd idea, and given that it's so absurd, it may just be successful in upper-class areas,” Monsivais added.

But even better, a taco shop worker in Tijuana gave his own appraisal of Americanized Mexican food:

“Competition? Please,” he said. “Personally, I like the Jack in the Box tacos. Now those are good tacos. How come those guys don't come here?”

There you go. Taco Bell might flop, but Mexico may be ready for a guy with an enormous ping-pong ball head. Go figure.

h/t Entérese Charlotte


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Punishment of recall signers in Venezuela

Via Political Science Weblog: a paper presented last month at the Stanford Business School argues that those who signed the recall petition in Venezuela suffered economically as a result. They use the Maisanta database and then link those names to both national household survey and manufacturing firm data. It’s a really interesting (not to mention time consuming) way of getting some hard data.

Chang-Tai Hsieh, Edward Miguel, Daniel Ortega and Francisco Rodriguez (2007), “The Price of Political Opposition: Evidence from Venezuela’s Maisanta,” unpublished paper

Do individuals who join the political opposition pay an economic price? We study this question using unique information on individual political activity from Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, the Maisanta database. The names of millions of pro-opposition supporters who signed recall petitions (seeking to remove Chávez from office) during 2002-2003, and the names of progovernment supporters who signed counter-petitions, were made public. Media accounts detail how this information has been utilized by both sides: by the Government to punish opposition supporters and firms, and by the overwhelmingly pro opposition private sector to discriminate against government supporters in hiring. After linking this political database to both national household survey and manufacturing firm data, we find that pro-opposition individuals experience significant drops in total earnings after 2003. There is extensive churning in the labor market: pro-opposition individuals disproportionately leave public sector employment and progovernment individuals leave private sector employment. Pro-opposition firms have falling total employment, less access to foreign exchange, and rising tax burdens (possibly due to selective audits). The misallocation of resources associated with political polarization between 1999-2004 contributed to a decline of 5% in TFP in our sample. To the extent other regimes can identify and punish the political opposition, these findings may help explain why dislodging authoritarian regimes often proves difficult in less developed countries.

There are all sorts of interesting tidbits in the paper:

This is evidence that Opposition supporters had deteriorating labor market outcomes after 2003. The magnitude is -3.8% of average pre-Maisanta income for opposition supporters, not a trivial effect (p. 15).

According to our results, a firm in which all board members signed against the opposition could expect to pay 0.5% in additional taxes as a fraction of total revenue relative to neutral and pro-government firms (Table 7). This is a very large effect since the average tax rate across all firms is a bit over 1%, so this implies an increase of almost 40% in taxes paid by pro-opposition firms” (p. 19).

Since it is not common to see empirical analyses about this topic, I would love to see a rebuttal by an economist with access to the same data.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Cuba plan

Cuban exiles have formulated a plan for a democratic Cuba. And, of course, the best way to promote democracy is to outlaw political parties you don’t like.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

The former dictator blues

In the NYT, there’s an interesting Simon Romero piece on dictators living in exile and the possibility of extradition. I’ve written before that I’m always interested to hear about where ex-dictators have gone—I was surprised, for example, to learn about Alfredo Stroessner’s death in Brazil because I had assumed he was already dead. (In this article, I also learned that Isabel Perón is hanging out in Spain, which I didn’t know).

The article makes the argument (as Boz had a while ago) that the Fujimori extradition establishes a precedent. I don’t think this argument should be taken too far because of the political circumstances. The Chilean government never agreed to let Fujimori in the country (in fact, not knowing he was coming is considered a major failure of the National Intelligence Agency) in the first place and really wanted him out. The ex-dictators sunning themselves in places like Panama are there by explicit agreement with the government. Nonetheless, it’s true that just having extradition in the air is a good thing, and along with the Pinochet corruption case shows at the very least that even if you and/or your money leave the country, you might still be held accountable.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

When imperialism was good

While working on my U.S.-Latin America textbook (news of its release will be coming in the not-too-distant future) I've enjoyed reading old textbooks on the topic. One of the most important and influential was Samuel Flagg Bemis' The Latin American Policy of the United States. I have the edition published in 1943, though I think it went through more than one edition (or at least stayed in print).

Worth mentioning is his chapter, "The Advent of Imperialism (1895-1899). It is incredible reading because it provides a glimpse into a time when imperialism was openly called a good thing:

In the last decade of the nineteenth century imperialism laid its mantle over Manifest Destiny and galvanized that traditional faith of the American people in their expansive future with a purpose and a philosophy that went beyond the old blind instinct for the achievement and security of the Continental Republic, even one including all of North America (p. 123).
Ah, the good old days. Back when men sat in wood-paneled rooms with whiskey and cigars, mapping out the future of the heathen. The chapter is quite a read, as it culminates with a discussion of the Platt Amendment and how it wrapped Cuba warmly in "protective imperialism." Funny how they always seemed to resent it...


Friday, October 05, 2007

Chile arrests

A Chilean judge ordered the arrest of Pinochet’s widow, his children, and 17 of his close associates on corruption charges related to the fortune that mysteriously appeared in foreign bank accounts under his control. One of those associates is retired army General Jorge Ballerino, who was very close to Pinochet and a key figure in the negotiations of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I interviewed Ballerino nine years ago while doing research for my dissertation. I remember it particularly well because it was my most vivid, and highest ranking, sense of what you might call “interview cognitive dissonance.” Here was a guy so closely associated with the military government and Pinochet himself, yet he was one of the nicest people I’ve interviewed in Chile, military or civilian. He invited me to his house, where we drank coffee and he answered my questions for about an hour. I immediately understood why Pinochet chose him as a negotiator.

The fact that people like Ballerino (not to mention Pinochet’s wife!) are being arrested is extraordinary, certainly nothing I would’ve anticipated 9 years ago.

Update: Tomás Dinges has a very good, detailed discussion of the charges and people involved.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

How low can they go?

In late August, I wrote that Michelle Bachelet’s numbers were holding steady and that “Despite the intense criticism, she clearly has a base of support that remains solid.” I heard similar sentiments from other Chileanists at LASA, that Bachelet had a core constituency that would continue to support her and the numbers suggested it was around 40%.

Now we’re all trying to figure out exactly why that was wrong. The latest Angus Reid poll has her at 35.3% approval for September, down from 41.5% in August. Through the course of the Chilean winter she’s been in freefall, while protests, strikes and Transantiago continue to plague her. Inflation is also rising and the weak dollar threatens Chilean exports to the U.S. so in general she hasn't had much good news.

So the new question is how low can those approval numbers go? It is simply mind blowing, but bears repeating, that she is creeping awfully close to George W. Bush numbers.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

New blog

The State Department has a new blog. It is called "Dipnote." I solemnly swear that I am not making up that name. We are told ""Dipnote" refers to a diplomatic note. It is one of the many ways in which governments formally communicate with each other. " It is not, I gather, one of the many ways dips formally communicate with each other.

The blog also notes that
" offers the public an alternative source to mainstream media for U.S. foreign policy information." The State Department is "alternative" and I never knew it! I'm very happy to have them give me the straight scoop and not have to deal with all those crazy non-government types.

I really can't wait for the first Latin America entry, just out of curiosity. Actually, I can't successfully subscribe to it--I hope that gets worked out.

h/t BoRev.Net (where I actually thought it was a joke when I read it)


We're winning the war on drugs...again

The U.S. government claims that a rise in the price of cocaine shows that the drug war is succeeding. However, thanks to the way the BBC shows links to previous articles, a problem with the analysis is immediately apparent.

The Head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy tells us that for the first time in twenty years, there is a cocaine shortage that has led to a price increase. The timing is extremely important because the the Bush Administration wants to tout it as a way of getting a $1 billion anti-drug package to Mexico. President Calderón’s militarized policies have changed everything! We’re winning!

Oh wait. A convenient link to the side shows that in November 2005, the same U.S. official claimed that the price of cocaine was up, so the drug war was succeeding.

Critics say the price rise is just a temporary blip, and the war on drugs has made no real progress in 20 years.

And critics were right.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Training local law enforcement

Following up on my post from this morning about training local law enforcement about immigration, here is a story from Arizona. Turns out a Sheriff's Office has been questioning crime victims and witnesses about their immigration status. This is, of course, exactly the problem noted by opponents of the 287(g) program, since it sends a very clear signal that if you are the victim of a crime, you need to keep your mouth shut. It also sends a very clear signal to potential criminals that they can target Latinos and have a better chance at getting away with it.


Hasta la vista Pendergraph

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Jim Pendergraph, who became well known for implementing a 287 (g) program (which trains deputies about the process of identifying undocumented immigrants and then deporting them) here in Charlotte, is taking a job with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security created a new job, the executive director of state and local coordination.

The program is in desperate need of study, as both supporters and opponents throw around arguments based on the scanty raw numbers released by the Sheriff’s office. A comprehensive study at the very least would break down the specific arrests, look at the outcome, and even look at where the arrests were made and why they were made. Then it would need to include a survey of the Latino population, since the major criticism is that it is making a significant part of the population feel more insecure, while everyone else feels good that they’re getting rid of “criminals.”

The Spanish-language paper Mi Gente has reactions from the local Latino community. The general response is to be glad he’ll no longer be in Charlotte, but concerned that the new post will be a platform for targeting the entire Latino population.

I think the new post reflects the utter failure of the federal government. It can be summed up as the following: if you cannot get any significant legislation passed, then make the bureaucracy bigger and proclaim victory. We can only wait and see what kind of impact Pendergraph will have on a national scale.


Just painful

What a long, ridiculous, crazy, and ultimately horrible game. Up by 2 in the top of the 13th, and Trevor comes in and blows it. Ouch.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Revista Diplomacia, Estratégia e Política

I’ve been receiving an interesting journal, Revista Diplomacia, Estratégia e Política, put out by the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I’m not sure how I got on the mailing list, but I see it is also free online and so I thought I would call attention to it. It can be read in Spanish, Portuguese, or English.

It is policy oriented, with diverse speeches and analyses by Latin American public figures. The current issue includes Chávez, Correa, Uribe, and even includes a speech by Cristina Kirchner. In addition, it has an article on Mercosur by Luis Alberto Lacalle, a former Uruguayan president, who laments Argentina’s behavior (of course) and the introduction of politics into an economic agreement.

For those interested in current events and policy, it’s worth a look.


163rd game

The Padres had two games left, and all we needed to do was win one to reach the playoffs. Trevor blew one to T. Gwynn Jr. and then Brett Tomko lost yesterday. If you need to rely on Brett Tomko then you know you’re screwed…

Tonight we play a one-game playoff against the Rockies and Jake Peavy will pitch, which at least makes me feel a bit better (a fun side note is that he will be going for his 20th win, which would be the Padres’ first since Gaylord Perry in 1978). The problem, however, is that if we win, then he won’t be ready again quickly because he struggles on three days of rest. In two games this year, his ERA was 8.10.

On the bright side, the Mets are out of it, and the Giants finished last.


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