Saturday, May 31, 2008

South Carolina immigration bill

The South Carolina legislature passed an immigration bill. The law forces businesses to check the E-Verify federal database, which is already full of bugs, for every worker, and if they fail to comply their as-yet-nonexistent state license will be revoked:

“I'm confused about this license that you have but you don't apply for that they can take away from you,” said Rep. Harry Ott, a farmer and House minority leader who voted against the bill. “I need someone to explain that to me.”

And, as is so often the case with poorly thought out policies, there is no money for enforcement.

“But we didn't put any money in the budget to let LLR hire the investigators to enforce the rules,” Ott said.

Harrison acknowledges the rules may be difficult to enforce and says the department could request more money next fiscal year to conduct random audits of businesses to ensure the law is being followed.

Sounds like a winner.


Friday, May 30, 2008


The Washington Office on Latin America offers up an archive article from 1986 on U.S. support for the Contras in Honduran territory and the human rights abuses they committed.


Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who was U.S. Ambassador to Honduras when the Contras set up shop in the early 1980s, is about to visit Central America, including Honduras. I suppose just catching up with some old friends.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Chile and INTERPOL Part 2

Yesterday I mentioned the extensive article published on the head of Chile's Investigaciones by the Centro de Investigación e Información Periodística. Now Investigaciones has responded with a formal letter, claiming the article is full of errors and insinuations. They do not, however, point to anything specific.

This case has obviously energized the organization, which is digging like mad to see what Herrera has been up to during his career. My hunch is that the Bachelet government would like to let this one slide by, especially since Herrera is not far from retirement, but perhaps this type of investigative journalism will exert enough pressure to force action.

Incidentally, I had not noticed when I read the story yesterday that one of CIPER's co-directors is John Dinges, a journalist who has written some excellent books on Latin American politics. The most recent was The Condor Years.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Chile and INTERPOL

A week and a half ago, Hugo Chávez slammed the president of INTERPOL, Arturo Herrera, who is also currently Chief of Investigative Police (Investigaciones, as opposed to the Carabineros) in Chile. Chávez claimed Herrera was being investigated for abuses committed during the dictatorship. The Bachelet administration reacted quickly, saying there was no such investigation.

Now the Centro de Investigación e Información Periodística takes a very long and detailed look at Herrera and finds that Chávez was indeed wrong. However, it also makes clear that he should be investigated. He has some very nasty ties to the DINA (Pinochet’s secret police) and the CNI (its successor).

And, oddly enough, he is also teaching courses on human rights in the Escuela de Investigaciones.

h/t c.hileno


Monday, May 26, 2008


The Colombian government so mishandled the laptops it just seized from paramilitaries that it is admitting there was a big chunk of time during which they don't even know who might have messed with them:

Por tanto, la investigación concluye hasta ahora que estos computadores en Itaguí no estuvieron bajo custodia de la Policía Judicial del Inpec entre las 4 de la mañana del martes 13 y las 8 de la mañana del miércoles 14 y que a ellos pudieron tener acceso irregular otras personas.

To put it mildly, this is not exactly the best way to establish confidence with regard to seized laptops, and will certainly spark more questions about the FARC's.


I feel good, I knew that I would

Blogging is good for you. Scientific American interviews a Harvard neuroscientist who is studying the health benefits of writing a blog.

It does not say that reading blogs is good for you, so if you are reading this, you need to go post to get healthy.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Obama's proposed Latin America policy

In general, I like the Obama proposals for U.S. policy toward Latin America, particularly because some are bold, going against conventional wisdom and in some cases risking political backlash. Of course, it is common after elections to find a wide gap between campaign rhetoric and policy, but we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.

--He does not assert that free trade is the centerpiece of U.S. policy. Free trade is not a prerequisite of democracy, which has been a central idea for both Bush and Pres. Clinton.

--Openly says that Cuba policy is a total failure, and said so to a CANF audience. He’s already been saying this for a while, but it’s still refreshing to hear.

--Treat Venezuela as an equal, even if you disagree with the government. It is sad that this is actually bold, but it is. (However, he also says that Venezuelan elections are flawed, even though Chávez lost the last one!)

--Reform the IMF and World Bank, recognizing their failures.

--Provide a path of legalization for undocumented workers. Meanwhile, McCain is backing off this proposal to appease his base.

--Also, I love this quote: “We are funding both sides in the war on terror and supporting some of the most despotic, volatile regimes in the world.”

On the other hand, there were a few things I disagree with.

--Colombia’s right to attack its neighbors. Would we also say that Mexico has the right to attack the U.S. to fight drug trafficking?

--He talks a lot about ethanol, Brazil’s use of sugar cane and U.S. biofuel producers, but says nothing about the problems associated with using corn. The issue is more complex than he suggests.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Obama, the CANF, and Latin America

I have to admit, I haven’t paid much attention to the Cuban American National Foundation recently. In my U.S.-Latin American Relations class I discuss it in historical context, for its policy importance under Jorge Mas Canosa (who died over a decade ago).

As a result, I read this story about Barack Obama giving a speech to the CANF with some confusion. Obama reiterated his oft-mentioned idea that the U.S. should engage in diplomacy with the Cuban government. Then what happened?

Obama's speech was warmly received and he was frequently interrupted by applause.

But there’s more. McCain had given a typical “I’ll be your hardliner man” speech a few days ago, which I assumed had been both expected and popular. Not quite:

Obama's speech offered a sharp contrast to the remarks delivered just four days ago by McCain in Miami. McCain's stay-the-course message was warmly received, but foundation president Pepe Hernandez said he was disappointed.

''We love Sen. McCain and we have been friends with him for a very long period of time, but we think at this juncture of history of the Cuban process we need to try new approaches and new methods,'' he said. ``There was nothing in his speech that we have not heard before.''

So even CANF is saying that nearly a half century of failure marks the time to come up with a fresh strategy.

Finally, the Obama campaign simultaneously released a document proposing a new Latin America policy. I do not think it is an exaggeration to call it bold. I’ll have to chew on it a bit.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Photo of the day

Don't mess with me when I want to cross home plate.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Immigration myths on cable TV

Check out Media Matters Action Network for a very cool article on the ways in which cable commentators—specifically Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck—use their bully pulpits to spread myths about immigration: “cable news overflows not just with vitriol, but also with a series of myths that feed viewers' resentment and fears, seemingly geared toward creating anti-immigrant hysteria.”

Reading it will seriously curdle your liver. It focuses on specific myths: that immigrants commit more crimes; that there is a plot to create a NAFTA Superhighway that will destroy the country by leading to a North American Union; that Mexicans have a Reconquista plot to take back what was lost in 1848; that undocumented immigrants commit massive voter fraud; and that undocumented immigrants are spreading leprosy.

You just have to read the quotes from these shows, which are shocking in their intentional spread of false information and xenophobia. Obviously, I knew people like Lou Dobbs were focusing on immigration, but the actual things they say are mind blowing.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Call off the referendum?

Apparently both members of the MAS and the opposition are having second thoughts about the August 10 recall referendum, saying that it won't resolve Bolivia's political crisis. In fact, they are talking openly about suspending it if they can come to some sort of accord.

That might actually be the best of all possible scenarios. The referendum would be the spark for substantive talks, and the country could avoid what would have to be very acrimonious campaigns for the next several months.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Double dipping in Political Science

Inside Higher Ed brings up the issue of “double dipping” conference papers, referring to the practice of presenting the same paper (or at least a revised version) at two conferences. PS: Political Science & Politics, which is the “state of the discipline” journal for Political Science, published a series of articles on the topic in its last issue.

The main criticism seems to be that it pads a person’s CV, making it look like they wrote two papers rather than one:

Do those who fill résumés in this way gain an unfair edge over those who give fewer (but perhaps more original) papers?

The answer is a resounding “no” because it is based on the idea that conference papers are an important part of getting hired or even receiving merit pay. In Political Science, as in much of academia, what matters are refereed journal articles (or book chapters) not conference papers. As a member of a hiring committee, I am largely uninterested in your conference papers except to the extent that they became articles. If you present a paper twice and get it published then you are succeeding. The hiring committee (or at least all the ones I’ve been on) looks at the single publication, not really at the two conference papers that led to it.

In some ways, padding the conference paper section of your CV with multiple papers can be negative if you don’t have many publications. What it suggests is that you’re not translating your papers into articles.

And if you’re wondering, yes, I have double dipped.


So what's Fidel thinking these days?

Fidel apparently did not like the EU-LAC summit (here is the English version of his column in Granma). As with many of his columns, we have to follow him around a bit, from his childhood, to ancient Greece, and henceforth to Francis Fukuyama and Little Red Riding Hood. Mostly, he excoriates Europe for being imperialist:

That Europe shares with the United States extraterritorial legislation which, in violation of the sovereignty of their own territories, is increasing the blockade against Cuba by blocking the supply of technologies, components and even medicines to our country. Its publicity media is associated with the empire’s media power.

Also, the Spanish delegation was a bunch of hypocritical capitalist gluttonous drunks:

The banquet was coming. There would not be any food crisis on the table. The proteins and liquors would be flowing free.

Someday, it will be fascinating to learn—if we ever can—about the dynamics of this quasi-post-Fidel period. In a way, it’s like a good-cop, bad-cop scene, with Fidel talking tough and Raúl reaching out. Maybe it’s entirely orchestrated, maybe it just reflects their current views, or some combination.

Meanwhile, the head of the U.S. Interest Section is walking around with envelopes of cash for Castro opponents. It is, of course, only “humanitarian assistance” and has “no political purpose.” That is true if we define “no political purpose” as “hope to destroy the regime that we’ve hated since Eisenhower.”


Monday, May 19, 2008

FAQs: INTERPOL and the laptops

I finally had time to go through INTERPOL’s report on the FARC laptops. Although the entire document is 102 pages, the meat of it is only the first 39 pages, and is followed by appendices with photos of the laptops, thumb drives, copies of letters requesting INTERPOL’s help, etc.

Given all the questions floating around, I thought I would do a list of FAQs based on the report.

Did the Colombian government tamper with the files?

No. Much has been made about the fact that the Colombian government “did not conform to internationally recognized principles for the ordinary handling of electronic evidence by law enforcement.” All this means, however, is that they accessed the data directly and did not make “write-protected images of all eight seized exhibits” (p. 8).

Further, “INTERPOL found no evidence that user files were created, modified or deleted on any of the eight seized FARC computer exhibits following their seizure on 1 March 2008 by Colombian authorities” (p. 33).

Did INTERPOL verify the authenticity of the documents?

No. “The verification of the eight seized FARC computer exhibits by INTERPOL does not imply the validation of the accuracy of the user files, the validation of any country’s interpretation of the user files or the validation of the source of the user files” (p. 9).

This will definitely be the central point for those who argue that the documents are fake or doctored, and were created by the Colombian and/or U.S. governments.

As Adam Isacson points out in a good post, even authentic documents reflect the biases, goals, etc. of the writers, which may not make for reliable versions of events. It depends on the document in question.

Why do some documents have a time stamp of 2009?

“Based on analysis of the characteristics of these files, INTERPOL’s experts concluded that these files were originally created prior to 1 March 2008 on a device or devices with incorrect system time settings. The appearance of these files on exhibits 30 and 31 indicates that they were either created while the exhibits were connected to a device with incorrect system time settings or the files were later transferred – after their initial creation – to exhibits 30 and 31 and the 2009 timestamps were transferred with the files” (p. 33).

What does that mean for understanding when certain documents were created?

“Based on the above, INTERPOL’s experts concluded that Colombian authorities should not rely on the time stamping of the files with future dates in these three exhibits (28, 30 and 31)” (p. 34).

So no one knows when those particular documents were created, and in general it calls into question the ability to create precise timelines with any of the documents.

Where did the analysis take place and who did it?

The actual analysis of the data took place in Southeast Asia and was conducted by technicians from Australia and Singapore who did not understand Spanish.

How much data is there?

“In non-technical terms, the volume of 609.6 gigabytes of data would correspond to 39.5 million filled pages in Microsoft Word and, if all of the seized data were in Word format, it would take more than 1,000 years to read it all, at a rate of 100 pages per day.” (p. 26). Quite a few, though, are just normal things anyone has on their computer (e.g. Microsoft Office programs).


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Damage control

Hugo Chávez gave an interview to a group of American newspaper editors. Given the controversy swirling around him, this is a good move. Naturally, one of the topics was the U.S. presidential election:

Of the American presidential candidates, Chavez said, "It would be a lie to say I have no preference." But "I shouldn't say anything that would be used against someone."

Whoever is elected, Chavez wants to start immediate exchanges. "It is through talking that we can then come closer and share and compare our views and then reach an agreement."

If he is serious about that, then he needs to give Obama (because there will be no rapprochement with McCain, and certainly Chávez knows that) the ability to reciprocate, which means toning down the insults. Of course, this will also depend on the tone set by whomever Obama would pick for the key Latin America positions (even just the issue of not lumping Venezuela together with dictatorships, as Hillary Clinton has done).

Anyhow, he speaks his mind candidly and calmly. We could use more of that.

Also, he's got a button under his desk, and when he pushes it someone appears with a fresh cup of coffee. I want one of those.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mérida Initiative portal

The Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute has put up a portal on the Mérida Initiative. It is well worth a look. There are all kinds of documents and statements by politicians, academics, and a variety of analysts. For example, Roderic Camp, who is the expert on the Mexican military, has this to say:

The relationship or potential relationship between the two militaries, and the Mexican military’s enhanced role in its anti-drug trafficking mission, has actual, potential and perceived consequences on civil-military relations and on democratic consolidation. These have been summed up as blurring the lines between appropriate and inappropriate domains for professional actions; expanding the managerial roles played by the military in society; increasing the influence of military intelligence operations; and enhancing the role military officers play in national politics and decision-making.
There are also links to the original legislation, briefings, testimonies, and the like.

h/t La Plaza


Friday, May 16, 2008

Importing Mexican police

Now this is a disturbing story from the Dallas Morning News:

Drug cartel attacks against Mexican police have become so violent and so common that some Mexican police chiefs are seeking safety in the United States.

Faced with cartel-sponsored assassinations that have claimed the lives of more than 25 officers since the start of May – including that of Edgar Millán Gómez, head of the federal police – and threats of further retaliation, some Mexican police are quitting their posts.

But three times in recent months, leaders of Mexican police have gone further, arriving at U.S. border crossings and applying for political asylum out of fear for their lives, according to Jayson Ahern, deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

Asylum is intended for those facing a “well-founded fear of persecution.” The U.S. government currently grants asylum to few Latin Americans, and I doubt this type of case will meet the standard.

The article does a good job of lining up the two main responses to such a development. First, you can argue that it underscores the need for the Merida Initiative (aka Plan Mexico). Second, you can argue that it shows how Mexican law enforcement is not equipped to deal with the huge influx of aid/weapons that the plan would generate. The quotes from members of Congress, however, were the opposite of what I would normally expect, because a Republican said the U.S. should not send military aid, while a Democrat said it should. At this point, I have to wonder what will happen if the country is flooded with new weapons.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Interpol and the laptop

Interpol says the infamous laptop was not tampered with.

The drives contained a vast trove of information — 610 gigabytes of data including 210,888 images, 37,872 written documents, 22,481 Web pages, 10,537 sound and video files, 7,989 email addresses and 452 spreadsheets, Interpol said.

The Venezuelan government says that the Venezuelan people, "in their infinite wisdom," will assert that the charges connecting Chávez to the FARC are false. That is not the same as saying the documents are fake. At this point I will most interested to see Chávez's reaction--will it be that all the files are fake (meaning that Interpol is either wrong or lying) or that perhaps they are real but are being misinterpreted? Or are there other options?


CFR report on U.S.-Latin American relations

The Council on Foreign Relations has released a new study entitled, “U.S.-Latin American Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality.” It has a lot of sensible ideas, which probably means many in the U.S. will view it as crazy and/or radical. It’s a long document, and I am just highlighting some selected issues:

The Task Force finds that the issues of persistent poverty and income inequality must be better targeted by U.S. policymakers beyond the largely traditional reliance on trade and democratization alone.

The document explicitly questions the assertion that trade and market reforms reduce poverty, and calls for U.S. assistance with homegrown solutions.

The Task Force finds that the drug trade flourishes from a volatile combination of negative socioeconomic conditions in producing and trafficking countries coupled with high demand for narcotics in the United States and Europe, and increasingly in Latin America itself.

And, combined with the above assertion, comes the idea that the solution to drug trafficking is not simply more market-oriented reform.

The Task Force finds that comprehensive immigration reform is necessary to create a system that better meets U.S. security, economic, and foreign policy interests, and must be a priority for the next administration.

This is absolutely true.

While recognizing the political challenges and the importance of multilateral solutions, the Task Force recommends that the next administration proactively support the liberalization of textile and agricultural policies, including reducing and eventually eliminating tariffs and subsidies on agricultural commodities, including tariffs on ethanol, and relaxing rules of origin requirements on textiles.

In other words, if the U.S. wants to push market reforms, it needs to do so at home as well. Talk, meet walk. I do not agree with their overall idea that the state should get out of the way in all areas of the economy (in the U.S. as well as in Latin America) but it is hypocritical to push neoliberal solutions abroad when we do not follow them at home.

The Task Force finds that the United States must officially recognize all countries in the region and should work to identify areas of common interest and cooperation in order to advance U.S. interests, regardless of the countries’ political identity; this includes Cuba and Venezuela.

The sad thing is that so many people consider this radical.

There’s plenty more, so everyone can take a look and decide for themselves.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It's like a hobby

I keep finding Republicans who think the embargo against Cuba is a bad idea, and it’s starting to feel like a collection. Some people collect stamps; I collect anti-embargo Republicans. My last one was George Will, and now via The Havana Note we have Brent Scowcroft:

My answer on Cuba is Cuba is not a foreign policy question.

Cuba is a domestic issue.

In foreign policy, the embargo makes no sense.

It doesn't do anything.

It's quite clear we can not starve Cuba to death.

We learned that when the Soviet stopped subsidizing Cuba and they didn't collapse.

It's a domestic issue.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bolivia's referendum is set

Bolivia’s referendum is now set for August 10. I posted about this a few days ago, and thought I would raise some questions based on that.

First, it’s important to see how approval correlates to a “yes” vote for Evo Morales. I am sure we’ll be seeing some polls soon. As I mentioned before, strong rural voter mobilization could make an important difference, especially since that population is less represented in approval rating polls anyway.

Second, in comments Miguel raised the point about Morales’ declining approval. For an August vote, will we see a continued decline in the next three months? Will that correlate to a greater “no” vote? This raises the question of whether he currently has an approval floor below which he likely won’t fall (or, regardless of such a floor, how fast he would continue to fall).

Third, knowing that a vote against Morales simply means another election (as opposed to him being kicked out of office forever) will people on the fence decide to vote against him just to send a message? One disincentive for that strategy is concern over whether such a loss would spark violence.

Fourth, how much will violence--by both sides--mark the next three months in anticipation of the vote?


Monday, May 12, 2008

The latest Hitler reference

I don't think there's any historical figure more used as an insult than Adolf Hitler. Back in 2006, Donald Rumsfeld compared Hugo Chávez to Hitler. Now Chávez has compared German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party to Hitler's fascism. This is because she had said things like:

"Based on our experience in Europe, I don't believe that state-guided economies can provide a better or more sustainable response to such pressing problems."
Chávez then indicated he would stop insulting her because she was a "lady." Classy.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Border wall



Saturday, May 10, 2008

Why the Bush Administration thinks an FTA is bad for Colombia

I’ve written several times about the U.S.-Colombia FTA and am not looking for overkill, but President Bush gave another speech while an administration official wrote in the State Department’s blog, and their logic prompts me to write again.

We’ve been told, in no uncertain terms, that failure to pass the FTA is a slap in Colombia’s face, as the Uribe government has been a close ally. Colombia, we are told, really needs this FTA to promote both economic prosperity and security. Much is at stake.

If that is the case, shouldn’t we expect to hear that the FTA actually benefits Colombia? From Bush’s speech:

Today almost all of Colombia's exports enter the United States duty-free. Yet American products exported to Colombia face tariffs of up to 35 percent for non-agricultural goods, and much higher for many agricultural products. Think about that. They export into the United States duty-free, and we don't have the same advantage. I would call that a one-sided economic agreement.

So the POTUS himself is saying that this FTA is good because it reduces Colombia’s advantage. How, then, does that promote Colombian prosperity? The status quo is currently one-sided in favor of Colombia.

Now, from Charles S. Shapiro, the Senior Coordinator of the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Affairs Free Trade Task Force:

The cup of Colombian coffee that I had this morning, the roses that I’m going to send to my mother for Mother’s Day along with the box of chocolates all come from Colombia into the United States, tariff free. American exporters on the other hand, pay high tariffs to send products such as machinery and fertilizers to Colombia that help produce these goods. Every day that we wait to pass the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) is a day that American farmers, businesses and workers lose out. Free trade will benefit both of us.

If Colombia benefits now, and the U.S. doesn’t, then how does an FTA benefit both of us? Right now, Colombia has access but also protection of domestic industry, and an FTA gets rid of the latter.

If I were an advocate for the FTA, I would argue that the benefit derives from not having to deal with the constant vote wrangling associated with the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which offers all those nice benefits but always faces some degree of congressional skepticism. That skepticism is enhanced when Colombia is lumped in with Bolivia and Ecuador. Why, then, does the administration never even mention this dynamic?

All this, I believe, helps us understand the Bush administration’s enduring problems with Latin America. It cannot even construct a coherent argument in favor of its own allies.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Bolivia recall

In December 2007, Evo Morales proposed a recall referendum for himself and the nine prefects and in March a government spokesperson repeated the possibility—I kept asking about it but, as the AP notes, it never progressed from there. Now the Bolivian Senate has passed a bill calling for a referendum within 90 days, and Morales has said he’ll sign it.

The measure would require Morales and Bolivia's nine state governors to win both more votes and a greater percentage of support than they did on a 2005 ballot. If they fall short, they will have to run again in a new general election.

Bolivian state governors did not immediately react to the president's announcement, but most have previously said they would participate in such a vote.

Morales won 1,544,374 votes and 53.7% in the 2005 presidential election, so will have to surpass those numbers. The AP article also correctly notes that his popularity remains over 50% (last poll was 54%) despite the fact that polls center on urban areas, and there is no doubt that the government will mobilize the rural electorate. Of course, a lot can happen in 90 days, but at this point his position is solid. A win would legitimize his presidency even further and improve his bargaining position vis-à-vis the regional autonomy movements.

See also Boz and Miguel.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Arresting self-deportees

The idea behind more immigration enforcement is to encourage undocumented immigrants to return to their country of origin. Now U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are setting up shop right on the border at San Diego and arresting people who are trying to get back to Mexico.

In other words, such individuals are mere minutes from deporting themselves, but the U.S. government wants to spend tons of money to do it instead.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

U.S.-Panama FTA

President Bush met with Panamanian President Martín Torrijos to launch his effort to get a U.S.-Panama FTA ratified. One of the major roadblocks has now been removed, as Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, the speaker of Panama’s National Assembly who the U.S. government accuses of murdering an American soldier, announced he would not seek re-election.

This means that there are no major problems with the deal, but questions remain about whether it will be approved.

--If political capital is required to push some recalcitrant members of Congress, does Bush have any at all? In a statement he said the administration would do “everything in our capacity” to get it passed, but there’s just not much capacity left.

--The South Korea FTA will take center stage, so will it push debate on Panama too far back to get passed before Bush leaves office?

--Will the administration push the Colombia FTA again, thus pushing the Panama deal back?

--Will the Democratic Party be so focused on swing states in a presidential election in the midst of a recession that it will be unwilling to pass free trade this year? It will be hard to argue that the Panama FTA will matter much economically, but it is a matter of perception.

For anyone interested, here is the link to the USTR’s info page on the Panama FTA.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Note to presidential candidates

I don't have a particularly strong opinion about robo-calls, but I do find them highly annoying when they last about two full minutes and consist largely of saying "please, please vote" several times. I let the machine get it, figuring it would be quick, but eventually I started saying out loud, "Please stop talking." This does not reflect well on Obama.

UPDATE: Hillary called only about 10 minutes later, but her message was mercifully short.



Despite my best intentions, I never got around to early voting, so Amy and I went and voted this morning. Polls are all over the place, from a 4 point Obama lead to a 14 point lead.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

The four most influentialish Latin Americans of 2008

Time Magazine has released its 2008 list of the 100 most influential people, so I couldn’t resist checking out the Latin America connection—the total is four. Either Hugo Chávez or Lula really should be vying for the first Latin American on the list, but neither makes it anywhere.

So what they really have is the “most influentialish” list. These are Latin Americans who will not offend a U.S. audience, and make us feel good that we stick them on a list.

Michelle Bachelet was 15th, and her snippet was written by Hillary Clinton (“Count me among the inspired”). She frankly just isn’t that influential, even within Chile. And really, does she want Hillary singing her praises? Anyhow, very influentialish.

Evo Morales was 18th, and his comments were written by Joseph Stiglitz (“The bureaucrats have dug in their heels, and the country's élites hate his populist rhetoric and close ties to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. But Morales remains popular with his people”). In terms of anti-neoliberal reform, Chávez is clearly more influential. But Morales’ anti-U.S. comments are rarely translated into English, so Time can safely put him there and no one is the wiser.

Yoani Sánchez (a Cuban blogger) is 31st and written up by novelist Oscar Hijuelos (“With a feisty dedication to the truth, Yoani Sánchez's activities bode well for the future of her country”). I am very sympathetic to ground level critics of the Castro regime, but I am not sure of her “influence.” They even list her behind Andre Agassi, whose influence escapes me completely. But c’mon, we need an anti-Castro person on the list, and Jorge Mas Canosa is dead.

Carlos Slim is 95th and heralded by Alvin Toffler (“Even a superbillionaire can love and honor his spouse, treat women with respect, pursue wide-ranging intellectual interests and, in his own quiet way, support social reform”). As we all know, we feel good when we believe that the fabulously rich really care about social reform. In terms of helping the poor, Slim is definitely influentialish.


Correa's secret documents

Rafael Correa says he has classified documents showing his plans to combat the FARC's presence in Ecuador. He will release them next week and says they will show how Alvaro Uribe is lying about Correa's relationship with the FARC. Since Interpol should be releasing its report on the infamous laptop, this situation could come to a boil again soon.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Cementing a relationship Part 2

Last month I mentioned following the negotiations between the Venezuelan government and foreign cement companies, as the calls for nationalization had been contradictory. After having written about all the threats the government had been making, I thought it would be interesting to see how the threats eventually moved toward action. The government says it does not rule out the possibility of taking 100% control, as opposed to 60%, but nothing has yet been settled.

This raises the question of how precisely to define “nationalization,” which normally refers to a government taking complete control of at least some parts of an industry from private interests. To me, it seems odd to use the term “nationalization” in the case of joint ownership where private companies continue to make a profit along with the government. It is really more of a “forced joint venture.” In the case of cement, these actions are being taken only against foreign companies, so the cement industry per se is not being nationalized (though the vast majority of it was foreign owned).

This is not a trivial distinction. Concern about nationalization can discourage foreign investment, but I wonder whether the possibility of simply getting less profit has the same effect.

There is also the question of how companies respond during the negotiation process. There are currently rumors of a cement shortage, which the government is denying. The uncertainty is disruptive, so the government has a strong incentive to seal the deal as quickly as possible.


Friday, May 02, 2008

Ending dictatorships

Jack Chang from McClatchy writes about Argentine Dirty War witnesses who are kidnapped and sometimes murdered to prevent their testimony—fortunately the most recent witness reappeared. I had also just read that Manuel Contreras, the infamous head of Chile’s secret police (the DINA) was in the hospital with kidney problems. He’s 78.

These two things came together in my mind in terms of how long it takes for the trauma of a brutal dictatorship to fade. There is a lot of great work done on memory (see Steve Stern’s trilogy on memory in Chile, for example) but less about the generational nature of such trauma. When, for example, did the Spanish civil war and the Franco dictatorship really “end”? Does it require that the protagonists all die?

I don’t mean that it becomes irrelevant, because people do remember, memorials have been erected, books have been written, etc. But it is truly frightening that in 2008, people can be kidnapped or killed to protect members of a dictatorship that ended in 1983. No matter how we specifically define the “end,” in Argentina it has not been fully reached. Chile is closer, but the dictatorship does still loom there (however, the transition from authoritarian rule occurred seven years later than in Argentina).

Hard to say. Indeed, a UNC Charlotte colleague in History, David Goldfield, recently published a book about how the U.S. civil war still isn’t over for some southerners. And that “ended” 143 years ago.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Country Reports on Terrorism 2008

The State Department just released this year's report on terrorism, and after all the speculation Venezuela was not labeled a state sponsor (see here for my previous poll, where only 1/3 thought it would not be, though others believed it will be next year). Ecuador received praise, while Bolivia "showed new potential as a possible site for terrorist activity" because a number of terrorist groups "were thought to be present" there. That is the worst type of passive tense, similar to "it is argued" because it is attributed to no one.

Back to Venezuela, the State Department admitted it had no hard evidence: "It remained unclear to what extent the Venezuelan government provided support to Colombian terrorist organizations." However, the entire thing was not worded as strongly as I expected. Perhaps the State Department understood that such wording would immediately be used to Chávez's benefit.

In short, nothing much has changed. Cuba is still on the list because, well, we always put Cuba on the list.


Border Patrol

Those who advocate an enforcement-only approach to undocumented immigration usually cite the need for more Border Patrol agents. Now the chief of the U.S. Border Patrol's El Paso Sector says the country needs broader reform, and not just agents.

Chief Patrol Agent Victor Manjarrez Jr. said that without comprehensive immigration reform, border agents continue to split their attention between "economic migrants," criminals and potential terrorists.

"Most of these people are economic migrants but we have to deal with them between the ports of entry because we have not, in terms of a legislative fix, determined what we do with these people," Manjarrez said.

"I think it's pretty obvious that the country has a need for economic migrants. To what degree, I don't know. That's for the country to decide and for the politicians to decide."

It is unusual for someone in the Border Patrol to speak about the political aspects of immigration, or at least I have rarely read these sorts of comments. His main point is that their job is to fight terrorism, and arresting people who just want jobs actually hurts the country’s security:

"Our primary mission changed from our traditional focus. Our primary mission now is terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. That's what we should be focused on. We can't focus on that as much as we would like because of all the other issues that we deal with."

That argument has been made before, but perhaps it will start gaining more traction. It is remarkable how many resources we use to address economic migration, believing that we can stop it.


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