Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tim Weiner talk

Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes, came to campus for a talk, which was fascinating. He is a very smart guy and a really engaging speaker. I reviewed his book way back in January, and some commenters came down very hard on him. I also noted in the review that the CIA's declassified in-house journal had slammed the book. I noted that and asked him, therefore, what reactions he had personally received from the CIA. He said he truly believed that he had written a book based on facts rather than any ideological slant, and that he had received quite a bit of feedback from people in the CIA, to the effect that the book was not easy for them to read because of the criticism, but that "it was true."

In fact, if anything his talk was very pro-CIA, in the sense of believing in it as a potentially positive contributor to U.S. foreign policy (certainly not in the sense that it is doing a great job). He argued that we should blame presidents much more than the CIA itself, which is following presidential orders--I felt he was much harder on the CIA in the book, and so in this regard I agreed more with the book than the talk. He argued that poor intelligence hurts everyone, so we need more experienced people with language skills to take intelligence jobs. This, however, requires restoring the credibility of the U.S. and the government by stopping torture, respecting constitutional rights, etc.

It was a fascinating talk, with some great questions and much food for thought. With popular opinion of government in general at abysmal levels, we all should be thinking about not only who to blame (which is indeed a critical issue) but also how to move forward and create a national strategy that doesn't just end up screwing ourselves in the long run and killing people with no thought of either morality or consequence.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Just a small request

From the Colombian office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights to the Colombian government and military: could you perhaps stop killing people?


The Colombian office of the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights has asked the government and its military to ''clarify and put an end to the practice of alleged extra-judicial executions'' that may have left as many as 80 dead.

The bodies of 45 young men have been found in the past week alone in unmarked graves, 23 of them in northern Santander province, sparking a furor in this violence-riddled South American nation.

Although the identity of the killers has not been determined, Colombian authorities have said they are investigating the possible existence of death squads within the military that portray the dead as enemy combatants killed in firefights.

The "fake uniform" or "pretend regular people are enemy combatants" trick is an old one, but never seems to go out of style.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Celebrate!

The Padres won their 63rd game, thus avoiding a 100 loss season. There hasn't been much else to celebrate with the team.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

The debate and Latin America

Latin America came up briefly:

Senator Obama twice said in debates he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raul Castro without precondition. Without precondition.

Two quick thoughts. First, McCain could not pronounce Ahmadinejad or Chavez (sha-VEZ) and he mangled the former in all new ways. Second, no matter how much you may hate Chavez, he was elected freely and fairly, and Venezuela should not be lumped in with Iran or even Cuba.

I was also glad to hear Obama zing McCain for the nonsensical interview in which he said he wouldn't meet with Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain, who he apparently believed was some sort of Latin American enemy.

He even said the other day that he would not meet potentially with the prime minister of Spain, because he -- you know, he wasn't sure whether they were aligned with us. I mean, Spain? Spain is a NATO ally.
McCain didn't respond to that.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Leo R. Chavez's The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation

I read Leo R. Chavez's The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation. The book is organized around the idea of what he calls the "Latino Threat Narrative," which is a neat way of describing the paranoid discourse about Latinos. Even more so than other immigrant groups, Latinos are persistently viewed as a threat for many reasons, based on myths, or rather "taken-for-granted" truths that are perpetuated, particularly in the media. Chavez takes each of these components of the Latino Threat Narrative apart, examining their origins and explaining empirically why they are false. It's very effective.

He concludes with the idea that the entire notion of "assimilation" is misunderstood, since as commonly used it suggests there is a linear path toward something called "American." Yet, in fact, "American" is a constantly changing amalgam and, as he points out at the end of the book, historically has strong Mexican influences (he uses the cowboy as an example).

My only quibble is the academic lingo. He discusses the emphasis on the "other" to underline how Latino immigrants are stigmatized, but the argument is not really enhanced by sentences like "Policy makers, using Foucauldian techniques of governmentality, construct classifications to further bureaucratic control of populations, including, and perhaps most especially, migrants" (p. 25) or "Biopower includes modes of subjectification, through which individuals are constructed as subjects who work on themselves in the name of the individual or collective life or health" (p. 175). How governments use power with regard to "others" is very important, but I felt the postmodern influence tended to obscure rather than illuminate, though I should note that most of the book is very accessible.

It is worth checking out.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Debates

So Sarah Palin only gives a few painful interviews, but no one else is allowed to ask her anything about her views. John McCain wants to get out of the debate because he can't multitask.

It was therefore a breath of fresh air to watch the NC gubernatorial debate last night, where Libertarian candidate (and Duke political science professor) Mike Munger made reference to Jedi powers in his closing statement.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Critics at the UN

Given the U.S.-Bolivia spat, we would expect Evo Morales to rip the Bush administration at the UN meetings. And he didn't disappoint. But it turns out there's this huge line because everybody around the world wants to take their turn saying how much the administration has screwed up.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sarah Palin's Latin America experience

Finally, Sarah Palin will be getting some Latin America experience. The only problem is that it consists of meeting with Henry Kissinger and Alvaro Uribe. She's killed moose so I guess at the very least she knows what it's like to have blood on her hands.

But another "world leader" she'll be talking to is Bono. Is he a world leader now? Maybe as someone who goes to disaster-stricken areas, he can explain what to do after she follows the other two's advice.

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Multilingual campaigning

Last week I mentioned John McCain's latest ad in Spanish (and the tenuous link it had to facts). Now a Washington Post reporter who is following McCain notes how rarely he brings up immigration in front of English-speaking audiences. He doesn't avoid it entirely, but "immigration reform is not something that McCain often mentions as a priority, unless the subject is something of particular interest to his audience, or he is asked about it."

This is making me think more about how a new strategy has now become part of presidential campaigns, that of sending different messages in different languages. Candidates have released ads in Spanish for years, of course, but my sense (if I am wrong, let me know) is that they were essentially copies of the English ads, tweaked for the audience. The McCain ad is an example of a campaign not wanting speakers of one language to hear the message being sent in another language.

There must be plenty of literature on this phenomenon, given the number of multilingual democracies. I wonder what effects, if any, it has. Does it create resentment? Or are most people simply oblivious? From a purely pragmatic point of view, is it an effective tool for winning elections?

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Monday, September 22, 2008

UNASUR momentum

Michelle Bachelet is grabbing onto something positive by announcing she will convoke another meeting of UNASUR during the UN meetings in a few days. Contributing to dialogue in Bolivia has obviously given UNASUR an auspicious start. Convoking it again is a good move politically, as she is associated with something successful (which she needs!) and regionally it keeps the momentum going for a regional body that can--hopefully--help nip political crises in the bud.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sicko

Reading Fujimori on Trial's discussion of how Alberto Fujimori keeps coming up with new illnesses makes me think of Augusto Pinochet, who famously used ill health (dementia, strokes, heart problems, etc.) as a way to avoid going on trial. Fujimori, of course, is already on trial, but seems to be hoping for similar weaselling success.

Since the beginning of his human rights trial on Dec. 10, 2007, former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori has allegedly suffered from hypertension (suspending the very first trial session), leg and foot inflammation, exhaustion, a gastroenterological problem that could lead to diarrhea, a benign lesion on his tongue that was surgically removed and a pancreatic tumor, among other various ailments.

And that's after less than a year. If this trial goes on for a while, we may well hear about more and more exotic ailments. Just take a Pepto Bismol and get back in there.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

How the Venezuelan government responds to criticism

Pick up the Americas director for Human Rights Watch (Chilean José Miguel Vivanco), drive him straight to the airport, and force him onto a plane. Criticism by a foreigner, apparently, is illegal, though it's not clear whether he was officially arrested.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nationalization: evil, yet good

I am not an economist, but this has been nagging at me. From today's New York Times

This episode started when the Treasury nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on September 8. Their combined assets are over $5 trillion. These firms help guarantee most of the mortgages in the United States. The Treasury only got authority from Congress to take this action in July, and in seeking the authority had insisted that no intervention would be needed...The Treasury has replaced the management of both companies and will presumably oversee their operation.

--University of Chicago Economists Douglas W. Diamond and Anil Kashyap

The critical term here is "nationalization," which no one seems to be using. We like to lump all the cases together and refer to them as a "bailout." But even in the case of A.I.G., as explained by Diamond and Kashyap, "the Fed has the option to purchase up to 80 percent of the shares of A.I.G., is replacing A.I.G.'s management, and is nearly wiping out A.I.G.'s existing shareholders."

For anyone who has paid even passing attention to U.S.-Latin American relations in recent years, this development induces a double take. We have heard, in no uncertain terms and from the highest levels of the Bush administration, that nationalization is the worst possible solution to any problem. No matter what, it makes everything worse.

“Nationalization has a long and inglorious history of failure around the world" (Tony Snow)

Nationalization is "a well-worn path that history has shown doesn’t usually benefit the population" (State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack). Both quotes from 2007.

"Some see the nationalizing of economic sectors as the way of the future. But, they are really just returning to the failed policies of the 20th Century." (Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, 2007).

"[T]he nationalization of businesses in Latin America is troubling...this kind of backward looking activity is contrary to our country's belief in the power of property rights and free enterprise." (Toe Tapping Senator Larry Craig, 2006).

There are a number of conclusions I can come to, but they're all pretty depressing, as they involved lying, double standards, and hypocrisy. Better just to go have a cocktail.

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Congress and immigration, sort of

Just a strange story. The son of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Allen Boyd, D-FL) has been arrested for smuggling in immigrants.

According to a criminal complaint outlining the accusations, John Boyd was driving his pickup Sunday near Wilcox, Ariz., when it was stopped for inspection at a Border Patrol checkpoint.

"At the primary inspection area, a Border Patrol K-9 alerted to the possible presence of illegal aliens in the bed of the truck," states the complaint.

"The four individuals all admitted that they were not citizens or nationals of the United States and that they did not have permission to be in the United States legally," the complaint states.

They said they had agreed to pay $3,000 each to be smuggled into the United States.

So this is what we've come to. Congress fails to pass immigration reform, so its children become coyotes, stuffing people into their trucks at $3,000 a pop. I guess where some see failure, others see a business opportunity.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

U.S.-Colombia FTA update

We are in the midst of a big Colombian lobbying push for a free trade agreement. The timing is not very good, because with the election looming, many in Congress will not be particularly interested in getting stuck in a lengthy and contentious debate. However, they hope to get it passed in a lame duck session, which then takes it out of the hands of the next president. It also may be a bargaining chip by Democrats to get a second stimulus package passed.

Nonetheless, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) sent a signal that no FTA will be forthcoming this year. He is the chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, and sent a letter to Uribe asking about the murder of labor leaders. One quote:

"One advantage stemming from our Congress´ decision to postpone the vote regarding the proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement is that it has given my colleagues and me additional time needed to assess whether or not Colombia has in fact created an effective and sustainable system of justice to combat anti-labor violence," wrote Miller. "I hope that this ongoing fact-finding work will allow Congress to provide helpful recommendations to the next administration in the United States over how we can further strengthen our nation´s relationship with Colombia in such a way that promotes increased trade and higher labor standards."

So nothing will happen until the "next administration." Apparently both labor leaders and trade lobbyists believe that passage of an FTA is more likely with Obama than with McCain because Democrats will have a majority in Congress, and labor would be under pressure to work with the former but not the latter. However, that argument rests on the assumption that an Obama administration would push for an FTA. I'm not so sure that is the case, but trade lobbyists seem to believe it.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

McCain's immigration ad

McCain has put out an ad on immigration in Spanish, blaming Obama for the failure of immigration reform. See here for the NYT's editorial criticizing it. Although it is a lie--or really, because it is a lie--this ad is ingenious. Since it is only in Spanish no one who is English-only will know that it is intended to show McCain's support for immigration reform, including a guest worker program. Meanwhile, as a McCain campaign strategist you bank on convincing at least a few Spanish-speakers that your lie is the truth. Brilliant!

But I am also deeply impressed by what is clearly a joy of lying. Most people lie out of necessity, or to get what they want, but they don't really like it. Judging by his campaign, McCain's team obviously enjoys it. And the best lie, the most fun, is accusing your opponent of doing what you did. Over and over. Did McCain go from immigration maverick to Base-Panderer Man? No, that is just what the lying liberal media wants you to believe. On immigration, McCain believes...well, I have no idea what he believes, but I do know that Obama is against what John McCain believes. And that's no lie.

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Some thoughts on UNASUR and Bolivia

UNASUR had its emergency session in Chile, and voiced very strong support for Evo Morales' government, releasing the "Declaration of La Moneda."

Given how quickly events move, we won't know for some time whether this helps shores up Bolivian democracy. That said, it is worth pondering its relevance. The first thing that comes to mind is liberal institutional theory. I use it in my textbook, along with realism and dependency theory, to help students understand U.S.-Latin American relations. The basic idea is that international institutions can constrain behavior. Normally, this refers to state behavior, but I think it can be usefully applied to both sides--though particularly the opposition--in Bolivia. UNASUR has no enforcement mechanism, no troops, no economic leverage. So why pay any attention to its declaration?

The answer, if liberal institutionalism works, is that institutions become important in and of themselves, sometimes simply with moral authority (work on liberal institutionalism in Latin America has generally focused on human rights) and therefore can facilitate cooperation. In the current case, the hope is that UNASUR, by showing a united front, raises the perceived costs for anyone to subvert democracy. They know ahead of time that there will be a clear regional opposition to their actions, which have been defined as undemocratic, and therefore make choices accordingly.

So will this hastily assembled session and hastily drafted document matter? We'll see. At the very least, however, we've just seen a commitment in South America to reacting quickly to a political crisis. This is especially notable given the ideological variety in evidence--Hugo Chávez and Alvaro Uribe, for example, are not exactly bosom buddies.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Some regional responses to the Bolivian crisis

Brazil:

“This meeting only is meaningful if on request of Bolivia and with a proposal, because if both sides of the conflict don’t ask us to meet, if we come to a decision and no side abides, it will have been a useless exercise”, Lula da Silva was quoted Sunday in the Brazilian press.

“It must be plain clear we have no right to make any decision without the previous coordination of the Bolivian government and opposition; it’s only them who can decide whether we participate or not”, emphasized Lula da Silva.

“Otherwise it will mean interference in internal affairs of Bolivia and Brazil rejects this point blank”, he underlined.

Chile:

Convoked the meeting of UNASUR and will push for a declaration that emphasizes non-intervention in Bolivian affairs and avoids mentioning the United States.

Colombia:

At the UNASUR meeting Uribe "will carry a message of prudence, of support for democratic institutions, and will show a commitment that our brothers the Bolivian people can overcome, in a bloodless manner and a constitutional manner, their present difficulties."

Ecuador:

"I send a huge hug to President Evo Morales and hope the crisis could be solved as soon as possible." [Note: the "huge hug" sounds strange in English, but I assume the Spanish was "fuerte abrazo," which just works in Spanish but not in English]

Honduras:

Refused to accept credentials of U.S. Ambassador in solidarity with Bolivia.

Nicaragua:

Daniel Ortega won't attend a meeting with Bush in solidarity with Bolivia and says the U.S. is trying to foment a coup.

Paraguay:

"We meet not to come up with magic formulas, but to show our solidarity with the people and the government of Bolivia, and hopefully we'll be able to see a little bit of light."

United States:

We regret the actions of both President Hugo Chavez and President Evo Morales to expel our ambassadors in Venezuela and Bolivia. This reflects the weakness and desperation of these leaders as they face serious internal challenges and an inability to communicate effectively internationally in order to build international support.

Venezuela:

Expelled U.S. Ambassador.

"If they overthrow Evo, or kill him, that would give me the green light to support any type of armed movement in Bolivia."

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Paranoia and the border

You may remember three years ago, when several members of the House of Representatives from NC made a big deal about how members of Al Qaeda were arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border. Turns out that was false, though the "terrorists surging across an open border" has been a popular theme since 9/11.

Now, both the U.S. and Mexican governments have revealed how many Al Qaeda-linked arrests they have made: zero:

Officials from both nations say there hasn't been any sign of the southern U.S. border becoming an entry point for terrorists, as had been feared after the suicide jetliner hijackings that struck New York and Washington.

There is no sign at all of Al Qaeda in or around Mexico. Here is an even more interesting argument:

Thomas Sanderson, deputy director of the transnational threats project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said al-Qaida usually sends its members through Europe because, unlike Mexico, citizens of those countries can enter U.S. territory without a visa.

"We are more likely to see people come in through airplanes," he said.

He also doubts al-Qaida operatives would expose themselves to organized crime or smuggling groups in Mexico. "They'd be concerned that their cover or their effort would be exposed. It's unfamiliar territory for them," he said.

In other words, it's much harder for Middle Eastern terrorists to get in through Mexico than through Europe.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

The electoral effects of the Bolivia and Venezuela flaps

Check out Adam Isacson's post, arguing that Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales have just given McCain/Palin a boost.

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An anniversay of ignorance

Two weeks ago today, I wrote a post about how we know nothing, zip, nada about Sarah Palin's views on Latin America. I have since noticed that said post comes up at the very top for a Google search, "Sarah Palin Latin America" (or combinations thereof). I feel faintly proud, as if my own ignorance is leading everyone else's.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Alaska must be proud

If you think the Bridge to Nowhere is cool, then you will love the Never Built Fence.

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Persona non grata

Evo Morales has declared U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg persona non grata, which apparently means he has to leave the country within 48-72 hours. Strangely enough, Goldberg was meeting with the Foreign Minister at the time, discussing the DEA. In a speech, Morales said, "The ambassador of the United States is conspiring against democracy and wants Bolivia to break apart."

I can't find any mainstream media making reference to the meeting Goldberg had with Santa Cruz governor Ruben Costas, a leader of the autonomist/separatist crowd. So the idea that Morales' suspicions are "baseless" is disingenuous to say the least. For the U.S., the eternal problem is that the history of U.S. policy means that Latin American leaders have a reason to be suspicious--even if Goldberg is not involved in some plot, there is very good reason to think he might be.

We'll see where this goes. Morales is doing it also to show his own supporters that he is strong and independent. For the most part, the U.S. response to him has been measured, so will that change?

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why baseball players should avoid politics

Curt Schilling has been writing blog posts that are adamantly pro-McCain. Fine. Now, however, he apparently believes that Democrats have been in control of Congress for "almost the entire" Bush presidency, and that we should blame Nancy Pelosi for any failures attributed to Bush.

Perhaps he just figures she was wearing a Dennis Hastert mask.

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Juxtaposition

Michelle Bachelet's approval rating drops to 42.1%

AND

Forbes names Michelle Bachelet 25th most powerful woman in the world

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ammon Shea's Reading the OED

It takes a unique person to read the entire Oxford English Dictionary and then to write a book on it. The thing is, Ammon Shea's Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages, is one of the most entertaining books I've read in some time and so I have put it on the side bar. I laughed out loud at several points. If you like words, and dry wit, then this is a book for you. Each chapter is a letter of the alphabet, beginning with Shea's commentary, followed by little known words he found and a short description of those words.

One example:

Unbepissed (adj.). Not having been urinated on; unwet with urine.

Who ever thought there was an actual need for such a word? Is it possible that at some time there was such a profusion of things that had been urinated on that there was a pressing need to distinguish those that had not?

Of course, Shea realizes that his project is highly unusual, and one of the funnier parts of the book comes in the "R" chapter, where he recounts his trip to the conference of the Dictionary Society of North America. Even the most hard core dictionary devotees think he's crazy.

Some of the words are even useful for politics. I especially like "gobemouche," where means "one who believes anything, not matter how absurd." I will have to get that into a blog post at some point.

As he writes at the beginning of the book, "If you are interested in vocabulary that is both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless, read on, and enjoy the efforts of a man who is in love with words. I have read the OED so that you don't have to" (p. xiv).

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Coffee drinkers beware in Colombia

I laughed at this story, though I must admit it wouldn't be too funny guzzling Coffee Mate at rifle point:


A Conservative MP today described the terrifying moment he was held at gunpoint and forced to eat coffee whitener to persuade a group of excitable Colombian soldiers that he was not a drugs trafficker.
...
"It took some explanation, as I don’t speak more than two or three words in Spanish, for them to accept it was Coffee Mate," the MP, now safely back in Westminster, said today.

“They didn’t want to taste it as pure cocaine is fairly poisonous so I had to eat several mouthfuls in front of them, with guns aimed at me, until they could see that it had no ill effect - except afterwards I felt as sick as a dog.”

h/t BoRev.Net

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Civilians and the military in Latin America

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a speech at the Defense Ministerial of the Americas, and made some points I've mentioned a number of times in this blog, and which have been emphasized a lot in recent years:

For example, combating transnational crime, defeating terrorism, and responding to national disasters requires coordinated action across a range of government departments and agencies. In certain cases, militaries may be called upon to play a supporting role to civilian authorities when responding to these threats – but the exact nature of their role requires careful thought and discussion within each nation’s government and society.

By the same token, in areas such as law enforcement and public administration, civilian capacity may not match the expertise found in many of our armed forces. It is important that non-military capabilities receive adequate manning and funding – a point I emphasize frequently with respect to our State Department’s budget.

When I meet with my colleagues from the Americas and around the world, a consistent challenge I hear about is the need to work more collaboratively with legislatures and parliaments. The more we can educate legislatures and their staffs, to improve their expertise on defense matters, the better choices they will make when it comes to security funding and policy.

Unfortunately, change in this regard is slow. It will require a real change in how civilians view the armed forces, to develop lasting interest that allows for greater interaction, particularly with legislatures. This is not impossible (Michelle Bachelet is a good example) but it is incredibly difficult.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

The candidates and Latin America

Eric Green at the State Department asked me some questions about the candidates' views on Latin America, and wrote this article for State's news site. I doubt anyone who follows the topic will be too terribly bedazzled, but still.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Uribe and a third term even yet again

Alvaro Uribe has hinted many times at running for a third term. Now, for the time that I know of, he has hinted that he won't.

But still he remains coy. The fact that he will not come out and clearly state his intention of leaving office suggests he has not yet decided for certain.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

McCain, immigration, and the state of maverickitude

McCain is running as a maverick, a guy who reaches out across the aisle and is willing to take risks in order to do what's right. Over the past few years, he has argued time and again that immigration reform is the right thing to do. He prides himself on reaching out to someone like Ted Kennedy to co-sponsor legislation.

But then he started winning primaries, and so controversial aisle-crossing issues had to be dumped overboard. In his speech, he warned the "do nothing" crowd in Washington that change was coming. On the scale of do-nothingness, congressional refusal to do anything substantive with regard to immigration ranks very high.

Immigration, however, was ignored by everyone. The elephant in the room, if you will (no pun intended). It's a tough issue, so is better swept under the rug. Let's see if he mentions it again in the next two months.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Republican policy toward Latin America

In honor of the Republic convention, I give you the party's platform on Latin America:

The United States has an especial interest in the advancement and progress of all the Latin American countries. The policy of the Republican Party will always be a policy of thorough friendship and co-operation. In the case of Nicaragua, we are engaged in co-operation with the government of that country upon the task of assisting to restore and maintain peace, order and stability, and in no way to infringe upon her sovereign rights. The Marines, now in Nicaragua, are there to protect American lives and property and to aid in carrying out an agreement whereby we have undertaken to do what we can to restore and maintain order and to insure a fair and free election. Our policy absolutely repudiates any idea of conquest or exploitation, and is actuated solely by an earnest and sincere desire to assist a friendly and neighboring state which has appealed for aid in a great emergency. It is the same policy the United States has pursued in other cases in Central America.

Well, from 1928.

UCSB's American Presidency Project website can be addicting.

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When more is less

The Washington Post has a pretty even-handed article on the increases in coca cultivation in Latin America, particularly in Bolivia. Nothing all that new, but what I like is to see how U.S. officials rationalize it. Here is the logic:

There is more coca, but it is being cultivated on smaller plots, and in more remote areas, so requires more labor. This means less profit. Therefore "the cocaine market is in decline."

I love a world where losing really badly means winning.

Here's my previous post on drug logic fun.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Argentina VP update

I had been following the political saga of Argentine VP Julio Cobos, but with vacation and research projects I lost track. Of all the possible permutations, however, I had not anticipated that he would go back to the UCR but remain vice president (see Boz for links to the Argentine press). It is worth remembering that the Radicals had kicked him out last year for running with then candidate Fernández. So now we have a rather strange brand of co-habitation.

Apparently President Fernández's order has been to refrain from talking about the situation at all, and as far as I can tell, she has spoken to Cobos only one time since he voted against her. If the VP's role is only to keep a heartbeat and break ties in the senate, then from an institutional standpoint she can ignore him. However, his high profile position means that he will keep getting a lot of press, and will be a constant embarrassment. He obviously shows no signs of resigning.

At the same time, though, according to a recent poll a greater percentage of Argentines view her positively (29%, with 34% seeing her as "average") in August than they did in June (20% positive, and 33% average). So who knows, she may well weather this.

I do not know of any other examples of a VP changes his/her party affiliation after taking office. This also makes me wonder about the vetting process (such a hot topic in the U.S. right now) because Cobos stabbed Fernández in the back very quickly.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Brazilian intelligence scandal

Brazil's national intelligence service, ABIN, is accused of wiretapping the head of the Supreme Court and other officials. This is a problem across Latin America, where intelligence services often remain unreformed or poorly reformed after authoritarian governments left power.

All too often, the armed forces' role is too prominent and not accountable enough. From the article:

Low-ranking Brazilian police and security officials are known to tap the phones of politicians and others in attempts to mount extortion schemes, said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia. But he said such schemes rarely reach someone as powerful as the head of the Supreme Court.

Intelligence is an area that is crying out for democratic reform.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Hugo Chávez checked his calendar...

...and realized it had been a while since he last threatened to expel the U.S. ambassador.

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