Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chile and Russia

Russia's presence in Latin America continues to generate interesting tidbits. In a previous post, a commenter (O Iconoclasta) mentioned the regional interest in Russian weapons. Now J.C. Arancibia at Chile's Defense and Military notes that the Chilean military, which has never sought deals with Russia, is close to buying helicopters.

They are for air force search and rescue missions, so won't be viewed as threatening by neighboring countries. In general, however, having a new weapons supplier potentially means even more money shifted to defense purchases at a time when most governments can ill afford to do so.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jorge Castañeda Op-Ed

Jorge Castañeda's New York Times Op-Ed is worth reading--he outlines the need for immigration reform. He sums up the border wall nicely:

Money has been appropriated for the construction of a border wall that has become a symbol throughout Latin America of this hateful stance. Environmental and local objections have been shunted aside, even though everyone knows the wall is not really being built, would not be effective if it were, and contradicts everything the United States stands for.

The overall point, however, is that executive order can make a major difference right away, even without wrangling with Congress:

By taking these actions, Mr. Obama would send three powerful messages. First, he would signal his gratitude to the nearly 70 percent of the Latino electorate who voted for him. Second, he would indicate his desire for improved relations with the nations of Latin America, who joyfully welcomed his election and for whom the Bush administration has made the United States more unpopular than at any time in recent memory.

And he would say to the rest of the world that, on his watch, the United States will not build fences, deport mothers without their children, nor persecute foreigners. He can do all this with just a stroke of his pen.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Building a Bush memory

Yet another example of the administration making a concerted effort to get out the right message about the Bush legacy. This time from Condoleezza Rice:

And I am quite certain that when the final chapters are written and it's clear that Saddam Hussein's Iraq is gone in favor of an Iraq that is favorable to the future of the Middle East; when the history is written of a U.S.-China relationship that is better than it's ever been; an India relationship that is deeper and better than it's ever been; a relationship with Brazil and other countries of the left of Latin America, better than it's ever been ...

I won't get into the Iraq debate, but the idea that our relationship with the Latin American left is "better than ever" cannot stand up to any scrutiny, even with regard to Brazil. A better assessment is "things are better once Thomas Shannon helped clean up the horrible mess left by his predecessors."


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Obama and Cuba

According to the Telegraph, an unnamed Latin America adviser to Obama says that travel restrictions to Cuba will be lifted "fairly quickly."

An adviser to Mr Obama said: "Cubans will be less dependent on the state for money and they will have greater contact with their relatives in the US. That can only aid understanding." Those changes require only a presidential order. The adviser said: "He could do it on day one. Obama has a lot on his plate with the economy so Cuba will not be top of his list but I'd expect it to happen fairly quickly."

Remember that this is not related to the laws that govern the embargo, which requires congressional action. Nonetheless, it would be a step in the right direction.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Russia in Latin America

Andres Oppenheimer interviewed Thomas Shannon, and I was particularly struck by the following:

''The Russian thing needs to be understood more broadly,'' said Shannon, who is to visit Moscow this week. ``The presence of Russian warships has allowed some people, especially the Venezuelans, to try to project the Russian presence as aimed at the United States. But in a strategic sense, the Russian presence may really be an effort to match China's presence in the region.''

Analyses of the Russian presence in Latin America have not focused on China. I have to say that I am unconvinced. No doubt that Russia always keeps an eye on China, and is paying attention to China's growing ties to Latin American countries. However, I don't think we can understand the entire warship exercise without focusing squarely on Russia's desire to make a statement about U.S. policy. I see that more as Occam's Razor than as some Venezuelan "projection."


Friday, December 26, 2008

More evidence of no exodus

Diego Graglia at Feet in 2 Worlds has more evidence that an immigrant exodus back to Mexico is not occurring. As I mentioned earlier today, this issue needs to be examined in a more detailed manner. It is entirely possible, probably even likely, that immigrants are leaving parts of the U.S. that are being hit the hardest in particular sectors of the economy. However, it is not obvious that they are leaving the United States, and in fact there are parts of the country where unemployment remains low enough--particularly in sectors where immigrants most often work--to ensure a steady income.

These conditions can change, but the message that "the U.S. as a whole is suffering economically so people are leaving" is less and less convincing.


Latino immigration and the South

I've been noting all the reporting on the supposed mass movement of Latin Americans back to their country of origin from the United States. Last week I noted some reasons to doubt this for North Carolina, and I happened to talk to a reporter about how conventional wisdom ignores both sectoral and regional nuances.

This led me to wonder about the differing regional unemployment rates, and the nice thing about being related to a co-author is that sometimes when you mention something that piques your interest, they come up with data, in this case unemployment numbers for males aged 18+ calculated from the Current Population Survey:

Northeast: Hispanics 9.8% unemployed; non-Hispanic 5.9%
Midwest: Hispanics 7.9% unemployed; non-H 5.6%
South: Hispanics 6.9%; non-H 6.1%
West: Hispanics 9.4%; non-H 5.8%

There are a number of different stories in here. Clearly the Latino population suffers from greater unemployment than non-Latinos. However, the regional differences are striking. The South has had the greatest percentage increase in Latinos for the past decade or so, and despite the economic crisis is still absorbing workers to a much greater degree than other parts of the country. This suggests that if there is some sort of exodus, it is not coming from the South. In fact, we may well see increased movements away from the west and northeast, toward the less traditional destinations like North Carolina, Tennessee, Nebraska, Iowa, etc.

One important point to make is that the Census Bureau does not count who is a resident or citizen and who is not. However, that is true for all regions so any distortion should be roughly equal for all regions.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lula in the sky with diamonds

A new poll has Lula with 80% approval, this just a few weeks after a different poll had him at 70%. I don't think there is any doubt that for 2008 he is the Latin American president most on the rise, especially given the stumbling of both Uribe and Chávez, not to mention Fernández.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fernando Ignacio Leiva's Latin American Neostructuralism

I read Fernando Ignacio Leiva's Latin American Neostructuralism: The Contradictions of Post-Neoliberal Development. It is certainly worth a read, so I added it to the side bar, but it is also frustrating in some ways.

The basic argument is that the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC in English) created "neostructuralism," which successfully replaced dogmatic neoliberalism in Latin America in the 1990s. However, despite its pretensions at being an updated version of Raúl Prebisch's ideas, it really is too oriented toward transnational capital and therefore does not challenge existing power structures. As such, it falls fall short of expectations, especially in terms of being truly inclusionary. It is, he says, simply "an enlightened version of modernization theory" (p. 31).

It offers an excellent analysis of ECLAC's intellectual development, and the ways in which the organization struggled to learn from the failures of ISI and thereby to challenge neoliberalism. It also has a very keen critique of the model ECLAC ultimately produced, and what its limitations are, in terms of reducing poverty and inequality, effects of more flexible labor markets, and general protection for the workforce from the whims of the market.

I had two main questions about the book:

First, there are case studies of Brazil and Chile, which are useful. However, the book concludes with the argument that Venezuela and Bolivia offer solid developmental alternatives (particularly in terms of uprooting existing power structures) yet does not discuss either case in detail. I want to see how the Venezuelan case in particular offers a concrete model that non-petroleum exporting countries can follow. There are also many differences between Bolivia and Venezuela that aren't explored. In sum, what concrete "model" is there in counterpoint to neostructuralism?

Second, Leiva acknowledges that he focuses only on ECLAC, and that the "evident risk has been neglecting important undercurrents, nuances, and debates gathering momentum in the periphery of the institution" (p. xxxiii). The problem is that ECLAC's influence can vary greatly, and not every policy paper will get a high-level audience. So the book is limited solely to ECLAC's version of neostructuralism. He makes a good argument for the connection between Chilean policy makers and ECLAC, but the Chilean case often defies easy generalizing.

Nonetheless, the book is useful for a better understanding of the debate about development, and it is a very incisive criticism of the status quo. I recommend the tables, which complement the text well for outlining the key aspects of economic policy in Latin America. They could actually be good for classroom use.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Salvadoran dreamin, on such a winter's day

Sometimes it's nice to have a good laugh on a Monday morning, and so I felt lucky that Mary Anastasia O'Grady had a column published. It's about El Salvador, and has two main points:

First, "many Salvadorans are worried" that the FMLN will come to power and become radical. It is not hard to guess which "many Salvadorans" she has spoken to.

Second, the Salvadoran economy would improve greatly if it allowed much expanded foreign access to mining. Here is the really funny part--she cites Chile as an example of how mining can transform a country, ignoring the fact that it is mostly in the hands of the Chilean state. Not even Pinochet wanted to privatize.

And she has a special bonus observation: remember the Salvadoran civil war? It was the FMLN's fault.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chávez poll

Hinterlaces shows 61% of Venezuelans opposed to the constitutional reform allowing indefinite re-election, 31% in favor, and 8% undecided. The percentage in favor is very close to a poll Boz linked to a week ago.

There is, however, still a long time to go--about two months. Chávez has proposed that the vote coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Caracazo (February 27), which was the beginning of the end of the puntofijista era.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nicaragua canal

Nicaragua has wanted a canal since the 19th century, and off and on has talked about building its own. The latest twist is that the Russians claim to be interested in helping. In the era of $100+ per barrel oil prices, Russia (not to mention Venezuela) made a wide range of promises to other countries. Now that it's low, these promises are even less likely to be kept. I guess the Russians figure a symbolic gesture never hurt anyone, but I'd be surprised if they put any significant amount into the project.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Verbal inflection of a pluperfect participle

Yep, that's how crazy the debate in Colombia has become over the wording of the petition to allow for a third presidential term. The question revolves around the words "has held" to determine whether it means Uribe can run again immediately in 2010 or must wait out one term and try again in 2014. Some argue that to "have held" an office, you must finish the current term before running again, which means he could not run until after this term was already over.

As I mentioned yesterday, this is the type of politicized wrangling that Uribe doesn't want. He wanted to sweep right in without having to fight for it.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Exactly what Uribe didn't want

To get yet another constitutional amendment for yet another term, Alvaro Uribe stayed coy so it would look more like the will of the people (Hugo Chávez didn't bother, and really, who is it fooling?) and wanted to make sure it didn't get hung up in Congress, where there was a risk of it getting bogged down.

Now Congress voted to allow him to run in 2014, but not 2010, and his supporters are reduced to talking about modifying it and saying that Colombians who signed a re-election petition thought they meant immediate re-election even if apparently that apparently wasn't made specific. He even called a special session of Congress so they couldn't go home until figuring all this out. Now Reuters has gone so far as to publish a list of who might replace him, which is just adding insult to injury.

This is, quite obviously, not where Uribe wanted to be. I think he had a solid shot at getting the constitutional amendment, but he needed to push it from a position of strength, and he waited too long. Openly pushing the legislature around is bad form. Uribe is still very popular, but a bruising fight to keep himself in power will likely force those numbers downward. He is inching closer toward Pyrrhic Victory.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Anecdotal accounts of return migration

A week ago I wrote about anecdotal accounts of immigrants leaving the U.S., but then also possibly staying. A statement by Mexico's Undersecretary for North Affairs Affairs points in the latter direction, as he says that there is no major return of Mexican migrants.

It's all guesswork--it is good not to be too lulled into conventional wisdom (namely, that people are leaving because of the economy and enforcement) based on scattered news stories.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reading the tea leaves on immigration Part 3

I've mostly been writing about the signs that immigration reform will not be a priority for the Obama administration. Wendy Sefsaf at the Immigration Policy Center's blog offers clues in the opposite direction, focusing particularly on statements key policy makers have made and Obama's nominations (such as Napolitano at DHS) in addition to the GOP's sense that it will suffer badly if it continues to alienate Latino voters with anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.

I'm not convinced, but I also sometimes wonder whether I am dubious mostly because so many statements have been made in the past while nothing of note has happened. Given the immediate need to pass legislation on the economy and to change course in Iraq and Afghanistan, my own prediction is that in 2009 Obama will end unpopular measures like workplace raids and ignoring environmental laws to build fences, but won't yet push for reform. I am perfectly happy to be wrong.


Obstacles to Latin American unity

Yesterday I wrote about the lefts in Latin America, and here a story that shows a) how hard it is to lump "leftist" countries together; and b) how hard it is to achieve unity (not to mention integration) in Latin America. The Uruguayan government says it will bail on UNASUR if Néstor Kirchner is made its Secretary-General during the current summit taking place in Brazil. The Secretary-General must receive unanimous approval, but apparently there was a move by Argentina to get those rules changed.

Bold move by Uruguay. It might just work, since no one wants UNASUR to flounder out of the gates. On top of the entire pulp mill saga, I can only imagine what the Kirchners are saying about Uruguay these days.

Update: Alex Sanchez and Andrea Moretti at The Council on Hemispheric Affairs have an interesting take on the issue, arguing that Kirchner is facing resistance elsewhere as well.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Bad news for Padres fans

We are coming off a 99 loss season and are currently trimming payroll in a big way (though we have not yet been able to shop Jake Peavy). Now it seems John Moores is looking to sell the team, which is even messier than normal because he is in the midst of a divorce and his wife has to approve any sale (though he says this part of the divorce should not create problems). I assume 2009 is totally shot, though that might have been a foregone conclusion anyway.


The lefts in Latin America

Ignacio Walker has a very worthwhile article in Dissent about the Latin American lefts. He is a Chilean Christian Democrat who served as Foreign Minister under Ricardo Lagos. Popular accounts generally congeal the lefts into two--pro-U.S. vs. anti-U.S., undemocratic vs. democratic, or other similar unsatisfying simplifications. Walker sees three: Marxist, populist, and social democratic. Of particular utility is how he places current politics into the Latin American historical context, e.g. "In significant ways, the history of Latin America in the last century can be described as a search for responses to the crisis of oligarchic rule that took place in the 1920s and 1930s." He has a great quote from a letter that Juan Perón sent to Carlos Ibáñez in Chile:

My dear friend: Give the people, especially the workers, all that is possible. When it seems to you that already you are giving them too much, give them more. You will see the results. Everybody will try to frighten you with the specter of an economic collapse. But all of this is a lie. There is nothing more elastic than the economy, which everyone fears so much because no one understands it.

He then discusses the ways in which populism has re-emerged in Latin America, first as neoliberal (e.g. Fujimori, often called neopopulist) and then leftist. One major point he makes is that the current strand of leftist populism came into being at a time when democracy was taking root, so is actually less authoritarian than its predecessors. Nonetheless, there is always a tension between the personalization of populist rule and representative democracy.

At the same time, however, his focus on populism means that he does not discuss his "Marxist" category adequately. He views Chávez as both populist and Marxist, but it's not clear whether he would label anyone else (except the obvious example of the Castros) in that manner. Regardless, given how much latitude Chávez gives capitalism, I'm not sure Marxist is a good way to describe him. He mentions factions of the FSLN, FMLN, and the PT but the dominant tendencies of these parties are no longer Marxist.

At the very least, it is a step forward from the "bad left" vs. "good left" that we normally see.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

More voices against current Cuba policy

An Op-Ed by Lawrence Wilkerson and Patrick Doherty. Wilkerson was Colin Powell's Chief of Staff and became a critic of the Bush administration after the infamous Colin Powell moment at the UN. They are at the New America Foundation. They argue that our Cuba policy is an obstacle to normal relations with Latin America more generally, and offer three ambitious and specific proposals:

  • End the travel ban
  • Convince Congress to amend Helms-Burton to put decisions back into the executive branch
  • Sign an executive order to help Cubans hit by hurricanes
There is a major shift underway on Cuba policy that is quite remarkable to watch. We are getting close to a point where the need for an overhaul is close to conventional wisdom. I've never seen so many Op-Eds and columns like this, which may serve as a foundation for the Obama administration to get things through Congress.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

A creepy Mount Rushmore

From the newly opened Pinochet Museum. If it really aims to "burnish the image of a man reviled by much of the world," then it should do something less scary.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Most popular Latin American president

Alvaro Uribe may not be as popular as he once was, and now the title for "most popular Latin American president" may be shifting to Lula, whose November approval rating was 70%. It's a title Uribe has enjoyed for some time--we'll have to see how he weathers the pyramid scandal.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Reviewing academic journal articles

For all you readers in academia, there is an interesting discussion at Political Science Job Rumors about reviewing journal articles. It is especially relevant for me because I am a journal editor, albeit of a small area studies journal as opposed to a larger political science journal. But I agree with many of the commenters that it can be hard at times getting reviewers, and that sometimes they take a terribly long time even when reminded. This is unfortunate because it is a central part of our profession and, at least in my opinion, can be done well in a relatively short amount of time once you sit down and focus on the manuscript. It can also be a problem because authors want (and deserve) quick turnaround--indeed, more than once an author has requested I send an email or letter to their university immediately after they got word of acceptance because they wanted to make sure it was in their file.

On the flip side, I was surprised to read that some people do 20-30 reviews a year, which is amazingly high. I'd say I do 2-3 a year, plus maybe 1-3 book manuscripts (and/or book proposals). Doing an article review every other week would be rough, and I have to commend anyone who does it.

I've written numerous times about how I believe Ph.D. programs need some sort of class or workshop specifically about the profession, and this issue should be part of it. We talk constantly about how critical it is to get published, yet not about how no one can get published if no one reviews the manuscripts. A serious obstacle, though, is that you get a ton of credit (i.e. tenure, promotion, and/or raises) for publishing, and not much for reviewing.


U.S.-Bolivian relations

Stephen Kaufman at interviewed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemispheric Affairs Christopher McMullen about Bolivia. His comments highlight how difficult it is to move beyond rhetoric about mutual respect and really put it into action. I think it tells us something about what conversations are like behind closed doors between U.S. diplomats and Bolivian officials.

The entire tone of the interview is that Evo Morales is clueless and needs the U.S. to explain everything to him. He was "warned" about coca cultivation and told "they had to take this issue seriously." Further, "I think it is going to be a lot more difficult for Morales to control this process than he really understands."

Moving on to governing, Morales does not "govern in the interests of all Bolivians" so the U.S. wants to see him do things differently.

Finally, the U.S. wants Bolivian rhetoric to be "toned down." Dialogue must include has "a purpose in advancing the democratic process in Bolivia," presumably defined by the United States.

This gets back to a point I made a few weeks ago about putting Latin American leaders into unnecessarily defensive positions. Having a high level diplomat talk about Morales publicly in such paternalistic terms will only fan the flames. It certainly will not advance any U.S. interest, but it seems to be a habit that is very hard to break.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Immigration, emigration, and North Carolina

Anecdotal accounts (here for example) have immigrants leaving the United States because of enforcement and the economy.

Yet other anecdotal accounts discuss incentives for more migrants to come. I recently noted how the U.S. dollar is worth more now abroad. Perhaps also because there are still many job seekers in countries like Mexico but the job market there is also sagging, so the economic dynamic may work in two directions depending on the individual's location and skills.

I had these conflicting accounts in my mind when I saw a story in this morning's Charlotte Observer about job losses in North Carolina. Every year John Connaughton, an economist here at UNC Charlotte, presents an economic forecast that includes specific numbers on jobs. He sees big hits to manufacturing, insurance, and mining. But the areas where Latino immigrants are most likely to seek jobs--in service and construction--are stable.

From that perspective, at least in North Carolina we would not expect to see large numbers of immigrants leaving the state. We would, however, expect to see fewer people come because those sectors of the economy cannot absorb more workers.

Again, this is anecdotal. Future updates of the American Community Survey will tell us more as time goes on.


Low cost back scratching

President Fernández is now in Russia, talking trade. According to La Nación, the two governments will release a statement praising the Russia for its actions in Georgia, which "prevented more violence in the region." The text will also apparently criticize the idea of a missile defense shield. In exchange, the Russians will support Argentina's claim on the Falklands/Malvinas. Since neither side needs to go any further than symbolic statements, and neither side has any interest in doing so, it is a low cost way to publicly assert long-standing national issues. Given the drop in oil prices, Argentina might as well milk whatever the Russian cash cow still has left before it is gone.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Is the mighty falling?

Support for Alvaro Uribe getting a third presidential term has plummeted, from 74% in July to 54% now. Disapproval of the idea shot up from 22% to 41%. He has always remained cagey about the possibility, but this doesn't help.

The fallout from the pyramid scheme collapse is hurting him badly, a situation that includes violence, corruption, billions of lost dollars, and even his sons. The main criticism aimed at Uribe is that he responded to the disaster too slowly (perhaps hanging around George W. Bush too much?). The most recent approval rating I see is at 66%, which is obviously still very high but a drop for Uribe. Reuters has a good summary of the situation, which includes the latest joke:

Now the initiative languishes in Congress, inspiring a recent newspaper cartoon picturing Uribe in a coffin labeled "reelection". "What happened?" one character asks. "A pyramid fell on him," says another.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Kudos to Thomas Shannon

For this quote:

[T]his is an enormously dynamic period of time. This is a region that’s changing. As it changes, we have to understand that the nature of our influence changes. We are operating in a much more competitive environment than we have in the past. The impact of globalization, democratization of Latin America and its openness to trade and to connecting to trading partners and political partners beyond the Americas has really created, I think, a rich and important environment in which Latin America is really connecting to the rest of the world in a way that it has historically never connected.

This is a good way for the U.S. government to view its relationship with countries in the region. For a variety of reasons, Latin America is indeed connecting more to the rest of the world. The United States needs to compete for influence, and demonstrate why its policies, goals, programs, etc. are preferable to others.


Colombia Drug War: Failure or Best Kept Secret?

Foreign Policy magazine lists its "Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008." Number 2 is "Colombian Coca Production Increases."

Coca is a serious destabilizer—keeping Colombia’s rebels armed and the country’s progress in check. But after almost a decade, U.S.-assisted efforts to reduce the crop’s production in Colombia haven’t just failed; they’ve been downright counterproductive. Plan Colombia was meant to improve security, stamp out drug cultivation, and improve law and order after a decades-long conflict with leftist militants. But coca cultivation rose 15 percent between 2000 and 2006, an October 2008 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found. A separate U.N. study found that in 2007 alone, the area of land hosting coca crops rose 27 percent. To put it mildly, something is not working.

Coca, the base crop for cocaine, has funded the operations of various paramilitaries and the rebel group FARC for decades. Although Colombian military operations have severely hampered FARC’s activities during the last several years, the drug trade continues apace. Aerial spraying and manual eradication have had temporary effects, but coca farmers tend to grow the lucrative crop again because there’s rarely an equally profitable alternative. The GAO reckons that many farmers have moved to more remote areas to avoid the eradication efforts. Meanwhile, the market value of coca rose by roughly $450 per kilogram in 2007 to more than $2,000.

The United States has spent $6 billion on Plan Colombia, but Colombia still supplies 90 percent of U.S. cocaine. Time for a rethink on the drug war?

Hard to argue with. Unless you are drug czar John Walters, who writes, "Our policy has been a success -- although that success is one of Washington's best kept secrets."


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Obama's options for Cuba

At IPS, there is a very good review of Obama's likely options with regard to Cuba policy. Key points:

  • There is growing and vocal business support for ending the embargo. However, it is not clear how much that translates into lobbying Congress. Those heavyweights are needed behind Obama to make the case.
  • Helms-Burton gave Congress significant power over wholesale changes in policy, but Bush made a lot of executive decisions that Obama can repeal.
  • Using executive power is an easy and largely cost-free way to appeal to the changing demographics of Florida (and Obama made compaign promises in this regard) so we will likely see such changes before long.


The Chávez message

On Monday the PSUV will start the process of getting signatures for the constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term limits. A member of the legislature, Carlos Escarrá, had a two-pronged message:

First, if Chávez were no longer in power, it would spark political and social crisis. Second, the municipal elections demonstrated that even the elected opposition was fascist.

So will the crisis message resonate? This is going to be fascinating process and, by all indications, it will also be a very rapid one.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Institute for Emerging Issues

I am pleased to announce that for 2009 I will be a GlaxoSmithKline Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State University (though I will remain here in Charlotte). The idea is to use academic expertise to educate policy makers and influence public policy. I will be focusing on immigration, and I am really looking forward to the experience.


Blogging in Cuba

Yoani Sánchez, the best known blogger in Cuba, was not allowed to travel to a blogger workshop elsewhere on the island. The problem, of course, is that the blog questions authority, meaning that its "content is contrary to social interests, morals or good custom, as well as the use of applications that affect the integrity or security of the State."

"We want to warn you that you have transgressed all the limits of tolerance with your closeness and contact with elements of the counterrevolution." That just sounds like a bad movie, but is sadly the message brought by the Cuban authorities. Here is the original.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Castro and Obama

Fidel Castro says talks with Obama "could happen anywhere he wants." Really? I'm not so sure this should be considered news. Other possible headlines:

"Castro Says Cuba Will Accept More Remittances"

"Cuba Interested in Receiving More Tourists"

"Castro Open to the Idea of Not Being Assassinated"


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Latin America legacy

Previously I joked that there must be a memo somewhere outlining the strategy of saying President Bush did a great job in Latin America, with the hope that repetition alone will make the message stick. Now I'm not sure it's a joke. Different officials have made public comments that are almost identical, and spaced out so they have time to sink in. They all have the same basic message. The latest is Thomas Shannon, who argues that Bush has created a “very strong and enduring base that will really allow the United States to enhance our relationship in the Americas.”

Let's see if, in a week or two, we have a different administration official repeat the same message.


Professors are the enemy

At least according to Richard Nixon, in newly released White House tapes. Ironically, he was talking to Professor Kissinger at the time. Even told him to "write it on the blackboard 100 times."

Steven Taylor at Poliblog has other examples.


Bachelet numbers: a broken record

According to Adimark, Michelle Bachelet's approval rating was 45.6% for November, barely down from 45.6% in October. She seems to have stabilized, because November was a terrible month politically--strikes, AIDS scandal, resignation of a cabinet minister, among others--yet her numbers held steady. But now with only a year before the presidential election, she has not been able to rally support, and lame duck status is an obvious political problem. Odds are not good for getting those numbers over 50% and generating excitement for a Concertación candidate.

A plurality (42.9%) believe the Alianza benefited most from the municipal elections, while 52% believe that Sebastián Piñera was the individual who benefited most. All indications continue to show momentum for the Alianza. None of this is new. The big question for 2009 is whether Chile will see any major political shifts or whether Piñera will glide into the presidency. As we all know, a year is a long time in politics.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Latin America and Obama

Christopher Sabatini at the Americas Quarterly blog discusses the U.S. media hype about the left in Latin America:

Now journalists and bloggers are talking about a shift to the center. But much of this was evident in public opinion polls a few years ago. In countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia—the supposed bastions of extreme leftism in the region—the majority continues to support the fundamentals of "neo-liberalism," such as free trade and markets. The reasons are not difficult to discern: neither of these countries truly experienced open, free and fair markets. So while some leaders would rail against imperialism and neo-liberalism, for many of the voters in the countries those terms had become synonymous with privilege, exclusion and monopoly. But their inverse didn’t mean Bolivarianism.

Indeed, in the 2008 Latinobarómetro poll, 54 percent of Venezuelans and 54 percent of Bolivians agreed that the market was the "only system for a country to become developed" (p. 35).

I don't know if he chose his own headline, because although the post was interesting it never addressed the headline's point: "How the Media Oversold the Shift to the Left in the Americas, and How this is Good News for the Obama Admininstration." It didn't really address exactly how this was "good news," though I take it he means that there will be fewer ideological battles than the media tends to portray.


Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has received universal accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize. I was attracted to it in particular because of the immigrant theme (of Dominicans in New York) but it is so much more than that. All wrapped into one is the theme of immigration and "home," politics and culture of the Dominican Republic (including several lengthy footnotes!), coming-of-age, and J.R.R. Tolkien (along with role-playing games, Japanese animation, the Matrix, and a footnote about The Fantastic Four). They are bound together by a colloquial (often profane) and sometimes extremely funny narrator. I have not read many books that are both so funny and so sad.

It centers on Oscar, a young Dominican-American who is obese and heavily into fantasy and sci fi, and who is always falling hopelessly and fruitlessly in love, all the while writing fantasy stories and novels he does not complete. The narration also shifts to his family members, and the ways in which they all deal with the Dominican fukú, or curse. It goes back and forth between New York/New Jersey and the Dominican Republic.

The discussions of the DR are filled with ambivalence, with its irresistible pull yet also its corruption and extreme violence. Trujillo ("the Dictatingest Dictator who ever Dictated") and his henchmen play prominent roles. Even this is intertwined with Tolkien: "he was also a flunky for the Trujillato, and not a minor one. Don't misunderstand: our boy was no ringwraith, but he wasn't no orc either". Trujillo is also deemed worse than Sauron because at least Sauron truly disappeared when the ring was destroyed, whereas Trujillo's legacy has hung over the DR.

All these pop culture references make the book universal despite its Dominican focus. Interestingly, one of the problems Oscar and his family have is that they are not quite in tune with Dominican culture, which sometimes leads to disaster (I won't say anything more as not to ruin the plot).


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Remittances and exchange rates

There is more or less constant news about how the dollar amount of remittances going from the U.S. to Latin America is declining, which of course affects Latin American economies. This AP article, however, makes an excellent point. The dollar is getting stronger, so it is buying more in Mexico. As a result, the drop in remittance dollars may not be as dire as generally viewed:

The U.S. dollar has gained 34 percent against the peso since Aug. 1 as investors shed developing world assets and fled to the relative safety of the greenback. That stronger dollar means money sent home buys much more in Mexico -- a wage hike of sorts for the relatives of migrants lucky enough to still find jobs in the U.S. or for migrants using U.S. earnings to buy property back in Mexico.

In addition, the Mexican Central Bank estimates that remittances from the U.S. to Mexico actually increased 13% when comparing October 2007 to October. Essentially, once migrants began to see how much the dollar could buy, they had renewed incentive to go to the U.S. or stay in the U.S. and continue sending money back.


David Fitzgerald's A Nation of Emigrants

I read David Fitzgerald's A Nation of Emigrants: How Mexico Manages its Migration. Fitzgerald uses an in-depth study of the municipality of Arandas (in Jalisco) to make a broader argument about Mexico and its emigrants. It has several interrelated goals:

First, demonstrate that for many years the Mexican government has attempted, albeit often unsuccessfully, to influence migration patterns. Those efforts have evolved over time. In fact, in recent years they have followed the Catholic Church's strategies to maintain contacts with Mexican Catholics abroad. The church and the state have very similar interests, especially in terms of encouraging continued economic participation in Mexico.

The key here is policy evolution. Both the state and the church changed their views of emigrants, who for years were viewed with suspicion (even open dislike) by both sides. But over time they acceded to the inevitable and started to make a virtue out of necessity.

Second, challenge the common argument that immigration weakens sovereignty. Many have argued that nation-states, particularly in the developing world, lose control when large numbers of citizens emigrate and/or take on dual nationality. Fitzgerald notes that a deterritorialized world is really nothing new (just as dual citizenship is not new, though it has accelerated in recent years). States simply have become more creative in staying connected to citizens abroad, often in ways that can be beneficial to the state.

Individuals do, however, have greater leverage in what Fitzgerald calls "citizenship a la carte." They have more leeway to pick and choose: "Emigrants can enjoy the substance of their homeland citizenship a la carte from a menu of rights and obligations, whereas residents must take the rights and obligations together at a relatively fixed price" (p. 176).

Third, while the immigration debate in the United States often centers on assimilation, in Mexico there is much greater concern (especially, but certainly not exclusively, from the church) about dissimilation, i.e. Mexicans abroad becoming less "Mexican." The most prominent example is losing Spanish, but it can also refer to choice of clothing, music, greater use of drugs and alcohol, or in some cases mythical ideas that to obtain U.S. citizenship you are required to stomp on the Mexican flag.

The book offers a very fresh perspective on immigration--namely a close look at sending country policies--and is worthwhile for that alone. My only criticism is that I didn't come away feeling that there was any sort of general argument, hypothesis, or model that could be applied to other Latin American countries. To be fair, that was not a stated aim of the book. Perhaps, however, it can become something of a springboard for similar studies of other countries.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Hillary Clinton and Latin America: status, meet quo

Although Hillary Clinton as secretary of state has been considered a lock for some time, I figured I wouldn't comment until it was official, perhaps hoping it would change. In short, with regard to Latin America policy I believe this is a poor choice. (Whether the reasoning holds for other parts of the world is open to debate).

My main concerns are twofold. First, in general she is hawkish. Second, for Latin America specifically she is staunchly status quo. In these ways she is similar to Joe Biden.

This combination does not suggest forging the kind of change we need for Latin America policy. Instead, it suggests continued baiting of Hugo Chávez, resistance to ending the Cuba embargo, continued push for militarized supply-side drug policy, and the "us vs. them" mentality that seems to permeate everything these days.

The main exceptions are that both she and Obama are in favor of immigration reform, and both are flexible on free trade rather than taking rigid blanket positions.

Overall, however, I don't see much change coming, though I do want to see who goes into the Latin America-specific posts. Every recent analysis of U.S.-Latin American relations emphasizes the current window of opportunity. At the risk of sounding too melodramatic, I think I am hearing the thump of it closing.

With any luck, I am wrong, or at least exaggerating.


Chávez's problems

Nikolas Kozloff published an interesting article in NACLA Report on the Americas detailing the political problems that Chávez faces. Though obviously written before his announcement, it bears directly on the uphill battle he will have to win a referendum extending presidential terms. Dropping oil prices, Obama's election, and inability to export his vision all contribute.


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