Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Airport security

Starting through security on a domestic flight, I saw a sheet of paper dedicated solely to saying that flights coming from Venezuela should not necessarily be trusted because of poor security. I found this so ironic since the attack on the Detroit flight only a few days earlier originated in Amsterdam, where apparently they don't even bother to look at passports and the airport is full of security holes. Will they replace the Venezuela sheet with a European one?

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Pressure on MEO

The Party for Democracy (PPD) of the Concertación called on MEO to attend a meeting of the party's leadership to discuss the second round. He refused. The Concertación is nervous about the fact that he will not call for his supporters to vote for Eduardo Frei. As I noted before, the coalition is trying to get at his supporters at the grass roots level. Now, however, they are also saying explicitly that MEO should accept his share of the blame if the right wins the election (similar to Democrats blaming Ralph Nader for the 2000 election). Thus far, however, MEO has dug in his heels.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Evelio Rosero's The Armies

I read Evelio Rosero's The Armies, a novel about a rural Colombian town in the middle of the FARC, paramilitaries, and the army. The back cover says "Gentle in voice but ferocious in impact" and that is a perfect summation. The novel centers on Ismael, an old man in a rural Colombian town that becomes an epicenter of violence. The Colombian army is viewed as unpredictable and corrupt, but at least preferable to the truly insane violence of the guerrillas or paras, which are indistinguishable anyway. At any rate, the government refuses to help.

Ismael is a voyeur, and as the novel begins he stares at his beautiful neighbor. As the novel progresses he watches everyone else but slowly gets sucked in himself. He lives in fear to the point that he laughs at it:

It is fear, this fear, this country, which I prefer to ignore in its entirety, playing the idiot with myself, to stay alive, or with an apparent desire to stay alive, because it is very possible, really, that I am dead. I tell myself, good and dead in hell, and I laugh again (p. 157).

This is not light reading, yet Ismaels' first person narrative keeps a brisk pace. He experiences horror, but keeps moving and thinking. Maybe that is the only way he maintains sanity as the town is engulfed in murder, rape, kidnapping, and sadism.

It reminded me of Sandra Benitez's The Weight of All Things, which depicts a family in El Salvador getting stuck between guerrillas and the military during the civil war. There is the same helplessness, and the same sense of wanting just to be left alone because no one cares about the ideology. They just want all of the armies to leave them alone.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Planning ahead of ahead

Pepe Lobo keeps talking about moving ahead, not looking back, etc. which is a very common way of saying you don't want to deal with a problematic political past. He is taking it a step further to a point that would make even Soviet planners blush--the 28 year plan for Honduras. Totally free of ego, he will have a plan to guide the next seven presidential administrations.

He will announce the details of this plan the second week of January. He says it should be passed quickly by Congress so that everyone can start thinking about how great life will be in 28 years instead of how bad things are now.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Elections in Latin America

Abraham Lowenthal makes a great point about Latin American elections in an op-ed:

Elections are worthwhile as a means of popular consultation and participation. They can and should also be important as a means of helping to achieve accountability, by comparing incumbents and their parties with the promises on which they were elected.

Elections are important, and their regular occurrence in Latin America, rarely interrupted now by military intervention, is just cause for regional celebration.

It is nonetheless important to recognize that elections alone -- however free, clean and fair -- are never enough to solve the hard questions that face most countries, questions often ignored or papered over during political campaigns.

I try to hammer these very points home in my classes. U.S. policy, of course, focuses squarely on elections as if they are an end rather than a means. Honduras is just the latest of countless examples.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Quote of the day: Honduras

Neither Roberto Micheletti nor Mel Zelaya should attend his inauguration because "they are part of the past."

--Pepe Lobo, ignoring the fact that each one of them claims to be president until he is sworn in and is therefore squarely part of the present.

He also said he was not afraid of being overthrown by the military. To make sure, I suppose he will run all his policies by them first.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Andrew Bacevich's The Limits of Power (2008)

Andrew Bacevich's The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008) has been very widely reviewed (there was a good review in the NYT). I found it a thought-provoking jumble, a book that is perhaps most interesting for the discussions that can ensue from examining its virtues and shortcomings together.

The book's primary virtue is its hard-hitting examination of failure, combined with the utter refusal in the U.S. to accept failures as such. Americans want more and more, and are willing to allow their government to do anything that perpetuates accumulation. They are even willing to accept decreased freedom in the name of freedom. As long as we get more, we don't care.

I enjoyed the first half of the book more, as he explained these problems. The second half wandered, from dislike of Douglas Feith, criticism of high-ranking generals, discussion of the all-volunteer army, etc. He periodically tosses in policy prescriptions, but some (like environmental issues) suddenly appear without clear connection to his overall argument.

The most serious shortcoming is that it is ahistorical. For Bacevich, U.S. foreign policy begins with James Forrestal. Interestingly, he makes brief (and accurate) reference to U.S. policy in Central America in the 1920s as a model for our nation-building wars (p. 135). But he never elaborates, which is unfortunate because a more detailed look would bring out the failures of democracy that ensued, the resentment that built, and the continuity that those Central American occupations represented. Brian Loveman has a forthcoming book, No Higher Law: American Foreign Policy and the Western Hemisphere since 1776, that delves deeply into that continuity. This isn't new to the post-War II era, or even the post-9/11 era. American exceptionalism, preventive war, and "democracy promotion" have always been there.

As a result, we help create many of our own problems. That has certainly been the case in Central America, where our occupation of Nicaragua in the early twentieth century can only be called disastrous, both for the security of the U.S. and for the Nicaraguan people. It was unnecessary and poorly conceived. We want to bend the will of the world, or even of a region, and very often we just make things worse. That's the book's most important (and pressing) message.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Lincoln Gordon

Lincoln Gordon died. He was Ambassador to Brazil and a key supporter of the 1964 coup that ended Brazilian democracy for 21 years and ushered in a new era of authoritarianism across Latin America.

Check out the National Security Archive for declassified documents pertaining to Gordon. It is ironic that, given Hugo Chávez's current blustering about Aruba, Gordon had advocated sending US naval tankers from Aruba, along with a naval task force, to provide military support for the coup if necessary. The Johnson administration was even ready to send tear gas and other weapons to deal with public protest.

In a later interview (see p. 16 from this document from the LBJ Library) Gordon talked about how he had helped word the telegram to the Brazilian generals recognizing their government, which was so enthusiastic that--at least according to LBJ--it contributed to Brazilian assistance with the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Frei's strategy

CIPER Chile has a great post on the maneuvering to get MEO's votes in the Chilean presidential runoff. MEO has indicated he will not tell his supporters to vote for Eduardo Frei, so Frei's team is looking to go from the bottom up. They are scouring the results of every precinct along with focus groups, determining where people tended to vote MEO for president and the Concertación (or for Juntos Podemos) for the legislature. Those are the people they have to convince. That convincing will involve a two part message: first, we will take on part of MEO's platform; and second, we cannot let the right win.

An El Mercurio poll has Piñera at 46.2% and Frei at 39.7%, with a margin of error of 2.8%. Meanwhile, La Segunda/Universidad del Desarrollo put Piñera at 48% and Frei at 43% (I don't know the margin of error). There are therefore still plenty of undecideds/don't knows.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Immigration reform in 2010

Luis Gutierrez's immigration bill (H.R. 4321 Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009--full text is here) is causing quite a stir in the blogosphere. VivirLatino has a summary here.

It is a serious bill, with emphasis on security, on cooperation with foreign governments, avenues for legalization ("earned status"), learning English, fiscal impact, elimination of visa backlogs, and a wide variety of other issues (though it does not have a temporary worker program, which has always been a hallmark of the George W. Bush proposals).

Franco Ordoñez from the Charlotte Observer makes a good point about it:

He may not have an expectation that his bill will make it that far. But he’s definitely teeing up the debate so immigration is near the top of the political agenda once healthcare is resolved. And he sets the discussion. His bill becomes what future bills introduced will be judged upon.

The issue of political agenda is important because although Janet Napolitano keeps repeating that the president wants to get it done next year, Nancy Pelosi says the House will not touch it until the Senate passes something first. Charles Schumer is reportedly working on a bill to introduce in January, but we'll have to wait and see what it looks like. At the very least, though, Gutierrez has put immigration reform on the table before everyone left for the holidays.

But there are other factors to consider as well, some of which I've covered in past years. Two immediately come to mind.

First, demography creates challenges. The "demographic fit" between the U.S. and Latin America is gradually closing. This means the U.S. job market is slowly becoming less reliant on foreign labor. Note I do not argue not reliant, just less so. That can reduce the perception of immigration's economic benefits.

Demography also matters in terms of Latino support for immigration reform. Marisa Abrajano and Simran Singh published an interesting article about the media's framing of immigration in Political Behavior. Among other things, they found that second or third generation Latinos are less likely to have a positive view of immigrants' economic benefits, and this is reinforced the more they listen to English-language news (as happens when people learn English).

Second, popular opinion is consistently in favor of reform. I will not dig up all the many polls I've cited, but the argument that the "American people" do not favor reform is false. You have to word a question very poorly to get any other response. Obviously, though, this reality has not led to the passage of reform in the past few years. Media framing is important here as well because very often opponents of reform successfully convey the inaccurate message that reform is unpopular.

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Headline of the day: Venezuela

"President Chávez enjoys high popularity in Sudan"

And this is even the Bolivarian News Agency, meaning it is something the government actually wants everyone to know.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Improving relations by annoying Latin America

Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) removed his hold on Tom Shannon's appointment as Ambassador to Brazil. His office then issued a press release entitled "LeMieux Focuses on Improving U.S., Latin America Policy." He believes quite strongly that improving relations with Latin America means pursuing policies that are deeply unpopular in Latin America.

He mentions Honduras, of course, but his audience is the hardline Cuban American population.

In Cuba, the U.S. will reopen the process for non-profit organizations to apply for pro-democracy grants, the practice of including members of the Cuban pro-democracy movement in events at the U.S. Interests Section will be restored, Title IV of the Helms Burton Act will be enforced, and the awarding of Cuba Democracy Assistance grants will be done in a fair and transparent manner.

In practice, this means using our leverage to keep the Castro regime in power. Title IV of Helms-Burton is particularly problematic because it involves punishing foreign companies that "traffic" in property claimed by Americans as confiscated. Presidents Clinton and Bush issued waivers to avoid damaging our relations with Europe, Latin America, Canada, and essentially the entire world.

I can understand currying favor with Cuban Americans. That is what Florida politicians do, though even that population is no longer as hardline as it once was. But everyone needs to understand that this will strengthen the Castro regime and annoy Latin America. If that is how you define "positive relations," then so be it.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

ARENA's political wilderness

El Salvador's conservative ARENA party continues its post-loss self-destruction. Remember that a splinter group named "GANA" had already broken off and voted for Mauricio Funes' budget. Now the party has expelled one of its former presidents, Antonio Saca, for conduct unbecoming. Further, GANA wants investigations of corruption under the other former ARENA presidents.

Meanwhile, Funes himself has a 78% approval rating, up seven points from August. This won't last, but the FMLN just needs it to last long enough to keep ARENA eating itself up. The murder rate, gang violence in general, and of course economic performance will eventually become problems that belong to Funes (not unlike how the economy, Afghanistan and Iraq are gradually becoming Barack Obama's issues rather than George W. Bush's).

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rebecca Pawel's Death of a Nationalist

I read Rebecca Pawel's Death of a Nationalist (2003) and was really impressed. It is a murder mystery set in Spain just after the conclusion of the civil war. So who killed the Guardia Civil? The main character, Sergeant Carlos Tejada, thinks he knows and immediately executes the person. Then he gradually realizes (as the reader already knows) that he is wrong. How he deals with that is the core of the novel.

Two things make this book stand out. First is the landscape. You feel Madrid in the book, with the fear, pain, and uncertainty. She teases out the shortages of basic goods along with the black market availability for those with the right kind of money (i.e. not Republican). She lays out the hatred the two sides had for each other--really, even more than hatred there was just disdain. She also brings out how everyone is careful what they say and what emotions they allow to show, even with supposed allies.

Second is the character complexity. Through Tejada you feel the ideology of the Spanish civil war. He is absolutely cold-blooded about Republicans or indeed anyone who is not entirely with Franco and the Nationalist cause. Some of the most interesting parts of the novel are his encounters with people with different ideological perspectives, and how he feels about them. He even has to find ways to rationalize why he helps some people and not others.

I add this to my collection of political mysteries for a class I will teach someday. Exactly when, I have no idea.

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No resignation

There are a variety of things the coup government could do to speed up recognition of the elections. It has thus far refused to do any of them. The latest is Roberto Micheletti's announcement that he will not resign. One of the remaining elements of the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord is the creation of a unity government, and Micheletti is an obstacle to that since he already tried to unilaterally create a pro-coup unity government.

But this leads us back to the same point. Micheletti successfully waited out the elections and won that battle. He figures he can wait out the inauguration, and he might be right.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Chile elections

My initial take on the Chilean elections is up at The Monkey Cage. I also recommend boz and Pato Navia for more insight. The fight for the runoff on January 17 will be worth watching.

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Some Chile numbers

I'll have a post up at The Monkey Cage looking at the Chilean elections, but in the meantime consider these numbers on Chile from Latinobarómetro:

Is the country governed for the good of all? 35% agreed
Democracy can solve our problems. 46% agreed
The distribution of income in the country is just. 14% agreed
You are satisfied or very satisfied with democracy. 53% agreed
It is probable or very probable that there will be a coup. 6% agreed (lowest in Latin America, but who are these people?)
Under no circumstances would you support a military government. 70% would not support one.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Counting in Chile

Robert Funk notes that votes are being counted in Chile if everyone voted in the particular precinct. And in fact now you can go to a site like El Mercurio and see the outcomes in just hundreds of votes. It is not scientific in the slightest, but still oddly compelling. So far every one is Piñera-Frei-MEO-Arrate. Well, except at the Antarctica women's mesa, it was Piñera with 8 votes, MEO with 1, and everyone else had zero. I think it's time to stop looking now.

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Honduran view of the coup

The Latinobarómetro asked Hondurans about their views of the coup. 58% disapproved, 28% approved, and 14% either had no opinion or did not respond. Those who were older and better educated were more likely to support it, which given conservative Honduran politics should not come as a surprise.

Only 48% approved of Mel Zelaya's government, but 65% did not approve of the way Roberto Micheletti handled the crisis. They note the question was asked in October, when Hondurans had plenty of time to judge how the crisis was unfolding.

These numbers simply reiterate what previous polls had already shown. Hondurans were not enamored of Zelaya, but oppose the coup. None of these polls, however, ask about what potential solutions Hondurans favor. I hope that they are asked again next year after Pepe Lobo takes office and can judge the way the crisis was resolved (assuming it is resolved!).

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chile elections

My preview of tomorrow's elections in Chile are up at The Monkey Cage.

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Quote of the day: Hillary Clinton

"If people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them. And we hope that they will think twice."

Hillary Clinton while discussing Latin America. Because that whole "threaten Latin American countries who deviate from our Middle East policy" worked so well for George W. Bush.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

TV Marti

via The Havana Note: Radio and TV Martí survived budget cuts yesterday. The best testimony came from the president of the local union chapter of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting employees. Remember, this is a guy whose job it is to show how important and useful TV Martí is.

Since its inception, TV Marti has been under fire from the Cuban government and from critics both inside and outside of Congress. The primary problem with TV Marti has been the difficulty of transmitting a signal into the island. The Cuban government has reportedly successfully jammed the signal since TV Marti first went on the air. Many attempts have been made to defeat the jamming but according to the best research available, all have met with little or no success.

That doesn't sound good. So then you decided to fly a plane around to get the message through. How did that go?

Attempts have been made to defeat the jamming of the signal with the latest experiment being the Aero Marti project in which airplanes are used in an attempt to transmit a television signal into the island primarily around the Havana area. According to a recent GAO report of January 2009 (GAO-09-127) the Aero Marti project has not significantly increased the audience in Cuba. The Aero Marti method of transmission is by far the most costly method of transmitting a television signal into Cuba with a yearly expense of approximately $5 million.

Bummer. But have a lot of people been able to watch it?

Even though any measure of a Cuban audience should be viewed skeptically, there is little doubt that TV Marti’s signal is not reaching a very large audience.

I see. You're very persuasive about its effectiveness.

Because TV Marti has not been very successful at defeating the jamming of the Cuban government there are those who would like to close it down entirely. This would be a mistake. We now live in a multimedia environment and radio broadcasts alone are not enough to satisfy an audience, particularly the youth. TV Marti should be thought of as a broadcaster that provides the video component of the OCB. The challenge is in how to deliver that product to the viewer.

I am convinced. When something does not work, keep trying, even if it costs $34 million a year. That is the American way. And a very good way of life, I might add. How are your workers feeling about it all?

Finally, I would like to say a few words about employee morale at OCB. The morale problem has been characterized more than once as a problem of “communication”. It is a much deeper problem than that. For years AFGE Local 1812 has received complaints of unqualified individuals being hired either as contractors or into the federal service. Reports of cronyism and nepotism have been frequent.

Well, we're not all perfect. Thanks, and I agree completely that this is the greatest program we've ever funded.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Zelaya: leaving on a jet plane?

After a deal with Mexico (or, as La Prensa calls it, the "Aztec country") that came very close to allowing Mel Zelaya to leave Honduras, the coup government nixed it because Zelaya refused to seek political asylum. Zelaya, though, said he is still open to the idea of leaving as long as it does not involve asylum.

This particular episode in the continuing drama bears the same characteristics as other past episodes. The coup government appears to be negotiating in good faith, a deal is imminent, then the deal falls apart. The coup government figures that the mere gesture is sufficient to appease the international community and it buys time.

Unfortunately, this strategy has worked extremely well. It may well continue to work just fine until January 27, when everything changes again.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

New Honduran stamps

If you would like to commemorate the coup in Honduras, you may want to buy the new Roberto Micheletti stamp that is being issued.

If that one is popular, they plan other stamps with sayings like "Kidnapping is just a teensy weensy mistake" and "Who needs trials when you have the military?"

h/t BoRev.Net

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Bolivia elections: voting abroad

Sunday's election was the first time Bolivians could vote from abroad. As it turned out, Evo Morales won in Spain and Argentina, but not in the United States (where Manfred Reyes Villa won 71% of the vote). Overall, Morales won 54% of the vote abroad, much less than his 63% or so from all votes.

I've never seen an analysis of voting behavior of citizens abroad. It would be reasonable to hypothesize that those who emigrated for manual labor would vote more for the left, whereas those with money would vote for the right. But how strong is that correlation?

It might also depend on how much the candidates advertised to their emigrant communities, how long the particular voter had been out of the country, or even whether it was a hassle (e.g. a long way to travel) to cast the vote.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Brazil and recognition again

Just to make things more confusing, the Brazilian government has yet issued another statement on recognition for Honduras (here is the last one). Lula's spokesman via the New York Times:

''One thing is dealing with the fact that there were elections and another is recognizing the legitimacy of the elections,'' Baumbach told reporters. ''And for now, Brazil does not recognize that legitimacy.''

''The president's position is clear,'' Baumbach said. ''Brazil does not intend to recognize a government elected in a process that was organized by an illegitimate government.''

I see. Brazil will "deal" with the elections but not recognize the government they produced?

And, of course, we will have to see what "for now" really means.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Coming soon: Latinbarometer

As I conclude my Latin American Politics class tomorrow, we will take a look at the 2008 Latinobarómetro. At their site, I see that the 2009 version will be released on Friday. Among many other things, it will include regional perspectives on the Honduran crisis. The survey is always worth a long look.

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Poor Lou Dobbs

He was the hero of anti-immigrant groups everywhere and made quite a lot of money with fact-free ranting on CNN. Now he wants a new gig (though it is not clear exactly what) and so is trying to claim that he has completely changed those views and wants to establish a path of legalization for undocumented immigrants.

The result? Those who favor immigration reform still hate him, and his former anti-immigrant allies don't trust him anymore. So fickle, these xenophobes.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Yet even more on turnout in Honduras

CNN is now playing the turnout game, as TSE leaks more numbers that may or may not be accurate:

While the Honduran government has not released final turnout percentages for last Sunday's pivotal presidential election, a CNN analysis based on official figures shows that a majority of eligible voters cast ballots in the race.

The exact number -- 56.6 percent -- matters because the turnout may reflect how much trust the Hondurans placed into an election that took place under less than perfect circumstances.

Even how to calculate it is controversial (on the TSE's own confusion, see RAJ).

The initial turnout of 61 percent reported by the electoral tribunal was based on their projection of 2.8 million total votes, according to a tribunal news release. The figures that the tribunal gave CNN show that only 2.6 million votes were cast.

The electoral tribunal has reported even higher numbers because they strip some names from the voter rolls.

Reyes, the spokesman for the electoral body, said that some 1.2 million Hondurans were living in other countries and were not able to vote in the election.

Because they could not possibly vote, the tribunal has suggested that they should be excluded from tabulations. With this accounting maneuver, the participation rate comes out at 76.8 percent.

CNN's calculation used the entire voter roll because that is the way that the electoral tribunal tabulated turnouts in previous elections.


I love the term "accounting maneuver."

In all of this, though, there is one critical point. I have not yet seen an estimated number low enough to suggest implications for recognition. But of course we need to see the final official totals.

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Colombia and Venezuela: Close Enough But Not Too Far

The Center for International Policy's Just the Facts blog has a nice timeline of the recent conflicts between Colombia and Venezuela. I keep thinking that it would be so beneficial if the two countries could focus squarely on border problems. Of course, Hugo Chávez is focused primarily on Colombia's security agreement with the U.S. and how Alvaro Uribe and Barack Obama refused to provide any assurances to Colombia's neighbors about its details or implications. But even if the U.S. was not being given access to Colombian bases, the dysfunctional border would remain.

The border is violent, drug-ridden, lawless, and corrupt. It is therefore constantly contributing to souring relations. Some sort of bilateral effort to address concrete border issues could establish some level of confidence to deal with the broader diplomatic conflict. Instead, the two countries are moving apart. In October, Colombia's exports to Venezuela dropped 70%. Amazingly, China has replaced Venezuela as Colombia's second largest trading partner. Diversification of trading partners is fine, but it is unfortunate to have trade so disrupted between two large neighboring countries.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Even more on Honduras and turnout

As I had earlier written, the Honduran TSE had initially estimated 61% turnout, which has now been revised down to 49% (though we still rely on news reports, as I still don't see final numbers on the TSE site). And, indeed, I should have reported that turnout in 2005 was 55% rather than 45%. So will this affect recognition? It is hard to see it as being a dramatic enough change, but as always with the Honduran crisis, we have to wait and see.

A recent email exchange about turnout has also made me think about the political effects if Liberal Party supporters were disproportionately boycotting (as we would logically expect). Could that have the lose-lose impact of not being enough to delegitimize the election while being just enough to hurt the party in the legislature?

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Brazil and recognition

Dilma Rousseff, who is Lula's Chief of Staff, said that Brazil would have to take the Honduran elections into consideration.

"Em Honduras não estávamos discutindo eleição, estávamos discutindo golpe de Estado. Há uma diferença muito grande entre uma coisa e outra", disse Dilma

"Acho que esse novo processo aí [eleitoral] vai ter que ser considerado. Houve uma eleição"

In Honduras we weren't arguing about the election, we were arguing about the coup. There is a very big difference between one thing and the other.

I find that the new electoral process there will have to be taken into consideration. There was an election.

So how does that circle get squared? You do not want to recognize the coup, but recognizing the elections in part implies recognizing the fact that the coup succeeded. Its goal, after all, was to keep Mel Zelaya out of power until the elections.

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Bolivia elections

Particularly because of Honduras, other elections in the hemisphere are getting less attention. In Bolivia, another reason for that is the outcome is not much in doubt: Evo Morales will win re-election by a very wide margin. The most recent poll has him at 55%, with Manfred Reyes at a distant 18%. See Miguel Centellas' post for more analysis--in terms of the presidential election, he argues that Morales has done a good job sending signals to moderates that he is not out to get them.

Winning a majority by appealing both to your base and (at least to a degree) to moderates? That, of course, is what Mary Anastasia O'Grady refers to as a "mob boss" who "hates freedom" and runs a "dictatorship."

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

No reinstatement for you

The Honduran Congress voted no on Mel Zelaya's reinstatement. La Prensa reports a vote of 111-14.

Now things get sticky. The government is complying with the letter of with the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord, which did not guarantee Zelaya's return. But some countries, including Brazil, want to see him returned in some way before they recognize the elections. Perhaps this would be through a "unity government," but it will apparently not be in the presidency.

At the same time, Zelaya has apparently said he would not return this late anyway. We'll see--over the past months he has made a number of ultimatums that he later changed or ignored.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Honduras; everyone loses

Kevin Casas-Zamora has a stinging article at Foreign Policy, arguing that everyone lost in Honduras, and what lost the most was democracy. He concludes:


Alas, there's not a lot to gloat about in the outcome of this hapless episode. Micheletti and Lobo are simply the last men standing on a barren landscape. Their victory is a hollow one. And make no mistake: It is no victory for democracy.

It is hard to imagine broad non-recognition lasting too long, unless something very dramatic happens before Pepe Lobo is sworn in. Regardless, nothing will happen to Roberto Micheletti for breaking the law and nothing will happen to members of the armed forces for violating the constitution.

Instead, Honduras will return to the following:

The Honduran political elite are reading this outcome as an unconditional victory and, above all, as a license to return to politics as usual, as though nothing had happened. That will mean a return to the usual tooth-and-nail fight between factions of the well-heeled oligarchy -- each cheered on by segments of the impoverished populace -- for the spoils of a weak state.
Hooray for Honduran democracy.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Margaret MacMillan's Dangerous Games (2009)

I read Margaret MacMillan's Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History, which I found both thought provoking and unsatisfying. That is because she offers nuggets of interesting analysis, particularly when she compares the use of history in specific contexts (e.g. the Israeli/Palestinian conflict) but she has no overall argument, other than not to abuse history (she keeps zeroing in on unnamed "amateur" historians). But then she sidesteps the question even of how to identify such abuse. Or whether everyone is guilty of it.

"History comforts us, even though, paradoxically, we know less and less about it" (p. 20). This is so true for U.S. policy toward Latin America, which viewed the Cold War as as an external problem, conveniently ignoring local realities. Since those local realities--poverty, injustice, and exclusion--remained, policy makers now view their re-emergence in Honduras as a surprise, and therefore frame them entirely in ideological terms. Or am I simply interpreting history incorrectly? Therein lies the analytical rub. Is there an objective way to consider such things? She refers to "professional historians" but of course they disagree, sometimes vehemently. Indeed, that disagreement is a necessary part of examining history. It is what professional historians do.

To be fair, she does assert that the proper role of historians is "to challenge and even explode national myths" (p. 39). The funny thing, though, is most historians believe they are doing so because no one can agree about what is a "myth." I recently reviewed a book seeking to dispel myths about the U.S. role in the Chilean coup, and my review centered largely on the fact that the "myths" were not myths at all because historians and political scientists had been dispelling it for years. It was only a myth if you had not done the reading.

Nonetheless, there is a lot to think about, regarding the use of past defeats to vilify current enemies, the suppression of contrary evidence, the use of history to promote national purity, and the casting of new symbols and ceremonies as connected to ancient rituals as a way to provide them legitimacy.

This would be a good book for an undergraduate class to chew on. It raises many questions without providing much framework for answering them, but the questions themselves are important.

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More on recognition in Honduras

It appears that a broad demand by countries that opposed the coup is to accept Mel Zelaya's brief reinstatement before Pepe Lobo takes office. From the Ibero-American Summit:

"They consider that the reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya to the position that he was democratically elected for, until his term ends, is a fundamental step for a return to constitutional normality in Honduras," the statement said.

And specifically from Lula:

"If something new happens, we can discuss it. For now, the (Brazilian) position is not to accept the electoral process in Honduras. A new thing (we could discuss) is for Zelaya to take over for the inauguration of the new president," Lula said.
In other words, very brief. I have to wonder whether Zelaya would go for that, but Lula has a powerful voice, especially since Zelaya is living in the Brazilian embassy.

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U.S. policy and Central America

Rereading an article for class, I ran across this paragraph in an article about U.S. policy toward Latin America during the George W. Bush administration. Replace "Moscow" with "Caracas." How much has changed?

When civil strife erupted in Central America in the 1980s, these Reaganites saw only the veiled hand of Havana and Moscow behind the uprisings. They disparaged the notion that popular resistance might spring from decades of social inequality and military dictatorship. The rising tide of Latin America’s new left echoed the social and economic grievances that gave birth to Central America’s insurgencies. Dictatorships had been replaced by nominal democracies, but pervasive corruption and weak political parties made most Latin governments unresponsive to popular demands. Two decades of neoliberal economic policies had done little to alleviate the wretched living conditions of the poor. Under Bush, US policy would remain deaf to the winds of change sweeping the hemisphere, preferring the certainty of old ideological hatreds and the comfort of fighting old enemies (p. 359).

William M. Leogrande, "A Poverty of Imagination: George W. Bush's Policy in Latin America." Journal of Latin American Studies 39 (2007): 355-385.

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