Monday, January 31, 2011

Private in Cuba

Check out the list of 178 activities that Cubans can now do privately for profit.  Bill collector seems perhaps the most un-socialist.  Meanwhile, people who take care of public places--both bathroom attendants and park caretakers--can now make a profit doing so.

And if you want a sense of the economic situation in Cuba, look at the list of jobs that repair something, including disposable lighters.  Yes, even those need repair in Castro's Cuba.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Palestinians in Latin America

Here is a new and bizarre twist to the Palestinian-Latin America connection:

The United States proposed giving Palestinian refugees land in South America as a radical solution to a problem that has haunted Middle East peace talks for decades.
Condoleezza Rice, the Bush administration's secretary of state, wanted to settle displaced Palestinians in Argentina and Chile as an alternative to letting them return to former homes in Israel and the occupied territories. Rice made the proposal in a June 2008 meeting with US, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Berlin, according to minutes of the encounter seen by the Guardian.
The proposal seems based on the fact that Chile has a large Palestinian community dating back a century and, like Argentina, has large tracts of sparsely populated land.

Did anyone ask whether Palestinians would prefer to be shipped out, or whether a very large number of non-Spanish speaking Muslims would automatically be welcomed?  I suppose it is worth at least discussing all sorts of potential solutions, but this one seems particularly outlandish.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Nicaragua and Egypt

It is impossible not to make analogies between the current situation in Egypt and the implosion of dictatorships in Latin America.  Anastasio Somoza in particular comes to mind.  Broadly speaking, the U.S. had supported a dictatorship for decades because it was a strategic ally, then internal opposition began to boil, hoping to copy the toppling of another repressive regime in the region.

There are, however, also very important differences.  One prominent difference is the attitude of the U.S. government.  In that regard, Somoza would agree 100% with Joe Biden:

"The Admiral came back to the proposal, which was simply that my family and I had to leave the country.  I was becoming wearisome of this contumacious proposal and said: "Look, Admiral, you people may think this government is a dictatorship, but your proposal has been handed down through every channel of government, as well as the leaders of the party, and not one person has accepted the proposal."  Then I told him that we didn't even have a small ripple of support for the proposal.  I told him that in my meetings with all of the leaders in the government, the party, and the Army, there was unanimous opposition to the proposal."
--Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua Betrayed p. 221

At least for now, the U.S. position is quite different:

Vice President Joe Biden offered his take on the protests in Egypt, saying the current protests should not cause Egyptian Prsident Hosni Mubarak to resign.
Speaking in response to a question from Newshour‘s Jim Lehrer, Mr. Biden stopped short of calling for Mr. Mubarak to resign amidst the protests.
“I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that – to be more responsive to some… of the needs of the people out there,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr.  Biden  added that he does not consider the Egyptian president a “dictator.”


Friday, January 28, 2011

Obama and El Salvador

If there is one thing all media outlets can agree on, it is that they have no idea why President Obama is going to El Salvador.

--The Wall Street Journal just says he's going to South America

--Ditto for Bloomberg, though at least they have a sentence or two on El Salvador

--UPI focuses on the unvisited countries that are ticked off, figuring they are more important

--At least Fox News Latino (yes, such a thing exists) mentions the importance of migrants

--Voice of America disagrees, saying it is about crime


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Copper Law

The infamous Chilean Copper Law has been reformed, though not removed.  To provide more transparency, its management is moving from the Superior Council of National Defense to the Finance Ministry.  This type of reform has been in the works for a while, but accelerated due to a recent controversy over transparency that led to the resignation of Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet and his replacement by Andrés Allamand, an old hand in Renovación Nacional.

This is a win for President Piñera and the center-right, as they show themselves committed to an issue the Concertación had struggled in vain to reform, and can point to it as indicating more transparency.  However, I blogged almost exactly a year ago about how Piñera has indicated he wants to get rid of the Copper Law entirely, but obviously that did not happen.

A real victory for civilian supremacy over the armed forces, however, would be to remove the law entirely.  It may take a Nixon-China moment, where only a president of the right could get it done.  For fiscal conservatives, it does not make sense to throw sums of money quite that large at the military.  I'm not sure, though, whether Piñera's willingness to take a smaller step right now indicates this is off the table again for a while.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Immigration and the SOTU

I don't tend to get too worked up about State of the Union addresses, the content of which I tend to forget a day or two later.  However, here is the immigration mention, which focuses largely on the DREAM Act though oddly without mentioning it:

One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.
Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. (Applause.) I know that debate will be difficult. I know it will take time. But tonight, let's agree to make that effort. And let's stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation. (Applause.)

It is the sort of mention that shows people he is paying attention, but will have no impact on actually getting anything passed.  When I first blogged about a SOTU five years ago, and every year since, either Bush or Obama has mentioned immigration in some way without getting anything done.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Harry Reid and Latin America

Americas Quarterly sent me a forthcoming interview with Harry Reid that will appear in their magazine, allowing me to post it here (I am happy to plug them as they do good work, and I would also recommend their blog, which you can access on their site).  They sent it to me as a PDF, which unfortunately I have been unable to successfully upload in any way to the blog.  So I will quote from it and encourage you to check it out when it is published in a few days.

I feel it is a revealing interview in the sense that it shows both political impotence and lack of policy direction.

My goal is still to pass comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, punishes employers who exploit immigrant labor and undercut American wages, and requires those living in the shadows to register with the government, pay fines, pay taxes, learn English, and then go to the back of the line. My hope is that the Republicans will work with us on a comprehensive approach that addresses the many complex components necessary to fix our broken system.

Keep hoping.  So what will our U.S. policy priorities be for Latin America?  Well, he can't name any.

I have traveled extensively in the region. My first two foreign trips as Majority Leader were to Latin America because I believed we needed to refocus on our neighborhood. It is precisely because we share strong cultural and economic ties with the region that Latin America should be a natural priority for us.

So taking a few trips is the same as establishing priorities.  Well, what about those people who want an FTA with Panama and/or Colombia?  Well, not going to happen.

It is my understanding the Obama administration is working with the leadership of Colombia and Panama to address different areas of concern for members of Congress. These discussions, and the outcomes they will lead to, are key to finding a way forward with those agreements. As we have seen before, sending an agreement up before building support in Congress is counterproductive. At the end of the day, what we want are agreements that are fair to American workers, farmers and businesses and that deal fairly with our friends and allies.

I have often argued that it is better to do nothing than "do something" just for the sake of it, which often creates blowback.  But this suggests an almost complete lack of even thinking about what could be done.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Juxtaposition: NC and immigration

Interest in denying government services and jobs to illegal immigrants percolates in the legislature. Such a measure has a chance to pass this session. A proposal that has had bipartisan support requires contractors on government projects to use a federal online program that confirms employment eligibility (today's Charlotte Observer).


Moving forward, we will look for more ways to reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses (incoming N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis in today's Charlotte Observer)


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Colombian flowers

Really interesting, and I think even-handed, article in The Smithsonian about the flower industry in Colombia, which is huge (and, if the article is accurate, largely initiated in the late 1960s by an American horticulture grad student).  Basically, conditions are not great but have been improving a lot.  The practical lesson is that you should look for flowers that are certified, which means they were grown with labor protections and in an environmentally sustainable manner.

The global marketplace will always demand cheaper flowers, and Colombian farms must compete with growers in other nations, including neighboring Ecuador and rising flower power Kenya. Increasingly, though, there’s another factor flower growers must consider: independent flower certification programs, including Fair Trade flowers, VeriFlora and the Rainforest Alliance, which are working to certify farms in Colombia.
Such programs have been key to Colombia’s business in Europe, where customers pay close attention to the source of their flowers. The U.S. trade in certified flowers is tiny by comparison—my Mother’s Day bouquet bore no certification notice—but growing. “Sustainability is an attribute that consumers are seeking,” says Linda Brown, creator of the certification standards for VeriFlora, which is based in Emeryville, California. “When you are looking 10 to 20 years out, sustainability will become the way that people do business.”


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Quote of the day: Haiti

Barr "will be representing" Duvalier "in bringing his message of hope to the world," the former Republican congressman's website says.

This can't be serious, yet it is.  Here is his website if you can stomach it.

h/t Kevin Grier aka Angus


U.S. and Mexico

Hillary Clinton will be traveling to Mexico.  From the State Department's press release:

Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary Espinosa will meet in Guanajuato to discuss key issues that the United States and Mexico face individually and as partners, including joint cooperation to combat organized crime, strengthening the competitiveness of our two economies, modernizing the border between our countries and advancing the global climate change agenda after the Cancun Summit.

Conspicuous by its absence is mention of joint cooperation to reduce drug demand.  I wouldn't mind tossing in joint cooperation to understand what immigration solutions work and which don't.  Unfortunately, all reporters were interested in was, in essence, whether we could copy Plan Colombia in Mexico.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ecuador ambassador

I had the great privilege to meet and hear a talk on campus by the Ambassador of Ecuador to the U.S., Luis Gallegos, who has a very distinguished career.  I was really impressed, because here is an individual who has been in his position since even before Rafael Correa's term (if the dates I am seeing are correct) and yet he is very direct and even blunt to a refreshing degree.  "Blunt" and "diplomat" are normally mutually exclusive if someone wants to be in the position for any length of time.  Yet there is no bluster--he is very articulate and reasoned from long years of working on human rights, particularly the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The Allegro Foundation, which is focused on disabled children, funded the visit, which also included the Ambassador from Monaco.

In general, I felt his view was very similar to that of Correa (for example, see this post from last year about really interesting Correa comments), namely that there is an admiration for the U.S. (that came out in many different comments) but deep frustration with U.S. policy.  He made a careful but to my mind clear statement that Ecuador should not be lumped in with its neighbors politically.  Correa is neither Chávez nor Morales.

A colleague and I were able to have a quick chat with him prior to his talk, where he discussed the demand side of drugs, which for him is the central bilateral problem.  Obviously, U.S. policy toward Colombia spills over in a massive way into Ecuador, which is spending an enormous amount of money to deal with both guerrillas and migrants.

But in his talk, he began by discussing human rights, since he worked in the UN to create the declaration about the rights of the disabled.  To paraphrase him, "I was idealistic, and felt no one could opposed the rights of the disabled.  Then I ran into the U.S. delegation" (which, unlike many other countries, took a few years to ratify).  He then talked about security (i.e. the effects of drug trafficking) and the effects of the Colombian displaced in Ecuador.

And, lastly, he made the point that he could not think of any other country than the U.S. where an ambassador was told he needed to hire lawyers and sign on with a lobbying firm to get his government's views made to legislators.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don't assimilate too much

Jonathan Chait and Ezra Klein disagree with each other about Jeb Bush's take on assimilation.  With regard to immigration and assimilation, I wish more people would pay attention to the social science literature (and Samuel Huntington does not count in that regard given that his book is essentially a long and unsubstantiated rant).  We know that recent immigrants from Latin America are healthier than the rest of us, and less likely to commit crimes.  What we should really be talking about, therefore, is how to stop people from assimilating too much in certain ways.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

James Stavridis' Partnership for the Americas

Admiral James Stavridis wrote a book, Partnership for the Americas: Western Hemisphere Strategy and U.S. Southern Command, about his time as head of the U.S. Southern Command, which is available  free of charge as a PDF.  I would not say it is earth shattering, but it is well worth checking out, if for no other reason than to get a sense of how a high level military official views Latin America.  It shows clear knowledge of the region (not something we can take for granted) and avoids exaggeration of security threats (Hugo Chávez's name does not even appear, for example).  I also like the fact that even the Latino population in the U.S. comes into the equation to explain Latin America's importance:

Continuing with this human metaphor, one might argue that the most important linkage between a nation and the nations around it and around the world is demographics. According to the August 2008 U.S. Census Bureau report, about 15 percent of us—just over 46 million—are of Hispanic descent. When undocumented Spanish-speaking workers are added to the count, it is fair to assume that the United States is now the second-largest Spanish speaking country in the world, only after Mexico. For added perspective, more Hispanics live in the United States today than there are Canadians in Canada or Spaniards in Spain. Meanwhile, the purchasing power of our burgeoning Hispanic population is pushing toward 1 trillion dollars, annually (p. 3).

Other themes include rejecting the notion that Latin America is just a "backyard," that drug demand needs to be taken into consideration along with supply, that the deep historical roots of poverty need to be acknowledged, and that using the military in drug operations is not desirable.  He even notes how Daniel Ortega was glad to see the USNS Comfort (p. 60).

I disagree with the notion that Islamic terrorism is a growing threat--we've been hearing that since about September 12, 2001 and have precious little evidence.  Vigilance is fine, but it is overblown.  Also, I don't think you will find many people who agree that Plan Colombia is "a relatively modest program" (p. 17) and he mentions the displaced only in passing despite the fact that it is a massive humanitarian disaster.

Agree or disagree with his various points, though, it is nice to see someone at that level write a book like this.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Sanctions Ros-Lehtinen style

From Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, I learn that a) the U.S. needs to stick to its principles, even when that is unpopular; and b) our policy toward Venezuela will be based on "practical reasons" (like the flow of oil).  Basically, she wants to discuss sanctions if they have little impact on the United States, which further means her preferred policies will both make the U.S. look bad and fail to achieve U.S. policy goals.  This should come as no surprise, as she believes our current policy toward Cuba should be considered successful.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

No more bricks in the virtual wall

Remarkable.  A boondoggle of a government plan actually gets shut down instead of continuing to throw good money after bad.  It was halted for review last March, and now the virtual fence is no more.

The Obama administration canceled Friday the troubled, billion-dollar "virtual fence" project along the U.S. border with Mexico and said it will turn to other security measures to better guard the desert region.
The SBInet project, begun in 2006 and run by Boeing, was designed to pull together video cameras, radar, sensors and other technologies to catch illegal immigrants and smugglers trying to cross the porous border.
But it faced setbacks, missed deadlines and cost overruns. The Department of Homeland Security said the project spent $1 billion to cover just 53 miles in Arizona.

The virtual fence was never going to work.  Almost four years (and over $1 billion dollars) ago I poked fun at the head of the Border Patrol, who argued that the virtual fence would detect 95 percent of illegal border crossings.  That was so obviously false.

So now we can feel relief that it was stopped and/or embarrassment that it was ever started.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Travel changes

The Obama administration took a positive but very tentative step by scaling back George W. Bush's travel restrictions to Cuba.  The administration felt even that was too controversial to try before the midterm elections.

It is so bizarre how hardliners believe that the status quo--which means keeping the dictatorship alive--is desirable.  From Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: "Loosening these regulations will not help foster a pro-democracy environment in Cuba."  The more appropriate question, however is how 50+ years of sanctions have fostered a pro-democracy environment.  If something has not worked for half a decade, it is worth trying something else.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Chile and Palestinians 2

Fascinating article in the Jerusalem Post about the Chilean government's decision to recognize the Palestinian state.  Turns out Jewish leaders in Chile felt it was a victory of sorts.

When Brazil recognized Palestinian statehood in early December, Chile was ready to follow suit immediately, sources said. However, an important meeting between Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar – who is a friend of Israel and happened to be visiting Chile at the time – combined with pressure from the local Jewish community and two late-night phone calls from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Pinera, managed to postpone the planned proclamation.

“It was a miracle it took so long for the proclamation to come out,” Zaliasnik said.
“We decided to fight the core issues: No to any reference to final-status boundaries on the Green Line or 1967 borders; that Palestinians had to negotiate directly with Israel; and third, that any Chilean statement explicitly recognize the right of Israel to live in secure borders. That’s what we were fighting for.”

And what now?

The next battleground between pro-Israel and pro- Palestinian groups over Latin American recognition of Palestinian statehood will be in Lima, Peru, where the third Latin American-Arab summit will be held in February.

“I feel Colombia won’t recognize Palestinian statehood,” Zaliasnik opined. “I read the quotes of the Colombian foreign minister in Bogota on the issue. My feeling is that Mexico could feel like it has to follow us, but they don’t have a Palestinian lobby. Peru doesn’t have a Palestinian lobby either, but they are hosting an Arab League summit, so it may affect Peruvian President Alan Garcia. Of the three, Peru is the most vulnerable.”


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Latin America and Palestinian state

Regarding Latin American recognition of the Palestinian state, I have tended to believe that there is little domestic resistance.  The Middle East is not very relevant to Latin American politics, and Jewish populations--which we would reasonably expect to be the most vocally opposed--are relatively small in most (though not all) countries.  Along these lines, I got an email from William Girard, a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz who has done fieldwork in Honduras.  With his permission, I copy the following:

My research focuses on Pentecostal politics in Copán Ruinas, Honduras.  I was carrying out my fieldwork in Copán when the coup happened, so the bulk of my dissertation examines Pentecostal responses to the coup and its aftermath.  One of the focuses of my research is a set of doctrines that many Fundamentalist and Pentecostal throughout the hemisphere hold called "Christian Zionism."  The most important aspect of these doctrines for my research is the view that Jews remain the chosen people of God and, as such, receive Divine blessings. These Christians pay close attention to events in Israel, and have an enormous enthusiasm for that country. In sharp contrast, they view Arabs, and particularly Palestinians with a great deal of antipathy, regarding them as continually jealous of the blessings that Jews are said to receive.  While, as I mentioned, these views are fairly common among Fundamentalists and Pentecostals throughout the Hemisphere, they take on a particular character in Honduras, where Palestinians ("Turcos") play such a large role in the national economy (as I understand they do in Chile).  
I've been following your posts on L.A. governments recognizing a Palestinian state, and I have to imagine that the Pentecostal citizens of these countries are deeply opposed to this.  As I'm sure you know, the Protestant population in many L.A. countries is fairly large (around 15% in both Chile and Brazil).  While certainly not all of them would be Christian Zionists, I would think that the majority would be, and, hence, view the recognition of a Palestinian state with great alarm.

So there could well be more opposition than I would've argued, from Protestants, assuming further that a sizable number attach enough salience to it.  From a political perspective, the big question is whether that opposition translates into political pressure.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Irresistible Forces

At long last, the book I wrote with my dad (John Weeks at San Diego State University) is officially out: Irresistible Forces: Explaining Latin American Migration to the United States and its Effects on the South, from University of New Mexico Press.  It makes the perfect gift for any occasion, and we all know Valentine's Day is coming up soon, or maybe a loved one's birthday.  Or, if you live in Charlotte, just make it a snow day treat for yourself.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's not good to be the King

John Boehner passed up one of the most vocal anti-immigrant voices, Steve King, for Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.  Obviously he's angry, and I hope he's right as he charges the following:

“John Boehner isn't very aggressive on immigration," King said, noting that the GOP "Pledge to America" barely mentions immigration or border security. "It's the tiniest section," he said.

It seems to be a sign, however small, that the Republican leadership wants to soften its tone on immigration.  That does not necessarily lead to commonsensical legislation, but it is better than nothing.  On the other hand, Boehner is someone who called the 2007 immigration reform bill a "piece of shit" so softening the tone does not come naturally.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Latin America-Arab Summit

Even more Latin America-Middle East connection: the third Summit of Latin American and Arab Countries (ASPA) will take place in Lima next month.  Lula got the idea going in 2003, so as usual with the Middle East Brazil is taking the lead and other countries in the region are following.  Of course, the Palestinian issue will also be discussed about whether "to issue a final declaration recognising a sovereign and independent Palestinian state  in borders preceding June 4, 1967 with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian state's capital."

Approving such a declaration will be tricky, as it gets more specific than current declarations by Latin American governments.  The Chilean government carefully avoided specifying borders at all.


Sunday, January 09, 2011

Giffords and reason

The Gabrielle Giffords shooting is depressing for so many reasons.  In terms of the focus of this blog, she was a voice of reason on immigration, a representative who had a border district and even had an undergraduate degree in Latin American history, so understood the issue and stood firm against xenophobia and fear.  We need more knowledgeable, educated, measured, and reasonable people in Congress, and yet instead they become targets.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik put it far better than I possibly could:

"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," the sheriff said. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."


Friday, January 07, 2011

Quote of the day: Cuba

Fifty years after the break in relations, while Cuba is still ruled by a male, white, militaristic, totalitarian gerontocracy, Barack Obama is the president of the United States and Hillary Clinton the secretary of state. Which of my two countries is the revolutionary one?

--Roberto González Echevarria in the New York Times.  He left Cuba as a teenager and is now a professor at Yale.  It's been 50 years since President Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations just before leaving office.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Piñera and Palestinians

A question that now several people have asked me is why did Sebastián Piñera choose to recognize the Palestinian state?  I think there are both domestic and international reasons, with the former being the most important.  There is political upside for Piñera in both respects with virtually no cost.

The domestic side is the large Palestinian population (always portrayed as the largest outside the Middle East).  Along those lines, here is an excerpt from an article in the UAE press of all places:

Representatives of the estimated 300,000 Chileans of Palestinian descent, including four senators and a number of deputies, are cautiously optimistic that years of lobbying within the Andean nation will bear fruit in 2011.
In November at a speech at the Palestinian Club of Chile, Mr Pinera said he supported an independent Palestinian state and added that he planned to visit soon, but was careful not to mention the borders.
This week Mr Pinera met the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmoud Abbas, when both leaders attended the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female president. Mr Abbas took the opportunity to thank leaders from the region for recognising a Palestinian state with Brazil being the first country in the region to build a Palestinian Embassy.
"We have been doing a lot of meetings and a lot of work and a lot of declarations and we also have put some pressure on the foreign affairs minister and also on the president to recognise the Palestinian state with borders," said Mauricio Abu Ghosh, the president of the Palestinian Federation in Chile. "For us, that is the only way. Without borders, it is better to do nothing."

So the Chilean-Palestinian population has a political presence, and has been lobbying for some time.  Piñera can get a political boost--even if not huge--essentially for free (at a time when his approval ratings have dipped to 47 percent).  As far as I have seen, there is no domestic cost associated with it, i.e. a large of group of Chileans who will oppose him because of this move.

The international side also has benefits.  Unlike Brazil, Chile has not been trying to be a global political player (it has been focused almost entirely on trade) so I don't see international diplomatic projection as a reason.  I also do not believe that tweaking the nose of the United States is a reason (as it might be for, say, Bolivia).  Piñera feels friendly toward the U.S.  But he can show himself in solidarity with the rest of Latin America, and since he is a firm U.S. ally, the Obama administration will not look badly on him for doing so.

I do not know what Piñera's personal views are regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or whether he has made public pronouncements prior to the past few months.  Regardless, there are non-trivial domestic and international benefits to be had, for free.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Oscar Arias article

Oscar Arias has an article in Foreign Affairs exhorting change in Latin America.  Here are the main points:

Latin Americans must look in the mirror and confront the reality that many of our problems lie not in our stars but in ourselves. We must lose our fear of change. We must embrace entrepreneurship. We must learn to trust. We must strengthen our commitment to democracy and the rule of law. And we must abandon the military practices that continue to rub salt into the wounds of our past. Only then will the region finally attain the development it has so long sought.

Not terribly controversial, but I kept wondering who it is aimed at (or, rather, should be aimed at).  Latin America is the most unequal region in the world, more so even than sub-Saharan Africa.  Substantive political and economic change will be extremely difficult without explicitly recognizing that reality.  That is why militarism is embedded in political culture, that helps explain why people are less trusting, and that is one reason why clientelist ties become so firm.

So we can have lots of talk about how "Latin Americans" need to change, but the only way this will happen is if income inequality is reduced.  That means elites need to accept progressive tax laws (and, of course, collection!), increased spending on primary education (yes, you need to pay for poor people to go to school even if you don't like them very much), and other types of redistribution that are consistently blocked and even mocked.

To be fair, Arias mentions such things in passing:

The way to prevent that [authoritarianism] is to show the public that democracy works, that it truly can build more prosperous and equitable societies. Moving beyond political sclerosis, becoming more responsive to citizens' demands, and generating fiscal resources by taxing the wealthy are all essential steps to take in moving toward a true culture of liberty and progress.

But this article would be much more effective if it were addressed directly to the small percentage of Latin Americans who control the vast majority of the wealth and political power, telling them they--and not some vague catch-all "Latin American" individual--need to accept real change.


U.S. and Venezuela

Richard Williamson offers a conservative critique of the Obama administration's policy toward Venezuela.  What it and other similar types of comments make clear, though, is that Chávez opponents in the United States have few specific policy alternatives.  Williamson catalogues problems in Venezuela, then writes the following:

Democracy must rise from the people of Venezuela, not be imposed from outside. Its exact form and facilities will be an outgrowth of the history, heritage, and habits of the Venezuelan people and not an identical copy of any other country’s practices and procedures

In that context of sovereignty, what exactly should the U.S. government do?  He does not provide even one example:

The United States should provide leadership in the Western Hemisphere and principled support for democracy and human rights in Venezuela.

OK, how?  He does not say.  In general, the conservative response to Venezuela is to copy the Cold War, but it would be nice to hear policy suggestions that don't involve emulating Henry Kissinger.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Latin America and Palestinians 2

Quick plug for myself: I am quoted in this CNN story about Latin American governments recognizing the Palestinian state.  Not sure about the Rafael Correa photo, which makes it look somewhat like a story about baseball.

Update: The Los Angeles Times quotes me as well, though in an unusual way--they take a direct quote from this blog and then credit Two Weeks Notice rather than me as an individual.  I don't think that has happened before.


Hispanic Republicans

Editorial from the Heritage Foundation on how Hispanics are conservative.  Nice try!

But here's what you won't hear: This conservative wave included some Hispanic-American voters. That fact inconveniently flouts the conventional wisdom - that liberal candidates can consider Hispanic votes to be in the bag. It interrupts the usual narrative. So it must be ignored or explained away.

This is juicy as unsubstantiated assertions go.  Liberals are ignoring inconvenient facts.  There must be a conspiracy, right?  Well, no.  The overwhelming majority of Latinos support the Democratic Party, and will do so for the foreseeable future to greater or lesser degrees.  Of course, this does not mean that all do, so there are plenty of Republicans as well, though they are the exception.

But this editorial goes even further, by saying without providing evidence that Hispanics are inherently more conservative than other people: "Conservative values run deep among Hispanics."  This is a jumbled mess of an argument, as "conservative values" can mean basically anything you want.  Regardless, we know that if we measure support for values by voting, then Hispanics support values associated with the Democratic Party, conservative or not.


Monday, January 03, 2011

FTAs and drugs

It seems to be the time of year for U.S.-Latin American relations editorials.  Here is a new one in the Miami Herald from Robert Weiner Associates (which I am not familiar with).  As most do, it calls for passing FTAs with Colombia and Panama.  The logic, though, raises questions:

Because we want to stop the flow of drugs to the United States from the South, and alternative crops would reduce drug cultivation, it's common sense to do everything possible to promote legitimate-product trade deals with Latin America.

The problem, though, is that we passed free trade agreements with Mexico and with other Central American countries, yet cultivation has increased in Mexico, as has drug trafficking in Central America.  This is not to say that FTAs necessarily cause an increase in the flow of drugs, but I just don't think there is evidence that they decreases it.

I do agree with the idea of refocusing on the Peace Corps.  Too many people argue for big ticket diplomacy, where you announce some huge new initiative and then wait for applause (and, indeed, I think there tends to be too much emphasis on the U.S. getting credit as a goal in itself).


Chile and Palestinians

According to the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Chile and Paraguay will soon become the latest Latin American countries to recognize the Palestinian state.  He added that Sebastián Piñera will visit the West Bank in the near future.  The last I had read, the Chilean government was thinking about it.  For a right of center government to do so would put an even greater stamp of unanimity on the issue.  Regardless, it makes sense for Chile, which has a very large Palestinian population.

The past several months have been interesting, as there is no obvious coordination but quite a few Latin American governments are suddenly recognizing the Palestinian state in a very short amount of time.

Previous posts here and here.


Sunday, January 02, 2011

Gasolinazo part 3

Evo Morales revoked the decree removing subsidies (and thereby drastically raising prices on fuel) after facing large scale protests.  The essential problem therefore remains--the government has popular subsidies that unfortunately also encourage smuggling and bleed money, both of which he mentioned in his remarks.  He noted that some adjustment will be necessary as a result, and that people will have to accept it because it will be in the best interests of the Bolivian state.  People love to label Evo Morales a populist, but these sorts of statements are almost the opposite.


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