Monday, February 28, 2011

Sergio Bitar on Obama

Sergio Bitar (who was a cabinet member in the Allende, Lagos, and Bachelet administrations in Chile) offers a Latin American perspective of the Obama administration's Latin America policy that is worth reading.  It compares Obama's approach to other parts of the world, and sees two core problems.

First, with Latin America, Obama focuses only on the hemisphere and does not acknowledge broader global forces at work.

Second, Obama does not acknowledge legitimate reasons why Latin American leaders (even ones generally supportive of U.S. policy) have been critical of the U.S., particularly how the global economic crisis came about in the first place.

Both are fair criticisms.  Obama inherited the "neighbor" rhetoric from every president before him, but it is increasingly becoming outdated and often had paternalistic overtones.  He also inherited the insistence that problems of drugs, immigration, etc. are primarily Latin American ones without creating new policies aimed at demand rather than just supply.


Honduran elections

The People's National Resistance Front in Honduras says it will not form a party and participate in the 2013 presidential elections because the country is not democratic enough.

Instead, some 1,500 delegates to the first general assembly of the People's National Resistance Front, known popularly as Resistance, opted to eschew elections and push for the Central American nation's constitution to be rewritten, an effort that was begun by Zelaya and led to his ouster.
"The conditions are not right to go to an electoral process," Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro, said in a speech Saturday. "To do that would require that the coup-mongers leave power and are punished."

My immediate thought was that it sounded almost exactly like the opposition to Hugo Chávez in the 2005 legislative elections.  The lesson it learned was that refusing to participate gave Chávez a huge majority in the legislature and in retrospect was a serious tactical mistake.  It also reminds me of the Chilean Communist Party, which had once been very strong, but which rejected any participation in Augusto Pinochet's 1988 referendum.  As a result, the party was not part of the Concertación and ever since has struggled for political relevance.

In short, it is a risky strategy in a situation where there are admittedly no great options given the political violence (on top of the criminal violence) in the country.  However, to require punishment for those involved in the coup as a precondition for formal political participation may unfortunately be setting the bar impossibly high.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Nicaragua and social media

Tim Rogers at Time has an article on virtual protests in Nicaragua against Daniel Ortega's re-election, which gets to the heart of recent debate about social media and political activism (see, for example, the controversy over Malcolm Gladwell's dismissal of any connection).  Some 16,000 Nicaraguans protested on Facebook.  The protests in the Middle East have famously used social media for coordination, so the parallel is obvious.

The big difference, at least for now, is that social media must translate into real world action.  Here is a problematic part of the story:

Indeed, the fear of reprisal in Nicaragua might have even affected turnout to the cyber protest. More than 2,200 Facebook users invited to attend the march clicked "maybe" — if, one assumes, it didn't conflict with other virtual commitments on their virtual calendars — and 76,800 didn't respond at all.

Afraid?  Maybe so, but we should also ask whether the vast majority are indifferent, apathetic, or otherwise not feeling sufficiently motivated to protest even just online.  The article seems more like wishful thinking than serious appraisal.

But let's see whether protests can jump entire regions with totally different political, economic, and cultural contexts.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Libya and Latin America 2

I recommend this Al Jazeera rundown on the Latin American response to the Libyan crisis, which is much more detailed than others I've seen.  Everyone talks about Venezuela, but Brazil has been very happy in recent years with Gaddafi as well.

One of the stranger developments is the criticism from both Venezuela and Cuba about media manipulation about events in Libya, which is why Hugo Chávez claims he has remained quiet.  Of course, Al Jazeera has been at the forefront of providing news from the Middle East, so is very often the source for western news agencies.  Back in 2006, Telesur and Al Jazeera signed a deal to share content:

Head of Telesur Andres Izarra said his channel felt inspired by the path which al-Jazeera had taken to become a reference point in the Arab world.
Telesur says it seeks to promote regional integration and offer an alternative to US networks.

In other words, up until now the Venezuelan government saw Al Jazeera as a solution, and now suddenly it is part of the problem.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Libya and Latin America

Another conservative criticism of the Libya-Latin America link from José Cárdenas at Foreign Policy.  For once I actually agree with most of what he says, until the end when he cannot help make it into a criticism of the Obama administration.

All this crystallizes the situation for the United States in Latin America today: between serious governments with whom we can do business and the irresponsible outliers with whom we share hardly any common interests. It is a distinction the Obama administration doesn't always seem to appreciate. At a House Western Hemisphere subcommittee hearing last week, Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) chided Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela on this score, saying that our hemispheric policy seems to be all about trying to make up with our enemies and ignoring our friends. Let's hope the disparate reactions to the carnage in Libya will serve as a wake-up call to realign our priorities in the Western Hemisphere.

If we didn't "do business" with "serious" countries that had ties to Libya and had nice photo-ops with Gaddafi, we wouldn't do business with much of Europe.  Plus, Bolivia is not the same as Venezuela, since the former is actually pursuing unpopular market reforms.  In general, the stubborn inability to see any nuance is tiring, though not surprising.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gaddafi and Latin America

Conservative commentators are jumping on the Latin American reaction to the Libyan uprisings, even criticizing the Obama administration for, well, I am not quite sure even what.  Regardless, it is useful to start thinking about what Latin America lessons we can take from Libya, though of course we need to wait until events unfold more before we can make firm conclusions.

Perhaps the most important is that the U.S. was uninvolved in prompting these protests, and they are likely more powerful as a result because accusations of meddling--as from Fidel Castro--come off as hollow echoes of the Cold War.  Strangely enough, for those who support the Cuban embargo, the U.S. (starting with George W. Bush, in fact) had even been liberalizing relations with Libya, which obviously did not have the effect of making him stronger politically.  Whether you believe the liberalization was good or bad is irrelevant--the point is that there is no automatic correlation between such liberalization and the strength of a dictatorship.  If there is one thing Cuba policy teaches us, it is that intervention can create blowback and give you the exact opposite result from what you want.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gaddafi and Chávez

Twitter has been loaded with rumors the past two days about Libya, and there was no juicier rumor than Moammar Gaddafi flying to Venezuela.  It also turned out to be completely false, but it underlined the very public and strong bond between him and Hugo Chávez.  Meanwhile, Chávez has been totally silent about events in Libya.  Along these lines, I recommend Nikolas Kozloff's article in the Huffington Post.  He's written fairly favorably of Chávez in the past, but pretty much nails the embarrassment of embracing people like Gadafi:

With revolution now sweeping away the most autocratic rulers across the African continent, Chávez now has a unique opportunity to redraw his political priorities. Will the Venezuelan leader see the error of his ways or continue to embrace phony Third World liberation in the guise of autocratic despotism? Señor Presidente: the silence has become truly deafening.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Colombia FTA and the Middle East

There is an article in the Miami Herald about Latin America's ties to the Middle East, which is largely interesting but one part grated on me:

Amid mounting frustration with the U.S. Congress’ refusal to pass a free trade agreement with Colombia, Santos has talked of the need to build new trade routes, including with the Middle East. And the country plans to open embassies in the United Arab Emirates and Turkey this year.

This meme is tiresome.  Whether or not an FTA is passed is irrelevant to Colombia's trade with the rest of the world.  An FTA does not mean that you suddenly stop trading with everyone else.  Chile has roughly fifty free trade agreements, and continues to "build new trade routes" all the time.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Transitions and foreign policy

Like everyone else, I've been following events in the Middle East with no small amount of shock.  As protests in Libya expand, I've been thinking about the ideological angle.  Dictators of all different ideological stripes are under fire.

That ideological mix is throwing the western hemisphere for a loop.  The Obama administration was slow to respond because Mubarak was such a strong ally, yet much more quickly now says it will provide "technical assistance" to Libyan protestors.  Fidel Castro lauded the protestors in Egypt, and then the Cuban government became utterly silent when similar protests hit Libya.  Similarly, Telesur emphasizes the Libyan government's official line that the protests constitute foreign intervention, though interestingly in the Egyptian case Hugo Chávez criticized the U.S. for not supporting Mubarak, which itself is foreign intervention.


Chile Wikileaks

If you need more evidence from Chile that the left-right dichotomy in Latin America is far more complex than commonly portrayed, we have this Wikileaks revelation.  The center-left Bachelet government, which we would expect to be more sympathetic to Hugo Chávez, was spying on Iranians in Latin America, which was in line with U.S. concerns.  And now, the center-right Piñera government is pro-Palestinian, which is not what the U.S. wants and is much more in line with Venezuela.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Immigration enforcement welfare

Andres Oppenheimer makes a good case for cutting immigration enforcement spending on programs proven not to work.

At the very least, they should have a serious discussion on whether it makes sense to spend $4.5 billion in deporting people who have not committed serious crimes and do jobs that Americans don’t want to do, while slashing funds for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies whose job is to put serious criminals behind bars.

He also highlights an important and generally neglected issue, namely that immigration enforcement is a huge government giveaway:

There is growing evidence that the arrest and deportation of undocumented migrants along the U.S. border has become a big business for private detention companies, and that in many cases it hasn’t helped reduce the flow of undocumented migrants.

In so many ways, immigration enforcement should be a perfect issue for those claiming a commitment to cut fat from the budget.  Unfortunately that rarely seems to happen, as everyone is happy to throw good money after bad.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Obama's trip to El Salvador

The media in the U.S. is still not sure why President Obama is going to El Salvador (here is my post about how confused everyone was last month).  The fact that the White House is not really explaining why doesn't help.  From the New York Times' Caucus Blog:

Mr. Obama’s stop in El Salvador is as much about domestic politics as international affairs; one of the larger and fast-growing immigrant populations in the United States hails from this nation.

I don't buy it.  Obama is not courting Salvadoran-American votes in the U.S.  His trip will likely focus on gangs and drug trafficking, which are related to immigration but far more complicated than that.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Colombian refugees

A new report shows that 280,000 Colombians were displaced in 2010, and one-third of these were in areas the government claimed were "consolidated."  Colombia has a total of 5.2 million displaced people, roughly 1 out of every 9 Colombians, and the most in the world.  Some 389,000 live as refugees abroad, which of course has been a serious problem for Ecuador.

Unfortunate, then, that the House of Representatives wants to slash refugee aid when we're helping to cause the flow of refugees in the first place.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Economic growth and food riots

It is so ironic.  For about the past year, we were hearing over and over that Latin American economies were on fire, recovering from the global recession faster than the developed world (back in December, for example, both ECLAC and the Wall Street Journal, not exactly bosom buddies, were excited).  The problem, of course, was that economic growth was dependent largely on high commodity prices, which had become something of a pet peeve of mine.

A mere two months later, reality sets in.  High commodity prices are not so good when you are the buyer, and it is even worse when it's food.  In fact, now the UN is concerned about food riots in the poorest Latin American countries because of the rise in prices.  The Bolivian government may even stockpile food.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The U.S. and Honduras

Arturo Valenzuela's statement to the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs is not too remarkable, but one thing jumped out at me:

During 2010, Honduras made significant progress in strengthening governance, promoting national reconciliation, addressing some of the problems of human rights violations, and restoring diplomatic relations with many countries in the hemisphere. As President Lobo has said, he has sought to redirect the country on a path towards democratic normalization following the disruption of the institutional order that took place in June 2009. In our view, he has prepared the groundwork for the restoration of Honduras to the Organization of American States. The U.S. Government is supporting Honduras through robust programs managed by several agencies, including the Departments of the Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security, State, and USAID, and we will seek new ways to support the country’s efforts to achieve its economic development objectives.

This is so over the top and inaccurate that I would wager that he does not believe it either.  Just browse, for example, Amnesty International's Honduras reports, which discuss police intimidation of human rights activists, threats against journalists, and refusal to address human rights violations that occurred after the coup.  Then take a look at Human Rights Watch, which discusses the overall climate of intimidation and failure to deal with human rights abuses.

My hunch is that it is a bone for the key Republican members of the committee, who thought the Honduran coup was the best thing since sliced bread.  The committee chair, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, even went personally to Honduras to tell Roberto Micheletti how great he was.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trading with Colombia

Finally, finally, I see public acknowledgment of a key aspect of U.S. economic policy toward Colombia that is usually obscured.  Back in 2008, I asked the following:

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

So you can ignore all the arguments you hear ad nauseam about how essential an FTA is for Colombia, as House Republicans are finally discussing the real reason they support an FTA, which is that the status quo benefits Colombia too much.  From the new Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee:

Without a timetable on all three agreements, Mr. Camp said, conservatives weren't likely to back an extension of the Andean trade program, because it reduced tariffs on Colombian exporters without lowering them on U.S exports to Colombia, as a trade agreement would do.

The key benefit of an FTA for Colombia is to avoid the constant stress of renewal deadlines for trade preferences.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Political transitions in Chile and Egypt

The academic study of political transitions was huge in the 1980s and 1990s, focusing largely on Latin America.  It may well get a new boost because of the Middle East.  In fact, the White House is reaching out to academia to better understand the Egyptian transition.  From the Washington Post:

The White House focus has been on revolutions against U.S.-backed dictatorships, including the 1986 popular revolt against Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, the Chilean transition from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet to democracy in 1990, and the 1998 uprising in Indonesia that drove out President Suharto. Officials have also looked to Serbia and Poland for lessons.

I assume they will not make the mistake of labeling Chile a "revolution."  It was a pacted transition that got going when Pinochet lost a referendum on whether he should stay in office.  He did leave power, but in a position of strength, even remaining commander in chief of the army.  In that sense, the Chilean transition has little to say to Egypt.

As I mentioned in passing in a previous post, Chile is more relevant for understanding how to deal with a very strong military in a democratic context.  For a 2006 book chapter on Chilean civil-military relations, I used the title "Inching Toward Democracy" and that may be the same for Egypt.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Who needs a groundhog...

...when you have the day--today--when pitchers and catchers report to spring training.  Plus, Baseball Prospectus 2011 will be out in nine more days.  Baseball is here and spring is on its way.


Contagions and dominos

"Contagion effect" and "domino effect" are being used interchangeably (I can put in a million links but just do a quick Google search to see what I mean) to describe the current spread of popular revolt in the Middle East, but I would argue it is useful to view them as distinct, albeit clearly similar.  What's occurring in the Middle East is contagion, not domino.

The term "domino effect" was coined by Dwight Eisenhower to describe the drive to spread communist governments around the world, and was central to U.S. policy toward Latin America during the Cold War.  They key here is the aspect of coordination, or at least leadership.  Marxist leaders wanted to spread revolutions to other countries (e.g. Che Guevara's Message to the Tricontinental about multiple Vietnams) and so provided arms, training, doctrine, rhetorical support, etc. to rebel leaders elsewhere.  In Latin America particularly after the 1954 Guatemala invasion, U.S. policy makers tended to view everything as a domino even if there was little or no outside support.  Indeed, it can be even more confusing when movements were both home grown and then also supported from abroad.

"Contagion effect" refers to more spontaneous copying of successful political movements (such as uprisings).  Success in one country provides opposition leaders in others with more confidence that they could do the same.  Currently in the Middle East there is no direct coordination (that I have heard of, anyway) between, say, Tunisia and Egypt, but clearly the former had a huge impact on the latter.  And the example of Egypt is now very influential.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

The military in Egypt and Latin America

Rightly, much attention is now being paid to the Egyptian military.  David Pion-Berlin, Harold Trinkunas, and I among others commented on the issue at The Monkey Cage from the perspective of Latin Americanists.  Although comparisons to Batista's Cuba or Somoza's Nicaragua are compelling for understanding U.S. policy, they are weaker for understanding civilian-military relations, because those governments did not have independent military institutions.  What the Latin American experience demonstrates, however, is that all the current excitement must be tempered by the fact that the outcome in Egypt is by no means preordained to be democratic.

Along those lines, Steven Taylor links to a Foreign Affairs article by Ellis Goldberg, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo.

Today, the army presents itself as a force of order and a neutral arbiter between contending opponents, but it has significant interests of its own to defend, and it is not, in fact, neutral. The basic structure of the Egyptian state as it now exists has benefited the military. The practical demands of the protesters seem fairly simple: end the state of emergency, hold new elections, and grant the freedom to form parties without state interference. But these demands would amount to opening up the political space to everyone across Egypt's social and political structure. That would involve constitutional and statutory changes, such as reforming Egypt as a parliamentary rather than a presidential system, in which a freely elected majority selects the prime minister (who is now appointed by the president). These changes would wipe away the power structure the army created in 1952 and has backed since.

At a minimum. the military will protect its prerogatives, though this can be consistent with democratic elections.  With luck, this will be a case like Bolivia or Ecuador, where the military withdrew support from leaders facing massive protests, then stepped aside to allow elections.  If that happens, then it may well take years to whittle away at the prerogatives, as in Chile.  Let's see how the meetings go between Mubarak's opposition and the armed forces.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Insurgency and Mexico

There is a flap regarding the U.S. Undersecretary of the Army characterizing the situation in Mexico as a "form of insurgency," even raising the issue of using U.S. troops to fight it.  Key quote:

“This isn’t just about drugs and about illegal immigrants,” he said. “This is about, potentially, a takeover of a government by individuals who are corrupt.”

This isn't entirely new, since Hillary Clinton had made the insurgency comparison last year.

Setting aside the obvious problem of sending U.S. troops, I agree with the Mexican government that it is an inaccurate way of characterizing the conflict.  An insurgency is an illegal armed group seeking to overthrow a government.  That is not happening in Mexico because the drug trafficking organizations do not want to overthrow the government, but rather simply to absorb themselves into it.  Much of that effort has nothing to do with armed insurrection, and instead involves well placed bribery, recruitment of political candidates and other such strategies.  You can't fight those with troops, either U.S. or Mexican.

Further, when there are attacks, they are aimed at forcing the government to leave them alone and not to overthrow it.  The Center for International Policy's Just the Facts correctly made this point last year:

This is a concern, because some poor policy choices can result from viewing criminal gangs and narcotrafficking syndicates – whose only truly political goal is to keep government from disrupting their business – as “insurgents” or revolutionaries.

It's not just a matter of semantics.  If you call this an insurgency, then you click into place a variety of counterinsurgency measures that in the Mexican case will not work.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Promoting economic growth

Quite a lot to chew on from a speech by Jose Fernandez, the State Department's Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs.  The issue is how the Obama administration views the U.S. role in promoting economic growth.

To be clear, this is not simply a blind faith in the power of the free markets. Instead, this focus is really about identifying every convergence point where commercial and public interests meet.
We see this convergence of profit and purpose with several initiatives and concepts we are promoting in the spirit of partnership and cooperation laid out by the President.
  • FIRST, our innovative initiative to harness remittances for development needs,
  • SECOND; our emphasis on women’s entrepreneurship in Peru, and
  • THIRD, I want to speak to the need to promote anti-corruption and transparency measures as a way to boost domestic revenues for development

The emphasis on remittances is ironic, since the Obama administration is deporting more remittance senders than any administration in the history of the United States.

Women's entrepreneurship sounds good, though the idea is essentially to connect small entrepreneurs with Wal-Mart.  Small businesses do need markets, but government-sponsored ties to massive multinational corporations raise all sorts of questions given the virtually total control the MNCs will immediately exert on those small businesses acting as distributors.


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

With friends like these...

An African American state senator in South Carolina managed to use every stereotype imaginable, to advocate paying immigrants virtually nothing and thereby making legal businesses go bankrupt, all the while believing he was helping the cause of undocumented immigrants.

He recalled to senators that four workers in the country illegally showed up on his lawn and finished mowing, edging and other work in 30 minutes that would take others much longer, and only wanted $10 for the job. He went on to say he recommended the workers to his neighbors, and one local lawn care businessman lost work - a story one senator remarked was hurting, not helping, his case.
Black guys and white guys are going to get out there and do the hard work? No. I'm for America, and America's a country of immigrants," Ford said later when reached on his cell phone. "Everybody in America finds ways to take a break."

Everyone is lazy, so let's ignore the minimum wage.  He then said he would apologize, but he doesn't know what for.

This is the sort of thing that distorts the immigration debate.  It isn't about "lazy" versus "hard working."  Are there jobs so physically demanding and/or seasonal that many people don't want them?  Absolutely, but that is not related to laziness.*  What the U.S. needs is an immigration policy that encourages hard working people to come legally, which will raise the wages of those physically demanding and lower wage jobs (including lawn care) thus making them more attractive.  That in turn will help both businesses and workers.  The "us versus them" mentality just makes everything worse.

* On this point, once again I recommend Gabriel Thompson's Working in the Shadows, which I reviewed last August.


Andean trade preferences

In a speech to the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, John McCain said that the Andean Trade Preference Act will not be  renewed by Congress.

The need to ratify our FTA with Colombia will become even more dire in a few days, as it appears all but certain that Congress will fail to reauthorize the Andean Trade Preference Act, which expires on Saturday. This legislation gives Colombia, along with other Andean nations, privileged access to U.S. markets. It has done wonders for Colombian workers and American consumers alike, and as a result, these trade preferences have been renewed by every Congress for the past 20 years, regardless of which party was in power. If these trade preferences expire this weekend, with no FTA in place, it will be a double slap in the face for Colombia.

I was not aware of that, and it turns out there is a bizarre story behind it that can be summed up as follows: Republicans say are blocking trade because they support trade.  From The Hill:

Republicans had planned a vote to extend the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA), which lowers duties on imports from Andean countries, and the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which helps U.S. workers hurt by overseas competition. The TAA program is widely supported by Democrats, and some Republicans were known to be pressing for a White House commitment to move ahead with the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements (FTAs) before allowing a vote on TAA.

So the Andean Trade Preference Act, which everyone supports, will be held hostage for an FTA.  But it gets even more interesting, as voting for trade preferences have also recently been held up because of sleeping bags in Alabama.  You couldn't make that up if you tried.


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Immigration reform

More and more stories about how Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham are still working to pass immigration reform, though it is in the "infant stage."  The basic idea, which should be obvious to everyone, is to cobble together all the disparate groups who support it even if they don't necessarily agree on anything else at all.  There isn't much chance of reform happening this year, but if restrictionists are up in arms and refer to bipartisan dialogue as "scheming," then it suggests at least some belief that it could have legs.


Monday, February 07, 2011

Reagan and Panama

As the Ronald Reagan 100th birthday commemorations really get going, the Charlotte Observer notes the importance of North Carolina to his presidential aspirations, and reminds us how Latin America was the main connection.  What is perhaps most remarkable to remember is that Reagan successfully generated outrage at something that was irrelevant.

He had failed in his early primary challenges against President Gerald Ford. But when he got to North Carolina, his campaign was taken over by Republican Sen. Jesse Helms and his sidekick, Raleigh attorney Tom Ellis. They made the Panama Canal the signature issue, as Reagan pulled off a historic upset, breathing new life into his presidential effort.
"We bought it, we paid for it, it's ours and we're going to keep it," Reagan said of the canal.

The transfer of the Panama Canal was ultimately smooth, untraumatic, and perfectly compatible with U.S. national security to boot.  Even Henry Kissinger supported it, yet Reagan and Helms managed to get people riled up all the same.  Happy 100th!


Sunday, February 06, 2011

Latin America-Arab Summit blues

Last month I mentioned the Latin America-Arab Summit, which is coming right up.  At that point, the big issue was the string of governments recognizing the Palestinian state.  What a difference a month makes.  Now everyone is focused on Egypt, and as result the summit may be postponed.  It does not take too much reading between the lines to figure out why.  From Peruvian President Alan García:

"We understand that there is a severe problem of instability in the zone and some (leaders) are wary of leaving the area," Garcia said.

Put another way, authoritarian Middle Eastern leaders do not want to leave their countries and then suddenly find themselves ousted and not allowed back (or allowed back under arrest).


Saturday, February 05, 2011

Homecoming 5K

This morning was time once again for the UNC Charlotte Homecoming 5K, which circles around campus and is my favorite race of the year.  Since we will have a football program beginning in 2013, I am guessing the university will move Homecoming (and thus this race as well) to the fall.  That will be much nicer, because although I enjoy the run (despite pushing my constantly growing daughters in the jogger stroller) it is less pleasant when 38 degrees and rainy.


Friday, February 04, 2011

China message

From the Financial Times blog: these days the U.S. government has to try and convince people its economic influence is still greater than China's.  And, apparently, we make that argument essentially by saying that with Wal-Mart we can be just as cheap and anti-labor as China.


Thursday, February 03, 2011

Egypt and Latin America

Silvia Viña at Global Voices Online links to a number of blog posts, including mine, that compare the situation in Egypt with Latin America.  Some, like Boz, ask whether a similar situation could occur in Latin America now.  I see that as unlikely in large part because it already happened.  The past riots in Caracas and the protests in Bolivia and Ecuador, among others, uprooted deeply entrenched and corrupt regimes and installed very different ones that currently enjoy more popular support.  Later in Venezuela, the opposition tried to launch such a movement itself, failed, and then gave up the mass protest strategy.  I think the main current comparison to be made is with Cuba, where like in Egypt you have a long-standing personalistic dictatorship.  However, Cuba is even more repressive than Egypt, so the massive movement of people simply wouldn't be allowed, and it is hard to imagine security forces simply standing around.

So at least in my opinion the historical analogies--while imperfect--are best equipped to shed some light on the different possible directions Egypt might go.  If there is a contagion effect of some sort, I am not sure where we would likely see it.


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Piñera and Bachelet

Sebastián Piñera's approval rating dropped to 41% in January 2011.  Curiously, right about this same time in her presidency Michelle Bachelet started facing a similar crisis of confidence.  In January 2007 she fell to 47%, and then fell into a slide that brought down to 35% in September.  Of course, we need to remember that she ended her presidency at 83%.


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Hegemony and omnipotence

Media commentary on Egypt is echoing past arguments about Somoza's Nicaragua, Batista's Cuba, and the Shah's Iran (among others).  All of them confuse U.S. hegemony with omnipotence, and fail to comprehend the consequences of their policy prescriptions.  I thought of this as I happened to see Cal Thomas' opinion piece as I read today's Charlotte Observer.

The argument, made most prominently in the past by Jeane Kirkpatrick (which is why I have students in my U.S.-Latin American Relations class read her), goes along the following lines:

First, procedural democracy (or Dahl's basic idea of polyarchy) is not possible in these countries.

Second, the United States has the power to keep these authoritarian governments in power.

Third, it is necessary to keep those pro-U.S. authoritarian governments in power, because if they fall, an anti-U.S. totalitarian dictatorship will take its place.

Fourth, as a result the United States should support the authoritarian government's efforts to repress dissent as much as possible.

Fifth, if the U.S. does so, then the status quo will be maintained and the protests will disappear.

This is a vision where the U.S. controls all events, and mass protests are simple manipulations that do not reflect true popular opinion.  As such, they can be crushed without consequence, and neither U.S. national security nor the positive image of the U.S. will suffer.

It is, in short, a mirage.


More on 287(g)

The Migration Policy Institute just published an extensive study on the 287(g) program.  It has a number of findings, but a key one is that contrary to the government's stated aims, the program does not target criminal offenders, and tends to be oriented toward tossing people in jail.  Obviously, a major concern about 287(g) is that it would give law enforcement carte blanche to stop anyone anywhere for any reason based on a presumption of being in the United States illegally, thus fostering an environment of fear and mistrust of law enforcement.

Overall, the conclusion is that the program can be implemented in a way that targets criminal offenders and builds  bridges to the Latino community.  At present, however, there is too little attention being paid a) to the different ways 287(g) is implemented; and b) the specific pros and cons of all those different ways.


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