Friday, September 30, 2011

Obama and Hispanics

From Public Policy Polling:

There's been a lot of discussion in the last week about the role of the Hispanic vote in next year's election. Here's the bottom line on our polling: Obama's approval numbers with Hispanics are down. But Hispanic voters absolutely hate the GOP field. And because of that Obama's winning margins with Hispanics would be as large or even larger than they were in 2008 if the election was today and they'd be one of the key groups propelling him to reelection.

There is periodic talk about Hispanics voting Republican, but for Obama the real threat is if they just stay home. As they note, this is really important for Florida.


Immigration lawsuits

For a president ostensibly committed to immigration reform, Barack Obama has a funny way of showing it.  He already is deporting more people than any president in the history of the United States, and now is suing more states than ever before. From Politico:

The potential challenges come at an opportune time for the White House, which is seeking to boost Hispanic support for President Barack Obama’s reelection bid.

I don't see this boosting anything.  The only reason the Obama administration is suing left and right is that it has utterly failed to pass any meaningful immigration legislation.  These lawsuits only seek to re-establish the status quo ante, which was already broken.  They don't do anything to advance federal reform.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Unnamed sources

The world would be a much scarier place if "unnamed sources" actually told the truth much of the time.  They generally tell of impending death and destruction.  The latest viral news based on these unnamed sources is that Hugo Chávez is suffering from kidney failure.  He later called state television to say it was false.  If unnamed sources are right, then Fidel Castro has died about 20 times, there are Middle Eastern terrorists swarming the U.S.-Mexico border speaking bad Spanish, and the Bolivian navy is getting Iranian assistance to invade Chile (well, I made that one up, by which I mean I spoke to an unnamed source).


Latin America and the Middle East

The Financial Times provides details about the boom in trade between Latin America and the Middle East.  Brazil has been particularly active in promoting trade:

Brazilian exports to Iran surged more than sevenfold between 2000 and 2010, hitting $2.12bn last year, as slowing growth across the developed world forced the Latin American country to look further afield for trading partners.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, trade is expanding just as fast. Arab countries have also proved an invaluable source of income, with Brazilian exports to the Arab League reaching $12.6bn last year, up 34 per cent from 2009.

It is almost entirely focused on commodities:

In fact, Brazil’s top exports to Middle Eastern countries are all commodities. Sugar is the country’s biggest export to Egypt, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, while it is iron ore in the case of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. In return, Brazil mostly just buys oil.
Similarly, Argentina and Uruguay have become important sources of wheat for the Middle East.

Three points:

First, this can help us understand more why Latin American governments have become more vocal about Middle Eastern politics, even beyond just whether to recognize Palestine.  Their stake is growing.

Second, this serves to explain more why Iran is so interested in Latin America, beyond simply wanting to annoy the United States (which it very clearly does want to do).  Not everything is ideological.

Third, the article does point to initial efforts toward exporting goods other than commodities, such as Brazil's Embraer, but this sounds like a very familiar story.  Diversification of trading partners is good, but it needs to be accompanied more by diversification of exports.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Colombia and Israel

The administration of Juan Manuel Santos said it would abstain from a vote on Palestinian membership in the United Nations.  Now Santos is critical of Israel as well, telling the government to stop building in disputed territories.  Of course, Colombia has a close relationship with the United States, so refusing to vote did not come as a surprise.  Comments like these, however, show that abstention does not equate to agreement with Israel.  They are also another example of how much more Latin American presidents are becoming vocal about (and at times even involved in) Middle East politics.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Piñera's crash

This, my friends, is a serious crash.  Sebastián Piñera's approval is down to 22 percent.  From CERC:

Try to think of the most corrupt, reviled, and/or crazed presidents that you can.  They were likely still more popular than Piñera.  If you get any lower, than you are in Abdalá Bucaram territory (who dropped to 5 percent before being labeled as mentally unfit to rule).  That's like the Mendoza Line in baseball.


Exceptions to exceptionalism

We just started talking about Central America in my Latin American Politics course.  I begin by discussing some of the issues that all the countries face, then explain the ways in which Costa Rica is exceptional.  The idea that Costa Rica is different is pretty deeply ingrained, so in recent years it has been disconcerting to see more exceptions to that exceptionalism.  From InSight:

More money is laundered through Costa Rica than any other Central American country, according to a study presented by the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE).
Of the estimated $14 billion laundered in Central American countries between 2000 and 2009, more than $4 billion passed through Costa Rica’s financial sector,

Just another example of how overwhelming the drug trade can be.  A troubling addition is that DTOs have latched on to remittance financial institutions as a way to launder money.  Governments have been working for years to make it easier to send remittances, which then opens up the door to illegal money.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Mexican political cartoon

h/t Boz on Twitter regarding Mexican political cartoons that look at the government's war on drugs.  From Antonio Helguera:

Language translation: "I still remember the time when the trucks were full of dead voters."

The PRI is making a comeback despite that past history of fraud because the number of Mexicans dying as a result of DTOs is hurting the PAN.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rant on manuscript style fetish

In academic publishing it is time to stop fetishizing manuscript styles. This is something that has bothered me for quite some time, but came back to the fore this past week.  I had submitted an article to a peer-reviewed journal, and it was rejected.  OK, it's a bummer, you go over the manuscript and think of another journal (see my thoughts on that process from a 2006 article in PS: Political Science and Politics).  The first part of the problem is that the journal had very specific and very picky rules about how the manuscript should be formatted, with the warning that manuscripts not following the rules would be sent back immediately.  I had to spend time adhering to those rules, which now proves to be time flushed down the toilet.  Obviously I hoped that an acceptance would make me feel like that time had been worthwhile, but an hour or so of careful editing was a total waste.

The second part of the problem is that the second journal I am considering also has very specific and very picky rules, with dire warnings about not following them, but they bear no resemblance to the first.  Therefore if I want to submit, then I have to spend more time messing with the article manuscript to make it fit.

But why?

I can't think of any valid reason.  The content of the article is what matters, is what people pay attention to, and is what gets cited.  Who cares whether you followed a particular style guide?  It seems old fashioned and unnecessarily rigid.  Clarity is critical, but it can achieved in any number of ways. If you make an argument, I want to know what you base it on, but I don't care if that is a parenthetical, a footnote, or an endnote. I just don't care.

In the academic journal for which I am editor, The Latin Americanist, I make a point of allowing authors to use the style with which they're most comfortable.  In my opinion, the published articles really look largely the same.  Whether the bibliography uses the full name or just last name and first initial doesn't matter.  Or at least it shouldn't.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Venezuela: how not to run an economy

Here's how you shouldn't run an economy.  From Juan Cristóbal Nagel at Caracas Chronicles, the forms that Hugo Chávez signed when people asked him for money while he was in Havana.  The highlights:

--he can check off boxes, which include keeping the decision secret (permanently or for a specified amount of time) or tweeting it. Yes, Twitter is an official option.

--the boxes even include the unspecified option "otro" even though the other categories seem pretty exhaustive.

--a reminder that once elected, the president is a military officer (i.e. "Comandante Presidente")

From a pedagogical perspective, the photos of the form constitute a great visual image of clientelism.


Bicaudillismo in Nicaragua

Gabriel M. Telleria, "A Two-Headed Monster: Bicaudillismo in Nicaragua." Latin American Policy 2, 1 (June 2011): 32-42.


Since Spanish colonial times, Latin America has lived under the shadow of caudillismo. Today, caudillismo takes on a different form. I refer to this new phenomenon as “bicaudillismo”—a state of affairs in which two caudillos control and share extensive political power. Current President Daniel Ortega and former President Arnoldo Alemán spearhead the two largest and most powerful Nicaraguan political parties in caudillo-like fashion, exerting control over their respective parties, as well as over government institutions and individuals. The power held by Alemán and Ortega reached new highs in early 2000. In what Nicaraguans commonly refer to as “the pact,” Alemán and Ortega colluded with one another to back a series of constitutional reforms to the electoral law, resulting in a repartition of judicial, legislative, and electoral power. In this article I argue that, under the pact, Alemán and Ortega share political power in a fashion similar to two that of duopolistic firms in a market situation. Power is channeled through tit-for-tat strategies in which the actors engage in “signaling,” much as duopolistic firms do in a market situation.

An interesting take on power sharing. I like the term "bicaudillismo."

Weber and Parsons describe Ortega and Alemán, who not only have used their charismatic positions within their parties to “overthrow resistance,” but also have exerted their domination and will over individuals, institutions, and government branches through legal means, as well as illegal means such as sanctioning. Ortega has the power to “put Alemán in jail” when it suits him; Alemán on the other hand still exerts significant influence over the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Electoral Council. Without Alemán’s support, Ortega’s ability to govern is limited. 
Notwithstanding the seemingly hostile relationship between Alemán and Ortega, which at times has included aggressive tactics such as sanctioning and incarceration, both caudillos understand that, to maintain a balance of power that is favorable for both, they must be able to communicate and cooperate with each other.

So the essence of this particular brand of power sharing is fundamentally antagonistic, but it functions efficiently as long as both sides recognize how to maintain the balance of power.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Colombia and Palestinian membership

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is getting some domestic heat for his government's announcement that Colombia would abstain from a vote on Palestinian membership in the UN. An opposition party, the Polo Democrático Alternativo, as well as Colombia's Palestinian population, criticized the decision. Colombia happens to be more prominent than other Latin American countries because it currently holds a rotating seat on the UN Security Council--the other is Brazil, which has been very vocal about its support for a Palestinian state.

The Palestinians want nine positive votes for a moral victory (since of course the United States will use its veto power). Erik Voeten at The Monkey Cage analyzes the positions of the 15 members (though Colombia should not be listed as "in play").  I can't help but think back to 2003, when rotating members Chile and Mexico felt pressure from the U.S. to support use of force in Iraq. Both ultimately voted no.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Norm Coleman and Latin America

Mitt Romney has hired former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman to act as his foreign policy adviser, with a specific focus on the Middle East and Latin America.  After his infamous race with Al Franken, in April of this year Coleman joined a law firm to act as a lobbyist for businesses in Latin America and elsewhere.

Coleman has shown a lot of interest in Latin America, including on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations plus quite a bit of travel, and has been pretty moderate, even meeting with Hugo Chávez in 2005 and calling for an end to the embargo after a trip to Cuba.

He is in favor of free trade agreements (though wanted protection for Minnesota sugar beets), sees (or at least saw) Brazil as a model for Minnesota sugar beet ethanol, and was one of the senators who helped investigate Augusto Pinochet's illegal bank accounts.

Of course, neither the primary nor general elections will have anything to do with Latin America. Immigration, however, is more important.  He has has been part of efforts to reach out to Latino voters, so it will be interesting to see what type of rhetoric Romney uses as the campaign progresses. His record on immigration policy is mixed, though quite moderate for the Republican Party, as he has voted yes both on the DREAM Act and on more border fence.

The upshot: for Latin America he will hopefully push Romney to keep the rhetoric reasonable and counter the crazier claims that will certainly pop up during the campaign.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Internal migration in Mexico

Patrick Corcoran notes something that unfortunately will likely require more scholarly and policy attention: the growth of internal migration in Mexico, not only of individuals but of businesses, because of drug-related violence. Daniel Hernandez wrote a good article in the L.A. Times La Plaza blog about this last month, and how suddenly Mexico City has changed its image from the crime-ridden center of the country to a relatively safe haven.

Mexico has always experienced significant internal migration, particularly rural to urban, which accelerated after  NAFTA went into effect. The violence, however, adds an entirely new angle.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Understanding Latin American recognition of Palestinian state

At Foreign Policy Joshua Keating writes about how in retrospect the recognition of a Palestinian state by Latin American governments should be seen in the context of a careful Palestinian strategy:

At the time, the moves were mostly viewed in terms of what they said about Latin American politics, showing countries plotting a course independently of the United States with strong influence from non-aligned Brazil.
In the context of Palestinian negotiations with Israel, the support of say, Paraguay, didn't seem all that consequential. But with international recognition of Palestine very much on the world's agenda this week, the Palestinian overtures to South America make a lot more sense. Looking at the map above, Palestine is currently recognized not only by all four BRICs, by nearly the entirety of the developing world with the exception of a few pariah states like Eritrea and Burma and some pro-American bastions like Colombia and newly independent South Sudan.

I don't necessarily disagree, but I do think the question of why Latin American governments chose to do so should still be connected to Brazil's prestige.  If, for example, Venezuela had attempted to lead the way, then we might not have seen that string of announcements (on that point, Hugo Chávez wrote a letter to the UN claiming among other things that anti-Semitism is solely a western phenomenon). Probing that question of why would be a good research topic.


Obama's immigration strategy

Reuters gets to the heart of what I have argued before, namely that the Obama administration's immigration policies are often designed in such a way as to make everyone distrust them. Prosecutorial discretion makes Republicans think Obama is skirting the law and Democrats think that implementation may not make much difference and is simply a way of courting Latinos without addressing broader reforms.

This seeming contradiction between rhetoric and reality is a key element of debate over U.S. immigration policy, and stakes are high for 2012's presidential election as Obama faces criticism from both conservatives and liberals.

That's not how you win support.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Tax evasion in Latin America

Omar Sanchez, "Fighting Tax Evasion in Latin America: The Contrasting Strategies of Chile and Argentina." Third World Quarterly 32, 6 (2011): 1107-1125.

Abstract (full text is gated):

In the 1990s both Chile and Argentina embarked on efforts to tackle tax evasion. The strategies they pursued differed substantively: Argentina followed a coercive approach that created an elite audit team endowed with special legal powers, while Chile undertook a less spectacular service-oriented approach that improved the fiscal pact between state and society and enacted tax administration reform. Chile succeeded in permanently lowering tax evasion levels, while Argentina's success was short-lived and evasion levels soon returned to previous heights. Besides important differences in the institutional strength of these countries, the contrasting outcomes can be attributed in no small measure to the different strategies adopted. Their experience can provide some useful lessons in the elusive battle against tax evasion in Latin America.

Tax collection is a problem I keep coming back to in my Latin American politics course. This is a particularly vexing problem because of inequality. If tax evasion is rampant, then too little revenue comes in and the government relies on regressive taxes that hit the poor the hardest, thus exacerbating inequality. The question definitely deserves more scholarly attention.

Chile’s state-building and service-oriented approach was more solid in its foundations. The Chilean tax bureau improved significantly its methods for the gathering, management and analysis of tax information while it also made a giant leap in the quality of the services it offered taxpayers. Another element of Chilean success in the fight against evasion rested on moves towards greater transparency in the allocation of public expenditure, making clear to the public how new tax revenues were being spent. SII-sponsored polls conducted in the early 1990s provide evidence for this hypothesis.

The anti-evasion efforts analysed here show that state capacity cannot be readily separated from state legitimacy. Measures that enhance legitimacy contribute to state capacity. In an area like tax collection the goals of public policy cannot be adequately met by detached technocrats. Rather, tax administration output depends on the feedback from taxpayers as consumers of government services. Though not sufficient by itself, it stands to reason that a service-oriented approach (the carrot) constitutes an integral part of successfully fighting tax evasion in the developing world.

One problem here is that as Sanchez's historical look at Chile demonstrates, there is a long tradition of minimal corruption as well as technocratic efficiency lacking almost everywhere else. This means the lessons may be difficult to apply--you need the technocratic expertise before you can convince taxpayers to have any confidence. It would also be interesting to have a cross-national comparison of how much governments even try to use an Argentine-style coercive method, or whether policy makers collude with or ignore those who are not paying.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

A strategy of failure

The obsession with consensus that was a hallmark of the Concertación's governing style seems to extend to how it behaves out of power.  The Partido por la Democracia (PPD) argues that the coalition should expand to include previously excluded social and political groups, but the Socialists and Christian Democrats are not interested.  Instead, the PPD argues, they are trying to hang on to the status quo long enough for Michelle Bachelet to swoop back in and magically take the country back to a few years ago. From El Mostrador:

“Hay Bacheletistas que apuestan all in a que Michelle va a ganar y no quieren hacer nada que pueda provocar un desbalance de poder entre los partidos. No quieren más actores políticos”, asegura un socialista. Las opiniones están divididas dentro de la Concertación frente a la iniciativa liderada por el PPD, que llama a crear una nueva coalición de oposición que incluya a nuevos referentes políticos y sociales. Algo que el sector más conservador, agrupado principalmente en el bloque histórico PS-DC, va a resistir con todas sus fuerzas. “Todos los nostálgicos de Bachelet van a esperar la figura redentora y no van a realizar cambios. Son los suficientes para producir inmovilismo”, explica un importante político de izquierda.

The fact that the Concertación is deeply unpopular in large part because of this sort of attitude seems not to be registering too much.  In fact, the Concertación has become less popular while out of power. As the Piñera administration flails on several fronts, the Concertación not only cannot take advantage, but in fact suffers along with the president. Welcome to Chilean politics. Here is the Adimark chart from August 2011.

Side note: since when did "all in" enter the Chilean lexicon?


Saturday, September 17, 2011

The usual suspects

Erik Voeten has a post at The Monkey Cage about the UN vote on Palestinian statehood, specifically on the probable ways that specific countries will vote. On one point I have to disagree in part.

So what do we learn from this? A first conclusion is that it would be wrong to suggest, as so often happens, that the U.S. is alone in its almost unwavering support of Israel. At least, Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia follow the same course.

As soon as I read that, I thought of Cuba. The votes of these very small states have nothing to do with Israel. They have to do with voting with the U.S. no matter what. Year after year, countries vote overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. embargo.  And which tiny handful of states vote against or abstain? From 2010:

The final vote by U.N. member states was 187 in favor of ending the sanctions, with two countries — the United States and Israel — in favor of keeping them. The Marshall IslandsPalau and Micronesia abstained.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Charlotte as banana republic

Chiquita is potentially looking to move its headquarters from Cincinnati, and Charlotte may be in the running. And so like many small Latin American governments, the city council is considering how much money to throw at Chiquita.

Charlotte council members debated the Chiquita proposal for more than an hour. The size of the incentives is believed to be larger than the typical city package, which concerned some elected officials.

Chiquita, of course, has been in the news because of lawsuits related to its payments to Colombian paramilitaries, which it acknowledges but claims were extortion. For all the truly depressing details, check out this report from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. For the declassified documents, check out the National Security Archive, complete with Power Point presentations about "security payments."

I understand that bringing jobs to Charlotte is important, particularly in the context of Bank of America's cuts. This one, though, wouldn't be something to be very proud about.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guatemalan unemployment

I am trying to finish a textbook on Latin American politics, which has gone through a few rounds of very valuable reviews. As I work on the statistical updates for each country, though, I have a question that I cannot answer. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has loads of really good data, but for some reason the unemployment numbers for Guatemala have not been reported since 2004. Does anyone have any idea why? Suriname is the only other country to have seriously missing unemployment data (nothing since 2006) but the rest of the region has complete numbers.


Left or right in Latin America

Al Jazeera has been publishing some editorials about the dilemma of the Latin American left, by academics on the left. William Robinson argues that Rafael Correa and Evo Morales have essentially become prisoners of transnational capitalist forces. Manuela Picq criticizes Morales for ignoring indigenous demands in favor of extractive industry. Those came on the heels of an editorial by an environmental activist labeling Morales a hypocrite.

What's notable is that these sorts of discussions don't penetrate much into the U.S. media (and therefore not the U.S. public either). We remain stuck with the stereotype of leftists who blindly copy Hugo Chávez, or with a tiny bit more nuance are labeled "good" (Lula) or "bad" (Chávez). Yet there are intense debates going on within these countries, Bolivia most prominently, that are largely missed.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Commodities and discontent in Colombia

More on the downside of relying on commodity exports. In Colombia, even the vice president (Angelino Garzón, a former union leader) admits that there are problems serious enough to generate discontent.

To increase investment in oil wells and mines, President Juan Manuel Santos has lured international companies to Colombia by improving security. The government seeks higher metals and oil production while striking a balance with economic and social development, Garzon said.

Some foreign companies investing in Colombia have abandoned the social, labor and environmental “good practices” they follow in their home countries, he said.
“Here they do just the opposite,” he said. “Companies have to revise their practices.”

According to ECLAC, Colombia rebounded from 0.8% GDP growth in 2009 to 4.0% in 2010, and could reach 6.5% in 2011. This is yet another reminder that growth is not everything. Particularly since this complaint is coming from a right-leaning government (assuming others in the government agree with the vice president, which is not guaranteed) hopefully this will constitute a wake-up call.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chávez and 2012

Venezuelan presidential elections are normally held in December, but in 2012 will be held on October 7.  Of course, this has created all sorts of speculation given Hugo Chávez's health. The fact that no explanation was offered doesn't help.

Unlike in parliamentary systems, presidential elections tend to be quite fixed. Changes in election date are not unknown in Latin America, but tend to be associated with political crisis (counterexamples are welcome if anyone knows them). Indeed, the fixity is normally seen as a nice sign of political stability. There is no political crisis in Venezuela (polarization, yes, but not crisis) so Chávez's cancer becomes an obvious focus. It is hard to imagine, however, how two months will matter that much.  But obviously Chávez sees those two months as important for something.

From a purely pedagogical perspective, it works well for me. I normally teach Latin American Politics in the fall, so now the election will fall in the middle of the semester and should generate a lot of discussion.

See here for a nice rundown on Venezuelan elections under Chávez.


Ron Paul on immigration

I am not sure how I missed this until now, but from Ron Paul we have a truly unique take on building a border fence. For him, the problem with a wall is that it will keep Americans in, because they will be fleeing the United States because of economic crisis. I guess they will go to Mexico where, er, there are so few jobs that Mexicans are trying to cross the wall to come here. No, I don't get it either.


Monday, September 12, 2011

The election and the Guatemalan left

The Guatemalan presidential election will be going to a second round.  Otto Pérez Molina will go up against Manuel Baldizón on November 6, and almost certainly will win.

The Guatemalan left was routed, at least at the presidential level (I have not seen preliminary legislative results). There are a number of possible reasons, some generalizable and some not. In no particular order:

First, voters want a mano dura candidate, and a hardline retired general fit the bill. He clearly has no problem killing and/or torturing people.

Second, Alvaro Colom had sluggish approval ratings and high disapproval, so voters wanted change (meanwhile, he is off to be a professor at Georgetown; don't know if Sandra Torres is going with him). Correction: that is Alvaro Uribe, which even ruins my Torres reference. Apologies.

Third, Sandra Torres could not run and so the ruling party (UNE) ended up with no candidate, thus leaving voters on the left with too few options.

Fourth, massive amounts of narco-donations went more to the right. This is purely speculative, but it may well be that DTOs figure they can work with the traditionally corrupt right. There is some evidence to this effect with Pérez Molina.

See also:

--Mike Allison with a number of blog posts

--Al Jazeera on the traditional oligarchy vs. a new narco elite

--Americas Quarterly on women and politics in Guatemala

--The Economist on why Baldizón is someone to watch in 2015


Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years ago today

Ten years ago this morning I was in my office preparing for my Intro to Comparative Politics course. It was a really nice morning, clear and blue, very similar to today. In all classes, I spend a few minutes at the beginning getting students to discuss current events and to link them to the concepts and hypotheses they're learning. The first indication that something was wrong came when suddenly I could not open the New York Times, CNN, or any other major news site. I could go to non-news websites so it clearly was not a network problem, but those wouldn't load. Very shortly thereafter, my next door office neighbor at the time, Marc Wallace, knocked on my door and asked if I had heard the news (I don't know if I've ever told Marc that he pops into my head whenever I look back at 9/11). There had been some major attack on New York City. Initially that was all I knew. Eventually, CNN stripped down its website and just had a few basic links to news.

I went out to the department's work room, where someone was getting a TV set up and a group of us watched the images rather numbly, shaking our heads in shock as we saw and learned more. I went to class, where I could offer few details, but I moved up my planned lecture on terrorism to see if that would help students (not to mention me) make a little more sense of things. I talked about different ways (and how difficult it is) to define terrorism, why it is used, contemporary examples (though at that time I knew virtually nothing about Al Qaeda) and what the U.S. response might be. Much of it was extemporaneous so I can't remember 10 years later whether I pointed anyone in the right direction. I had other classes to teach later (where the attacks were all we talked about no matter what lecture I had planned) so during the day there was not much time to digest it.

I thought a lot about how only two days prior, my pregnant wife and I had left DC after the Latin American Studies Association meetings. Of course, like everyone else I was looking at the national and international implications, but especially in the context of terrorism I thought about how people can die simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Every year on 9/11, there are all sorts of articles about how the U.S. has changed, the long-term foreign policy shifts, permanent war, attacks on civil liberties, etc. but I keep coming back to the person who was glad they caught their flight and sits down with their coffee, to the fire fighter who thought this fire could be extinguished, to the people who received last phone calls, and to the people who felt their plane's nose turn and go straight to the Pennsylvania earth. And I thought (and still think) about how they were no different from me.


Saturday, September 10, 2011


Today we ran a 5K trail race held by a local Montessori school not far from our house (it was fun--any Charlotte readers should check it out next year). We haven't done many long races in the past few years, but the kids are getting into short ones. My son ran the 5K, then my older daughter ran the mile fun run afterward with me. I love running on cool, clear mornings.


Friday, September 09, 2011

U.S. border cities are safe

Myths about immigration are so difficult to puncture.  It's even harder when politicians who should know better continue to spread them.  The one about border violence is especially pervasive, particularly because it sounds logical--we hear about all this violence in Mexico, so U.S. border cities must be dangerous.

From Rick Perry in the last Republican debate:

"For the president of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas, and say that the border is safer than it's ever been, either he has some of the poorest intel of a president in the history of this country or he was an abject liar to the American people," Perry said. "It is not safe on that border."

And yet he is 100% wrong:

An extensive July 2011 analysis of crime data from Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico by USA Today found that "violent crime rates were on average lower in cities within 30, 50 and 100 miles of the border — the distances used to fit various definitions of the 'border region.'"Border cities in Texas were no exception.  

Perry's comments have angered El Paso's lawmakers and business leaders who have consistently disputed what they claim is political fear-mongering. 

"It's incredibly frustrating to have the governor of our state use the national stage to denigrate our community," El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar told the El Paso Times after the debate. "We are not unsafe. Every time he says that, it hurts us."

I don't know whether Perry believes what he says or not, but as governor he should access to basic facts. Drug trafficking and the violence associated with it are serious problems, but let's not make things up and let's not link them to immigrants. I wrote about the huge difference between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez over a year ago, and I expect I will be writing more in the future. Perry seems not to be able to distinguish between them.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Bush and Reagan on illegal immigration

You need to watch this.  From Alex Knapp at Outside the Beltway, a video from 1980 of candidates George Bush and Ronald Reagan being asked about illegal immigration. The compassion is striking, and so strikingly absent now.


Latin American growth and China

Andres Oppenheimer comes late to the idea that Brazil is not sitting meekly while China somehow overwhelms it.  This is not really new, but two things caught my eye:

First, according to a Brazilian paper 42% of Brazilian executives working for Chinese firms quit within the first year. If that is true, or even close to true, it highlights how complicated the relationship can be. Chinese companies need Brazilians to make things work, and alienating elites can sour everything.  It is not like a century ago when foreign companies came in, paid off elites, and extracted they wanted.

Second, he has a great quote, which I could see putting on a 3x5 card and pulling out anytime someone talks about the incredible recent economic growth in Latin America:

Unfortunately, some South American governments have been fooling their populations by claiming that their recent growth was due to novel economic policies, rather than by a Chinese buying spree that may not last forever.


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

What a steel

When I read that Brazil was slapping a tariff on Chinese steel, claiming unfair competition, I felt a sense of deja vu.  The wonders of Google quickly reminded me that in 2002 Brazil complained loudly about how the United States slapped a tariff on Brazilian steel, claiming unfair competition.

This is also a reminder that concerns about Chinese influence in Latin America need to be tempered by the acknowledgment that Latin American governments are keenly aware of the potentially economic effects of Chinese trade and investment, and are even actively working to ameliorate them.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Obama: wishy or washy?

Mitch McConnell has an op-ed in the Washington Post wondering why President Obama is not sending the Colombia, Panama and South Korea free trade agreements to Congress.  Even setting aside the article's bluster, Obama has a major problem with the FTAs that mirrors immigration policy.  In both cases, he professes a policy preference, and then appears to work against it, which then annoys supporters and opponents alike.  For immigration, he says he wants reform, but then aggressively pursues an enforcement-only strategy.  For the FTAs, he says he is for them and imposes some conditions, then once the conditions are met he does nothing.  Opponents of the FTAs are then mad that he expresses support in the first place, while supporters are mad that he does not follow through.


The military as entrepreneur

Kristina Mani, "Military Entrepreneurs: Patterns in Latin America." Latin American Politics and Society 53, 3 (Fall 2011): 25-55. Gated.


Despite the recent shift to democratic regimes and market-based economies, in many Latin American countries the military retains important economic roles as owner, manager, and stakeholder in economic enterprises. Such military entrepreneurship poses a challenge to the development of democratic civil-military relations and, by extension, to the development of liberal democracy in the region. While scholars have noted this situation with concern, they have given little attention to distinguishing the different types of military entrepreneurship, which reflect distinct historical patterns and implications. This article identifies two major types of military entrepreneurs in Latin America: industrializers, determined to build national defense capabilities and compete for international prestige; and nation builders, seeking to promote economic development that can foster social development and cohesion. Case studies of Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Ecuador demonstrate important differences between these two types in their origins, paths, and political consequences.

The transitions to democracy have tended to make the study of the armed forces less sexy.  What too many people seem to think is that the military disappears politically in a democratic context.  As a result, when civilian-military conflict (even if mild) pops up, then it seems surprising when it shouldn't.  What Mani does is focus on a specific way the military remains relevant, which is in economic terms.

Her basic argument is that militaries focused on defense/industrialization can benefit the country and work closely with other state actors, thus fostering cooperation.  Further, she argues that interdependence mean that such a focus can lead to improved relations with neighboring countries.  On the other hand militaries that have a strong role in nation building can be more problematic, as they generate their own independent bases of political support and become more autonomous.


Monday, September 05, 2011

Fox's "plan" in Mexico

In El Universal, Vicente Fox discusses having a ceasefire (tregua) with drug trafficking organizations.  He cites other examples, such as Chiapas, the Central American civil wars, as well as Colombia under César Gaviria and also Andrés Pastrana.  He acknowledges that each of these examples is quite different and had varying levels of success.

What I hope he does in future columns (which he says he will write) is to explain much more clearly how very different the DTOs are.  The other conflicts were ideological, fundamentally left-right.  The left was struggling against the more conservative status quo.  The essence of a ceasefire and dialogue was the belief that some sort of middle ground existed, or at least could be articulated.  Perhaps one or both sides rejected this middle, or felt it went too far in one direction or the other, but if no middle ground can be envisioned, then there is nothing to discuss.

This is problematic for the DTOs, which are not ideological.  They do not care if the president is Felipe Calderón or AMLO.  Their goal is profit, and their political stance at any given time will relate back to that. What middle ground is there? Fox even says he is not talking about negotiating or ceding anything.  If that is the case, then it seems he is hoping they will lay down their arms for the good the country.  That is not an "invitation to audacity."  That is an invitation to be ignored.

h/t Patrick Corcoran


Sunday, September 04, 2011

Submitting article manuscripts

From Inside Higher Ed, some good advice about sending article manuscripts out for review.  It is really important to be thinking about the most appropriate journal while you are writing.  Choosing an inappropriate journal can needlessly waste you months of time.  Your topic, argument, methodology, etc. are best for some journals and not others, so it is an important decision.

I would add that journals change over time, especially as editors come and go, so go over the table of contents of recent issues.  Very literally, an article that might have been published five or so years ago might not get consideration today.  And vice versa.

On the other hand, I would ignore the advice about removing your own published works from the bibliography in order to retain anonymity and replacing them with "Author."  I have never heard of this, and it is excessive.  In fact, if I were a reviewer I would find it annoying.


Timothy Henderson's Beyond Borders

For a well-written and judicious history of Mexican immigration to the US, then go read Timothy J. Henderson's Beyond Borders: A History of Mexican Migration to the United States (2011).  It would be great for a history course on immigration--I would consider using it in a political science course, but it does not get to IRCA until about two-thirds through.

There are two things I like in particular.  First, he is very careful to describe specific causes and effects--both intended and unintended--of immigration policy choices.  What policy makers believe will happen very often doesn't. Policies intended to stem immigration, for example, often increase illegal immigration instead.  In a short paragraph, for example, he does a great job of taking the logic of NAFTA apart.  Mexican President Carlos Salinas wanted immigration on the table, but U.S. officials said that was unnecessary because NAFTA would generate so many jobs in Mexico that the immigration problem would take care of itself.  Yet we know NAFTA's very uneven effects prompted more illegal immigration.

Second, and related, the historical emphasis demonstrates how much continuity there is in immigration policy, and how little we learn.  Domestic political pressures, economic pull factors, xenophobia, racism, security concerns, you name it: we've seen it before, and lurch along pretending that we are truly getting a grip on the issue.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio sounds exactly the same as Los Angeles police chief Roy Steckel, who blamed Mexican immigrants for the crime rate and so in 1931 got federal help to launch raids.  Ultimately these had no effect on either crime or unemployment.  And too few seem to learn this.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Palestinians in Central America

Manzar Faroohar, "Palestinians in Central America: From Temporary Emigrants to a Permanent Diaspora." Journal of Palestine Studies 40, 3 (Spring 2011): 6-22.


The article presents an in-depth examination into the diaspora of Palestinians in Central America throughout the 20th century. An overview is presented citing data from interviews and government documentation evaluating the scope of the Palestinian population in Honduras and El Salvador. Accounts are given mapping two major immigration movements, one in the 1910s and 1920s and the other spanning in the post-1967 era. Details are provided noting the economic success of the Palestinians in Central America, their struggles with discrimination, and their eventual cultural assimilation. The extent to which Palestinians engage in Central American politics is also analyzed.

This is particularly relevant given all the discussions about Latin American governments recognizing the Palestinian State.  As Mike Allison very recently noted, El Salvador just did so.  One interesting point the article makes is that the Palestinian community is mostly conservative and supportive of U.S. policy in the region.  In other words, they may disagree about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but likely agree with the U.S. on most everything else.  Unfortunately, alarmists in the U.S. tend to view them as a threat.


Friday, September 02, 2011

Red Hot Chile Protests

I recommend this analysis by Pancho Díaz and Robert Funk on the broader implications of the student protests in Chile.  The essence is that Chilean democracy is not under attack, but given stifling institutional constraints there is growing pressure for plebiscitary democracy rather than representative democracy.  Indeed, much of the U.S. media ignores the fact that the students have been calling for a plebiscite, but its details--or even its usefulness--are a very hot topic.  What they argue in the article is that politicians, especially younger ones, need to demonstrate that they deserve to lead.

I have pointed to similarities between the U.S. and Chile with regard to disgust with parties and the legislature, yet it is notable that in the U.S. the plebiscitary pressures are at the state level, not the national.  The Tea Party dislikes Congress, yet still wants to work through Congress.


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Stating the blatantly obvious

Love this headline from the Washington Post:

Casino Massacre in Mexico May be Rooted in Corruption

It may be?  Of course it was!  At least now there appears to be concrete evidence, which should surprise no one.

Calderon cast the attack as a galvanizing moment in his administration’s battle against the cartels, characterizing the tragedy as a steep escalation of the conflict between security forces and gangsters who increasingly target civilians. 

But a video and series of photographs showing the brother of Monterrey’s mayor receiving bundles of cash at a casino days before the massacre suggest its origins might lie in the old, familiar networks of corruption that have long plagued the country and nurtured the rise of organized crime.


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