Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Poverty in Latin America

The good news is that according to ECLAC, poverty in Latin America has decreased over the past two decades, from 48.4% to 31.4%. What I found interesting is that although the top reducers reflect different ideological models, the clear losers are those with close ties to the United States and predominantly market-oriented policies since 1990:

Among the countries that saw the biggest drops in poverty are Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. 
Poverty increased only in Honduras and Mexico.

Well, and there that whole unconstitutional coup thing. Those don't tend to help the poor.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Safety in Mexico

Quite sad, when the local population has to hope for a pact with gangsters in order to see holy relics without getting shot. Such is the case in León, Guanajuato.

Al respecto de la seguridad, el Arzobispo José Guadalupe Martin Rábago dijo que las reliquias estarán seguras, y de los pandilleros dijo que no hay problema alguno. 

Estamos seguros de que se firmará el pacto entre los pandilleros y no habrá peligro alguno.
Very notable is that the article never mentions political authorities at all. The church just negotiates directly with the gang members.


Monday, November 28, 2011

North, not south

Foreign Policy has a list of 10 stories you might have missed over the past year. This one is misleading: "Mexico's Drug War Moves South." It details how "Mexico's" war has started to hurt Central America.

Until now, the cocaine itself has been processed almost exclusively where coca is grown in the Andean region of South America. But in March, the first cocaine-processing lab ever discovered in Central America was found in Honduras. In El Salvador, which has also seen its crime rate skyrocket, Sinaloa and the Zetas are believed to have established alliances with local gangs such as the infamous Mara Salvatrucha. 
This isn't just Mexico's drug war anymore.

The problem is that this is a crisis that has moved northward, not southward. Coca is not grown in Mexico, and cocaine is not processed--yet, anyway--in Mexico. We're just seeing more balloon effect, dating way back to the 1980s in Bolivia. As long as demand remains high, then various aspects of drug trafficking move around the region, with the constant creation and destruction of DTOs, both large and small.

Lastly, we always need to remember that drug demand in the United States largely fuels this, so it is not "Mexico's war" any more than it was "Colombia's war." Regardless, it did not start in Mexico and then flow south.


IMF and Latin America

So let's get this straight. European governments want Latin America (and the BRICS countries more broadly) to cough up hundreds of millions of dollars to the IMF to prop up Europe. However, they refuse to give those countries any more influence in the IMF.

Now, as their economic weight increases, Brazil and the other so-called BRICS nations of Russia, India, China and South Africa, want reassurances that the IMF will push ahead with changes to quotas, which determine a member country’s voting rights and access to IMF funding. 
“We want to know the plans for the next steps in the IMF governance reform, which is the discussion on the formula for calculating quotas,” Carlos Cozendey, the Brazilian Finance Ministry’s international affairs secretary, said by phone. 
With many European countries still hesitant to yield power at the IMF, Lagarde will be unlikely to make specific pledges in her meetings with the presidents and economic officials of the three countries.

Remember that Agustín Carstens had been pushed for the IMF position but lost. I would expect some hardball, though it might be almost entirely behind closed doors. Maybe a pledge of money now, with announcement of some sort of reforms in coming months?


Sunday, November 27, 2011

More on Newt and immigration

From a 2004 letter to the Wall Street Journal, with Newt Gingrich as one of the signers:

“The president has shown courage by calling on Congress to place reality over rhetoric and recognize that those already working here outside the law are unlikely to leave,” the letter states. “Congress can fulfill its role by establishing sufficient increases in legal immigration and paths to permanent residence to enable more workers to stay, assimilate, and become part of America.”

It is simply beyond bizarre that something so commonsensical and self-evident is now the object of scorn by the right.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

So much for unity

Should we be too surprised that Latin American countries can't agree on currency swaps or pooling reserves? The same logic about monetary union applies. The governments of the region get along quite well--which really annoys Alvaro Uribe--but are very hesitant to link their economic fortunes together too tightly. Indeed, coming to some sort of broad agreement would be a major accomplishment. There is always going to be a collective action problem (assuming, that is, that a collective approach is the best strategy, which I suppose is up for debate) but Latin America already has a long history of failing to establish regional unity.


Luis Sepúlveda's The Shadow of What We Were

Luis Sepúlveda's The Shadow of What We Were (translated 2010) is a quick and funny (including a quick rant about café con piernas, which I had never thought of in political terms) novel about former militants in Chile trying to figure out their lives long after the Allende and Pinochet governments--which defined their very existence--are long gone. Sepúlveda himself was imprisoned for two years and then fled to Europe, where he still lives. He knows of what he speaks.

They've lost their revolutionary fervor, but they still want to fight against the postauthoritarian protection enjoyed by those who ruled during the dictatorship, especially those--like Pinochet himself--who looted the treasury with impunity. So they remember the past and plot one last mission.

Although they remain dedicated to their cause, there is also the sense that much of what they liked was the camaraderie, since in retrospect so many of their actions appear self-indulgent. As one character remembers:

There in the middle of the assembly, Coco Aravena felt euphoric. The commission for agitation and propaganda of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Revolutionary Party Mao Tse-Tung Thought, Enver Hoxha Tendency, which was very different than the liquidationist clique that called itself the Marxist-Leninist Communist Revolutionary Party, Mao Tse-Tung Thought, Red Flag Tendency, had commissioned him to read a resolution from the central committee, a resolution destined to change history (p. 98).

It's odd, but for some reason I thought of a movie as I got to the end of the book, a movie I have not seen in  some 25 years. This image clinched it:

The four men looked at each other. Fatter, older, bald or with graying beards, they still cast the shadows of what they were. 
"Well, are we in?" Garmendia asked, and the four men clinked their glasses in the rainy Santiago night (p. 110).

The movie is Going in Style, a 1979 film with George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg as old men who plan a bank robbery to "go in style." Even if Sepúlveda doesn't know the movie, I get the feeling he would appreciate it. Same type of dark humor, with the common theme of bank robbery to boot.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Automatic voter registration in Chile

In Chile there is of course a considerable gulf between politicians and youth. A group of Chilean academics and politicians hopes to make it easier--indeed, automatic--to register to vote, thereby forcing politicians to pay attention and giving young Chileans a way to participate that doesn't just involve going to the streets. From Robert Funk:

Automatic registration was actually part of 2009 constitutional reforms, but Congress has not approved the law necessary to implement it. Here is a good summary. The upshot is that young Chileans don't register--not only is that typical of younger people, but the fines associated with compulsory voting give them an incentive not to register in the first place. Why register when you're going to be punished for it for the rest of your life? The new law would end that.

Overall, some five million people, most of them young and not well off, would suddenly be more empowered than they previously were. That could have much more political impact than street protests. Electoral law doesn't seem as exciting, but it can be a game changer.

The Chilean Library of Congress has a nice summary of the 2009 constitutional reforms, along with then President Bachelet's praise for them (btw, did anyone know that until 1969 the blind could not vote in Chile? I did not.Yikes.). On this point, she is exactly right:

En tiempos actuales, la democracia puede verse amenazada no tanto por quienes quieren imponer una tiranía, sino por la indiferencia y el escepticismo de los ciudadanos. Porque la automarginación de grandes sectores, equivale a dejar los asuntos políticos en manos de poca gente, y eso sí que debe preocuparnos.

Yet two years later the "poca gente" have yet to release their grip.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

More on Gingrich and immigration

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic gets Newt Gingrich and immigration half right and half wrong. The idea that Mitt Romney will try to prove his anti-immigrant credentials, which the DNC can then try to use against him makes sense:

If Gingrich and Romney publicly argue over immigration, the DNC and Obama 2012 will do everything they can to reproduce this debate before college-educated white voters in Virginia, North Carolina, the Rust Belt and elsewhere. It's a perfect time, because the national electorate is starting to wake up and pay attention to the race. Now is the time when Mitt Romney, the guy who Chicago expects will be the nominee, is at his most tender, most doughy, and most mold-able.

But I have not seen any evidence that college-educated voters--or very many people in any category--in North Carolina or Virginia will vote based on immigration.  I know the media loves that angle, but polls never support it. I cannot see this affecting the race more than marginally in those states. I could be wrong, but my sense is that there are few eligible voters unaware of how the immigration debate is portrayed by both parties. Are there any voters out there who in coming months will say, "I wasn't sure before, but now I realize what Mitt Romney thinks about immigration and I am going to vote accordingly?"

He notes studies of how there will be more non-white eligible voters in these states, but African Americans will not vote based on immigration, and the Latino electorate is currently extremely small in new gateways like North Carolina. So at least for now I see more smoke and less fire.


Fake facts at the debate

Boz writes about the mentions of Hezbollah in Latin America during the Republican debate. Turns out the candidates' sole sources of information are Roger Noriega and José Cárdenas, both of whom routinely make stuff up (read that last link, where Noriega admits how much his argument is speculative). It is a classic case of unsupported assertions being repeated to the point that people don't realize the original argument provided little evidence. A bunch of prominent Republicans repeated it, so it must be true.

What am I thankful for? Facts, accuracy, and arguments made in good faith, all of which are lacking here.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

QOTD: Immigration

The whole thing is a colossal waste of money.
--Douglas Massey on immigration enforcement. Read the Economist article.


Republicans on immigration

Newt Gingrich was open about how he disagrees with the restrictionist wing of the Republican Party. From yesterday's debate:

"I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century," Gingrich said at the CNN debate on foreign policy in Washington, near the White House. 
"And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, let's be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families," Gingrich said. 
The former House speaker said recent immigrants should be sent home if they are found out, but "if you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out."

Good for him. As I've written before about Perry, you can win the Republican nomination even without catering to restrictionism--immigration is not nearly as salient a topic as the media likes to claim. Gingrich has next to no chance of being that person, but in fact the view laid out above is pretty much identical to Ronald Reagan, who given many public statements on the matter would clearly disagree with the Republican base on immigration.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Austerity and populism part 2

I mentioned earlier today that the potential for populist backlash to austerity doesn't get much attention, then very soon thereafter read this article in The Economist addressing that very issue. What's odd, though, is that it only focuses on the fringe right:

These movements are sometimes described as neo-fascist. Some of them indeed are, and all of them embrace odious and intolerant views of one sort or another. But to dismiss them as fascist, and thereby safely rule them out of European political life, offers the liberal mainstream false comfort. Over the past few years populists have found ways to set themselves apart from a neo-Nazi ideology. Many support gay and women’s rights (all the better, they think, to bash the Muslims), and many are fervently pro-Israel. They are here to stay. 

Europe’s populists are not likely to form governments; they lack the votes and are completely unequipped for office. However, mainstream politicians do not know how to see them off. So their obsessions and their resentments have seeped into the debate, even among those who would never vote for them.

Latin American populism is predominantly leftist. Are the majority of European populists on the right, or are they just the attention-grabbers? Say all you want about left-wing populism, but the European right is more ugly, more dangerous, and more violent. So that's even more scary.

Anyway, European populism is increasingly popular, as the article notes. Be as dismissive as you want, but when people suddenly lose their jobs, see prices of previously subsidized goods increase, watch their safety net evaporate, experience wage stagnation even when they're employed, and hear that this is shared sacrifice, then naturally the status quo loses its luster.


Austerity and populism

I know Juan Manuel Santos and every other Latin American president tingle with the irony of Europe facing severe debt problems yet not wanting to impose austerity measures. From Reuters:

Santos, who is visiting London to boost trade and investment in Latin America's third most populous country, said his biggest worry was "that the industrialised countries are not capable of taking the correct decisions and showing the world they can get out of their crisis". 
Asked what those decisions were, Santos said: "The same decisions that those same countries told us in Latin America to take a few years ago. Exactly the same ones."

OK, but also remember that Latin American populism did not come of an economic vacuum, which is something no one seems to be discussing when they call for politically insulated technocrats to run economies and do "what's necessary." Those who call for structural adjustment in Europe should keep that in mind.

Imagine a scenario where a government that used to be flush imposes severe austerity measures, thus prompting riots. It even decides to bring in the army. Then it turns out factions of the army aren't so happy with fat cat government officials enacting policies under international pressure that increase poverty. Some of those officers in turn try to overthrow the government. When they fail, one in particular decides to go ahead and run for president on a revolutionary platform. The ruling class is in such disarray and so delegitimized that it can't do much more than watch as he wins. In the absence of shock therapy, that sequence of events would not have occurred.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Job opening

For readers from academia, please pass the following along to anyone who might be interested. As Director of Latin American Studies, I am on a search committee for the Department of Africana Studies. The position is open to all humanities and social sciences.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Department of Africana Studies

Assistant Professor, African Diaspora/Latin American Studies:

The Department of Africana Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor position with specialization in the field of African Diaspora in Latin America to begin August 2012. The position is open to all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Applicants are required to have a Ph.D. at the time of appointment, show evidence of a strong potential for professional development as a scholar and teacher, and demonstrate commitment to promote diversity and community engagement as a value in the department and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Desired qualifications include interest in environment, health and/or digital humanities.

This hire is one of two new positions in the Africana Studies Department and the Department of History, as part of an initiative to enhance the study of Latin America and the African Diaspora in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  The College currently houses and supports two scholarly associations dedicated to the study of Latin America: the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies, and the Conference on Latin American History.

The successful candidate will have his/her tenure home in the Africana Studies Department. He/she will teach undergraduate and graduate level courses in both Africana Studies and Latin American Studies, including courses in his/her area of research. He/she is expected to maintain regular high-quality publication, seek external funding, advice students, and contribute to the governance of the department and the university.  The Africana Studies Department is an interdisciplinary academic unit focusing on the study of Africa and the global African Diaspora with emphasis on culture, history, social policy, and entrepreneurship. More information about the department can be found at

Screening of applications will begin December 11, 2011 and will continue until the position is filled.  Applications must be made electronically at (position #1501) and should include a cover letter, CV, and a writing sample not to exceed 30 pages.  Three letters of recommendation should be mailed separately to Chair, African Diaspora in Latin America Search Committee, Department of Africana Studies, UNC Charlotte, Charlotte, NC 28223.  Informal inquiries can be directed to the department chair, Professor Akin Ogundiran at or to the search committee chair at 

The University of North Carolina UNC Charlotte is an urban research university, an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer, and an ADVANCE Institution. 


Jorge Castañeda's Mañana Forever

Jorge Castañeda's Mañana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans (2011) is an effort to explain underdevelopment and democracy deficiency in Mexico. It is mostly about how Mexicans are too individualistic. I found it unsatisfying, in large part because of a contradiction that he lays out in two separate sentences in the very first page of the preface:

This is not a book about the Mexican national character, but about some of the country's most distinguishing origins or features, and their consequences.

Then three sentences later:

It seeks to explain why the very national character that helped forge Mexico as a nation now dramatically hinders its search for a future and modernity.

The book is therefore simultaneously about and not about national character. This causes analytical problems all along the way. He notes something the colonial government did, says it is silly to claim Mexicans still follow the same patterns, then argues that they do. He really does not want to over-simplify a la Samuel Huntington or Lawrence Harrison, but consistently does so anyway. For example, Mexicans are bad at soccer and that helps explain why the Chiapas uprising went nowhere (seriously, that is not much of an exaggeration).

There's more, such as the idea that Mexicans avoid confrontation and controversy, and so democracy has been very slow to take hold. There just seem to be so many counter-examples--AMLO in 2006 being a very prominent one. That was my reaction to much of the book.

I also kept thinking about how the U.S. is considered highly individualistic yet has a different political and economic trajectory than Mexico. Thus, the independent variable is not convincing. It also complicates his conclusion, namely that emigration to the United States may help change Mexican culturally for the better: "it should be enough to detonate basic modifications in Mexican individualism" (p. 258). But how does one type of individualism detonate the other?


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Who will woo who?

In the "wishful thinking" category, from the Associated Press:

Hispanics emerged as a pivotal vote in New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Florida in previous elections, but this cycle the Latino focus has extended to Missouri, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina, where Hispanics grew by up to 90 percent in the past decade. Those swing states will not only decide whether Obama stays in office, they are also home to the nation's most competitive Senate races.

The thrust of the article is that the Democratic Party will court the Hispanic vote. I will just comment on North Carolina. The problem with this argument is that it equates population growth with registered voters. In North Carolina, about 1.2% of registered voters are Hispanic. In my home county (Mecklenburg County), which went  for Obama in 2008, that percentage was up a bit, to 2.2%. Any wooing that occurs will therefore be aimed more at the future than the present. Don't get me wrong--Democrats will spend money on Spanish-language media, etc. but from a hard-headed outcome-based perspective I wouldn't expect that effort to extend too far.

For states that have seen a dramatic increase in their Hispanic population only in the past decade or so, we will not see a high percentage of registered voters for the following reasons:

1. Many people are in the country illegally
2. Their children, many of whom are citizens, are not old enough to vote
3. The Latino population overall is relatively young, and the young register in smaller numbers

This will change every year, and the Latino population in NC will become more politically influential. But in 2012 that population will not decide much. It is notable that the reporter did not actually ask anyone about North Carolina or Virginia, but just mentioned them without any evidence.

In North Carolina at least, look for the Democratic Party and Obama himself to focus on the African American population. That population turned out at a higher rate than whites in 2008, which is remarkable and will be tough to replicate while the economy is in the tank. But he needs it.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Bare knuckles or velvet gloves?

Great question: in order to defeat Hugo Chávez in 2012, should the Venezuelan opposition presidential candidates bloody each other with bare knuckles in primaries rather than maintain unity by using velvet gloves? Juan Cristóbal Nagel says yes. Some commenters, including co-blogger Francisco Toro, say no. Others are in between.

Juan argues that going at each other gets all the bad stuff out in public early, so everyone knows about it well before the general election. He notes that Barack Obama was hammered by Hillary Clinton but still won the general election. On the other hand, Americans are used to the system and Venezuelans have never experienced a presidential primary process. Will they react the same way?

For some context in the U.S. case, consider this 1998 article by Lonna Rae Atkeson in American Journal of Political Science:

Theory: The divisive primary hypothesis asserts that the more divisive the presidential primary contest compared to that of the other party the fewer votes received in the general election. Thus the party candidate with the most divisive primary will have a more difficult general election fight. However, studies at the presidential level have failed to consider candidate quality, prior vulnerability of the incumbent president or his party, the national nature of the presidential race, and the unique context of each presidential election campaign. Once these factors are taken into account presidential primaries should have a more marginal or even nonexistent effect in understanding general election outcomes.
Hypothesis: Including appropriate controls for election year context in a state-by-state model and creating a national model that controls for election year context, candidate quality, and the nature of the times should diminish the effect of nomination divisiveness on general election outcomes.

In other words, it may not matter much.


Tinkering at the margins

You just cannot win over immigration reform advocates by saying that you'll try to tinker at the margins with your enforcement-oriented immigration policy. From the L.A. Times:

Administration officials say the goal is to focus enforcement on deporting people who have committed crimes. But the effort also has a political context. Obama has been criticized by Latino activists for deporting a record number of illegal immigrants even as the president has publicly called for reforms. With Congress unwilling to approve immigration legislation, administration officials have been looking for actions they can take on their own.

As I've argued, it is highly likely that this is really all Obama has to offer, and it's not much.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

U.S. and Brazil

Dan Runde at Shadow Government is 100% correct that the U.S. should work more closely with Brazil, but I'm not so sure about his arguments to that effect. He says it should be a priority to name a high level ambassador, seemingly not knowing there already is one (Thomas Shannon). He says Brazil has been too self-involved to have a good relationship with us, not seeming to realize that insulting the country is not the best way to generate cooperation. He labels Dilma Rousseff as "Pro-American," seemingly not understanding that the term is simplistic and misleading. Finally, he says we need more government bureaucracy in order to have a good relationship, which is odd given that the blog is conservative.

But maybe U.S.-Brazilian relations could be a bipartisan project, even if there is disagreement on specifics.

Actually, one last point. Is "influencer" a real word?


Cuban economic reforms

Collin Laverty at the Center for Democracy in the Americas has a great (and lengthy) analysis of Cuban economic reforms and optimal U.S. responses: Cuba's New Resolve: Economic Reform and its Implications for U.S. Policy.  It is a highly detailed (including 127 endnotes) and quite balanced analysis of why the reforms are occurring, how likely it is they will last, and how Cubans perceive them. Their main conclusion is that the reforms are halting, imperfect, and difficult, but are here to stay.

The following is a great way to sum up how U.S. policy toward Cuba should be formed.

We believe the right way for the United States to assess the reforms is  to ask whether they will enable Cubans to lead more prosperous lives and  then determine how our country can best support this process. Economic  stability in Cuba would allow its citizens to better share in civil society and in participatory politics (p. 60).

For those who support continuing the embargo, Cubans becoming better off right now is actually viewed as bad--we've been trying very hard for decades to keep them impoverished. If they become more affluent, this argument goes, they will support the dictatorship more. That is, of course, the exact opposite of what the U.S. argues for every other country moving away from Communism.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nominating to lose?

Imagine the following. After a close race in 1960, Richard Nixon goes nuts, starts living in a tent with his followers in Washington, DC, and then travels around the country telling everyone he sees that John F. Kennedy is not the real president. Given that situation, do you think he'd have a chance to win again in 1964 or 1968?

That is essentially what the PRD is hoping for now, because the party nominated Andrés Manuel López Obrador as its presidential candidate for 2012.

The person who is likely the happiest with that outcome is the PRI's Enrique Peña Nieto, who now solidifies his position as favorite. We've got another year to go, so a lot can happen, but AMLO starts in a deep hole. There is a large chunk of the electorate that simply won't vote for him. A recent poll showed 35% of Mexicans had a negative or very negative view of him.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Migrant leaving or not

This headline from Fox News Latino caught my attention: "Growing Number of Migrants are Leaving US for Latin America." This didn't make much sense to me. There has been abundant evidence that migrants are not leaving in large numbers, and we just learned that remittances to Latin America are up, which means people are staying abroad.

So what is the evidence that they're leaving?

When the United States economy tanked after the real estate bubble burst, undocumented immigrants returned in droves to Latin America, especially those who worked in the construction sector, according to a study from the Economic Policy Institute. Since then, the return rate has decreased but is still higher than usual, advocates say, citing anecdotal evidence.

Ouch. News stories should never be based on advocates citing anecdotal evidence. Circular migration is eternal, which means you will always find people who are leaving, but that is not equivalent--at least yet--to a trend of more people deciding to leave and never return.

In other words, this could be a trend, but the article fall far short of providing evidence for it. It would, in fact, be a welcome one since it would indicate confidence in Latin American economies. But I am not yet convinced.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Latin America links

Some Latin America-related links:

--Feet in 2 Worlds looks at the fallout of the Russell Pearce recall

--Joshua Keating at FP about how bad Mariela Castro made herself look on Twitter

--Yoani Sánchez gives her version of the exchange

--Robert Funk on student politics in Chile

--COHA concludes unsurprisingly that the UK doesn't care much about Latin America

--Juan Cristóbal Nagel on the opposition's debate in Venezuela


Sunday, November 13, 2011

The US and Latin America

Charles Shapiro at UCSD's Institute of the Americas has an op-ed in the Miami Herald about how the United States ignores Latin America. I recently commented on another similar type of argument, and have the same reaction. I do not agree that Latin America's reaching out to Asia and other parts of the globe have much to do with the United States. That process was occurring regardless of what the U.S. did.

One of my objections to these arguments is that they implicitly (or perhaps even explicitly) suggest that if the U.S. had somehow paid more attention, it could have prevented China from becoming more influential. I don't see how. Does anyone really believe that if the U.S. Congress had ratified the Colombia FTA in 2006, that China would be less influential?

Such an assertion is too U.S.-centric for my taste. China wants commodities and will pay well for them. The United States cannot do anything about that capitalist reality. If George W. Bush had paid tons of attention to Latin America, that reality would not have changed one iota.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Obama's immigration problem and what it means for 2012

If in your spare time you write about Obama and immigration, but the result is much too long (5000ish words) for a blog post and much too pitched at a general audience for an academic article, then what to do? The answer: see if you can sell it. If you have a Kindle or a device with the Kindle app, then my Obama's Immigration Problem and What it Means for 2012 can be had for 99 cents through Amazon. Whether anyone buys it remains an open question, but it's a fun experiment.


More from Roger Noriega

Just yesterday I referred to Roger Noriega, and by coincidence today saw this short paper he just published about Hugo Chávez. There is so much wrong in so few pages that I hardly know where to start.

First, he cites anonymous sources, which he's done in the past with truly ridiculous claims. Why should we trust these supposed sources? Because, he says, they have given him "reams of documents." Make of that what you will.

Second, he claims that in 2003 he started the policy of not antagonizing Hugo Chávez. That is frankly laughable. The early part of the Bush administration was a disaster in that regard until Thomas Shannon took over. You will not find many people outside Roger Noriega who think it was due to Roger Noriega.

Third, he claims that Venezuela is at war with the United States. That is too absurd to comment on, really.

Fourth, he claims that both China and Russia are in a "conspiracy" (Noriega's term, not mine!) against the United States. He does not explain what this conspiracy is all about, but says they want to do "bad things." That is a direct quote. What these "bad things" consist of is left to our paranoid imagination.

It seems the main idea for the article was to discuss the political implications of Chávez's cancer, which is a good topic, but Noriega spins out of control within the first few sentences.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Walser and Latin America

I felt pretty confident that the Obama administration's renewed ties to Bolivia would generate outrage on the right, but did not know it would even involve gay slang. The following is from Ray Walser at the Heritage Foundation, who is also a key Latin America adviser to Mitt Romney:

The State Department argues that having ambassadors in Quito and La Paz would facilitate contacts and allows us to work—despite our chasm of differences—on themes of common interest. But its limp-wristed, turn-the-other cheek diplomacy hardly serves to defend U.S. interests and prestige.

This is the best criticism Romney's key adviser has? Just quoting Roger Noriega (who spouts truly crazy stuff) and then claiming President Obama sashays around Latin America? Let's go back to the Bush era when our prestige was so high...oh wait.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Non-answers to Honduran human rights

Would you like to know how much the U.S. government cares about human rights abuses in Honduras? This State Department Q&A tells the story.

QUESTION: Yesterday, I had a couple of questions about Honduras. Toria said she’d take them. Do you know –
MR. TONER: I think we did issue those. I thought we did, Matt, before the briefing. My apologies if we did not.
MR. TONER: But there is a taken question that’s been released.
QUESTION: (Off-mike.)
MR. TONER: Yeah. So I’ll point you to those. Anything else?
QUESTION: Okay. Well, can I ask someone to read it?
MR. TONER: Can I ask someone? (Laughter.) I can –
QUESTION: Does it actually answer the question? Now, my bet is that it doesn’t answer the question.
MR. TONER: This is so real time. It’s so connected.
QUESTION: My bet is that the answer is not very responsive.
MR. TONER: I don’t know, Matt. I can tell you that it does speak to –
QUESTION: As I expected.
MR. TONER: It does speak to our ongoing dialogue with – on human rights issues with the Honduran Government, and it certainly talks about our work with the Honduran military to build a better, stronger institution, no doubt, but also to build one that’s respectful of human rights and also – go ahead.
QUESTION: I just – I don’t see anything in here about elite DEA commando squads launching raids and – but anyway, I’ll talk to you about it later. Thank you, though, for the taken question.
MR. TONER: Very good. Are we done? Thanks, everybody.

No need to answer the questions, just have a good laugh and then go home.


Insurgency in Mexico?

Barbara Walter and Alberto Díaz-Cayeros argue at The Monkey Cage that Mexican DTOs constitute an insurgency. Or sort of.

The violence in Mexico may not be a classic insurgency , but it is certainly being fought like one.  Like other insurgencies, the violence in Mexico – especially the brutal killings of government officials and civilians – is being used to intimidate local populations and control territory.

I don't really understand this argument. The main problem is that they do not define insurgency. Many types of political violence--civil war and terrorism come to mind--are used to intimidate local populations and to control territory. In other words, intimidation may be a necessary condition, but it is definitely not sufficient.

Interestingly, the three studies they cite--Ken Eaton, Matt Ingram & David Shirk, and John Bailey & Lucia Dammert--are focused on crime and police reform, not insurgency, which they don't even mention. The question that arises, then, is whether DTOs should be treated like insurgents or like criminals. The two are very different.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Latin American middle class

Shannon O'Neil links to a Brookings Institute study regarding the middle class in Latin America. The study is extraordinarily optimistic about how large the middle class is. Yet a quick look at some data left me scratching my head.

Take El Salvador. Brookings says 46.8% of the country was middle class in 2005. But ECLAC (Table 16.1) says 48.9% of the population was poor in 2001, and 47.9% was poor in 2009. So half the country is middle class and half is poor?

Take Guatemala. Brookings says over 33.8% of the population is middle class. ECLAC says 54.8% is poor.

Or take Mexico. Brookings says 60% of the country is middle class. ECLAC says 34.8% was poor in 2008.

If you accept both reports, then somehow the wealthy have largely disappeared in Latin America, and presumably the Gini coefficients we always see are wrong. Otherwise one or the other is off. This is especially true because poverty rates fail to describe those who are just above the poverty line but at any moment could fall back--perhaps Brookings would label them middle class.

Poverty is gradually--albeit very unevenly--decreasing in Latin America, but we need to be careful about announcing the existence of large middle classes.


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Wasting Enforcement Money

At least the General Accounting Office appears to be sane, since no one else is. It is well documented, and I mean beyond a shadow of a doubt, or even a shadow of that shadow, that high-tech border solutions fail to achieve even a tiny fraction of their goals. They are very expensive, shiny, and PR-happy, yet worthless. I've been writing about this for years--here is one post from earlier this year that links to older posts.

So we know they fail, but U.S. Customs and  Border Protection wants to push on anyway in Arizona, perhaps hoping to fail as spectacularly as in Texas. Fortunately, the GAO has just made clear in a report that it does not have enough evidence that it will work. Instead, we get an image of a government agency just trying to do something, without caring at all whether the money spent is a waste. It is indeed pretty scathing.

Specifically, GAO's review of the estimate concluded that the estimate reflected substantial features of best practices, being both comprehensive and accurate, but it did not sufficiently meet other characteristics of a high-quality cost estimate, such as credibility, because it did not identify a level of confidence or quantify the impact of risks. GAO and OMB guidance emphasize that reliable cost estimates are important for program approval and continued receipt of annual funding. In addition, because CBP was unable to determine a level of confidence in its estimate, it will be difficult for CBP to determine what levels of contingency funding may be needed to cover risks associated with implementing new technologies along the remaining Arizona border.

Emphasis mine. Is this really the best we can do? My head is dented from banging it against the wall.


U.S.-Bolivian relations

Interesting announcement from the State Department regarding Bolivia and the restoration of normal diplomatic relations, which Bolivia expelled the ambassador and the DEA in 2008.

The "Framework Agreement for Mutually Respectful and Collaborative Bilateral Relations between the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and the Government of the United States of America" outlines several critical areas for future collaboration between Bolivia and the United States. 
The Agreement’s objectives include strengthening and deepening bilateral relations, with respect for sovereign states and their territorial integrity; promoting human, economic, social, and cultural development in an environmentally sustainable manner; supporting cooperative and effective action against illicit narcotics production and trafficking, on the basis of shared responsibility; enhancing law enforcement cooperation; and strengthening the commercial relationships between Bolivia and the United States through the Trade and Investment Council.

Hard to tell what this will mean in practice and media reports are not any more helpful, but in one sense the specific details don't matter. It serves no useful purpose for the two countries to freeze each other out, and it is good to see quiet back channels working effectively. Breaking relations helped neither country, and so hopefully this is a step forward. For Bolivia's sake, I hope it will include once again being included in the ATPDEA.

I am waiting for accusations that the Obama Administration is aiding terrorists because Iranians dressed like Aymara are going to sneak across the border and bomb Arizona. You heard it here first.


Monday, November 07, 2011

The Thing

Warning: this has nothing to do with Latin America. Unless they come across something hidden in the ice in the Antarctic.

I am a fan of 1982's The Thing. So when I heard there was a prequel, I was dismissive until I learned the "original" I liked was a remake of a 1951 film The Thing from Another World. Then I learned that even the original movie was based on a novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell., published in 1938. So I had to take a look.

The novella is great fun, though I like the way the movie ends more. It's darker, and you can't beat Kurt Russell in the role of McReady. Other than that, the movie stays remarkably close to the novella, though it removes the more cheesy references to things like anti-gravity machines. Given how long ago it was published, however, that clearly wasn't too cheesy at the time--in fact, Campbell included a discussion of atomic energy (though not, in that pre-Hiroshima era, any reference to bombs).


The US, Chile, and the UN

There is more or less constant criticism of the United States for not paying enough attention to Latin America. All too often, this is boiled down in a simplistic manner to delaying the ratification of trade agreements. The vast majority of such claims are overblown. Much more important, and much less remarked upon in the media, is simply how the U.S. government uses strong-arm tactics that alienate even its own allies.

Take Chile. It is a close ally, committed to capitalism, resistant to populism, you name it. But when it comes to foreign policy, both the Bush and Obama administrations treat it like a child. In 2003, Chile refused to vote in favor of use of force in Iraq, and Donald Rumsfeld made threats, which were criticized by the left and the right.

Now in 2011, Chileans both of the right (even the far-right UDI) and the left are complaining about the Obama administration's "stick out my tongue, take my marbles and go home" approach to UNESCO, which made the Palestinians a member.

If the entire ideological spectrum in Chile criticizes U.S. strong-arm tactics, then you have a perfect example of how the U.S. is failing in Latin America. With certain policy decisions, the U.S. is isolating itself from the rest of the region, and that has ripple effects to other policy areas. Why follow a country that will react so strongly when you disagree?


Sunday, November 06, 2011

Google Reader Fail solution

Thanks to Otto, who found a solution to Google Reader's removal of the share feature. Here is info on a Google Chrome extension that simply brings it back to life. I use Google Chrome so it worked immediately, though it appears also to be available for Firefox.  Now I can just go back to doing what I liked before Google made "improvements."


Remittances and the exchange rate

I've been spending a lot of time explaining to my Latin American Politics class why exchange rates matter. Here is an interesting example of how they affect remittances:

Migrants living in the U.S. are sending more money home to take advantage of the weakening peso, which slid to a more than two-year low on Sept. 23, said Sergio Luna, chief economist at Citigroup’s Banamex unit. Historically more than 95 percent of remittances to Mexico come from the U.S., according to the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank. 
“It would seem to signal that they’re making an effort to send resources, given the advantage in the sense that a dollar is buying more pesos,” Luna said in a telephone interview. “In a certain sense, the migrants are hedging. Perhaps they’re taking advantage of an arbitrage opportunity. At the end of the day, this should serve to limit the effect of depreciation of the peso.”

We had been hearing for a few years about remittances flattening out, but earlier this year they picked up again so sustaining this is good news. Of course, in addition to being a reflection of the exchange rate, remittances are a reflection of the U.S. economy:

The surge in remittances indicates more Mexican workers in the U.S., particularly in the construction industry, are finding work, said Alfredo Coutino, Latin America director at Moody’s. Construction spending in the U.S. increased in September for a second month after reaching an 11-year low in March, a Commerce Department report showed on Nov. 1. The U.S. economy, the destination of about 80 percent of Mexican exports, expanded at the fastest pace in a year in the third quarter.
What it also likely means is that we will see an uptick in border crossings, both legal and illegal.


Saturday, November 05, 2011

SECOLAS 2012 Call for Papers

I am currently President of the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies, and highly suggest you come to  the 2012 conference:


Friday, November 04, 2011

Mexican economic slowdown

From the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, news of an economic slowdown in Mexico. Exports fell 3.6% in August, the sharpest drop in two years, but year to date are still up 17.1% (though that is down from 32% last year in the same period).

Nonetheless, GDP in the third quarter of 2011 is expected to be 3.5% higher than last year. Given the high-profile violence, that's nothing to sneeze at.

In sum:

The latest data suggest a slowing is under way in the manufacturing and international trade sectors; both industrial production and exports dipped in August. Retail sales also ticked down in August and although employment growth picked up in September, third quarter job growth was down from earlier in the year. The peso fell consid-erably relative to the dollar in September, and inflation eased.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

DOJ and SC

Proving once again that currently the main beneficiaries of the immigration debate are lawyers, the DOJ is suing South Carolina for infringing on the federal government's authority to make immigration policy. I am opposed to the restrictionist state measures floating around out there, and they need to be challenged, but the ironies here abound. The federal government argues that it has sole authority to enact immigration reform, then refuses to do so. Meanwhile, states complain about budget problems and then pass extremely expensive enforcement measures they know will face costly challenges. So everything goes into the courts.

My advice: if you are currently in law school, check out immigration law. Like the Border Patrol, it may well be recession-proof.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Indigenous incorporation in Ecuador

James D. Bowen, "Multicultural Market Democracy: Elites and Indigenous Movements in Contemporary Ecuador." Journal of Latin American Studies 43, 3 (2011): 451-483.


This paper bridges the gap between studies of subaltern social movements and elite politics by asking how political and economic elites respond to indigenous mobilisation in Ecuador. I argue that elites have developed a hegemonic project based around three core principles – multiculturalism, economic liberalism and democracy – that serves to incorporate indigenous peoples into the political system while simultaneously excluding indigenous movement demands that would undermine the political and economic sources of elite power. The paper develops this argument around a concept of what I call ‘multicultural market democracy’ based on historical analysis and in-depth interviews with 43 Ecuadorian elites.

Bowen bases his work on Collier and Collier's influential Shaping the Political Arena, which focuses on the dynamics of labor incorporation into the state to explain political change. He argues that indigenous incorporation is now undergoing a similar process. The bottom line:

After over two decades of continuous organising and frequent mobilisation, indigenous peoples have been incorporated largely into the Ecuadorian political system. Incorporation, however, has come at a price. The principles of multicultural market democracy have proven quite useful to a diverse group of elites (with equally diverse interests) when confronted by the alternative political-economic projects presented by indigenous movements. Even the current president, Rafael Correa (generally considered part of the wave of ‘new Left’ leaders in the region), follows a similar script.

Ecuador, and now increasingly Bolivia as well, has been hard to characterize despite media efforts to make it into a caricature. Even when presidents are sympathetic, state-indigenous relations can still involve friction and discrimination. This article presents a particularly pessimistic view, showing how indigenous groups have become more influential yet there are clear limits to that influence depending on what type of redistributive project they have in mind. Fair enough, though it is also useful to view them in comparative historical terms, as indigenous rights have come a very long way in the past several decades.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Google Reader fail

For several years, I have happily used Google Reader to read blog posts and share them. Blogger has a widget that makes my shared blog posts show up on the right side of the page, which I liked because it was a really fast and easy way for readers of my blog to check out other bloggers that I found interesting.

As of today, however, Google has eliminated sharing. Instead, everything has to go through Google+, which I find annoying.

At this point I have not figured out the optimal way of easily sharing blog posts I like, so if anyone has any ideas feel free to comment. I wouldn't mind just doing it through Twitter, but there doesn't seem to be a way to do that either. If there is another reader service that can do it, then fine--I am not wed to Google Reader.

Update: for potential solution, see here.


Non-effects of Colombia FTA

When the Colombia FTA was ratified, I thought we'd be done with bad analyses about it--and there were so many--but unfortunately I was wrong. From Bloomberg/Businessweek, we get the argument that the late passage was a total disaster because it prompted Colombia to strengthen ties to China, Europe, the rest of South America, and to Canada.

This is a strange argument because it suggests that Colombia did not have access to U.S. markets before the FTA was passed, but of course it did through the ATPDEA. The main benefit of the FTA was not to give Colombia more access, but rather to make the relationship permanent and eliminate the need to keep renewing the ATPDEA (which was indeed a pain in the neck). In short, Colombia did not suddenly look elsewhere for trade because of the refusal to ratify the FTA. It kept exporting to the U.S. while simultaneously expanding trade with other countries.

Next, the argument makes it sound like China came to Colombia because of the absence of an FTA. But we all know that China is going everywhere, including countries that already have an FTA with the United States. In fact, China signs its own FTAs with countries that already have U.S. FTAs, such as Chile. China would have increased economic ties to Colombia even if the FTA had been passed seven years ago.

This article, like many others, cannot seem to grasp the fact that Latin American countries do not base all their decisions on the United States. It also cannot grasp the fact that FTAs do not somehow lock other countries into trading only or even primarily with the United States.


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