Saturday, June 30, 2012

International influence in Paraguay

Mark Weisbrot gets all of this almost exactly wrong. His argument is that all of Latin America sees Fernando Lugo's removal as a threat to the region, but it occurred because of U.S. influence.

The US has lost most of its influence in the vast majority of the Americas over the past decade. It is only a matter of time before even poor countries like Honduras and Paraguay gain their rights to democracy and self-determination.

If you want to blame an international actor, then you would need to point much more at Brazil. The U.S. does not care about Paraguay. U.S.-Paraguayan relations were not strained (for example, see this very complimentary Congressional Research Service report from 2010), and it makes no difference to the U.S. who is in power (remember that there were even periodic flaps with Colorado president Nicanor Duarte). The impeachment and removal had enough of a democratic veneer for the U.S. to ignore it. Unless you believe conspiracy theories about George W. Bush buying land in Paraguay to escape just like Nazis did in Argentina, in which case I can't help you.

But Brazil is a different story. It wields much more clout than the United States in Paraguay, and had the opportunity to act quickly and decisively. Instead, Dilma Rousseff made clear from the beginning that she would wait and see, then ultimately helped insure that Mercosur did not impose sanctions. In other words, in practice her response was not much different from Barack Obama even if her rhetoric was more pro-democracy. The irony is that Weisbrot makes a point about the decreased influence of the U.S., while not seeing the implication that it has led to more Brazilian influence. And the PT is not committed to democracy abroad, so the reduction of U.S. influence does not necessarily mean more democracy.

I understand the natural instinct to look toward Washington, but doing so exclusively means losing sight of critical regional changes. If we want to understand the future of democracy in Latin America, then we need to probe how far Latin American governments are willing to sacrifice to make it work.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Paraguay on radio

I got up bright and early this morning to go on WBAI radio in New York City for the Wake Up Call show with Felipe Luciano to talk about Paraguay. Of particular interest was the other guest, Kregg Hetherington, who is an anthropology professor at Dalhousie University. He has a book on rural politics in Paraguay, so knew much more than me about the ins and outs of the rural problem there. One point he made is how Fernando Lugo was barely even touching the basic economic power structure, but even connecting himself in any way to the countryside made him suspect.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Weakness of democracy

Latinobarómetro has a really cool "Informe Flash" about Paraguay with polling data. What you see is a sense of impossibly high expectations for Fernando Lugo. A sharp spike in confidence dropped very quickly. By 2011 popular confidence in all institutions went back to previous low levels.

Further, since 2000 there have been 14 presidential crises involving a change of president. That is a depressingly high number, underlining what I told Adam Isacson earlier today in a Washington Office on Latin America podcast.


Quote of the day: Paraguay

From Ultima Hora:

También urgieron a los parlamentarios que aprueben el proyecto de fondo de inversión constituido con fondos de Itaipú (Fonacipe). Todos estos proyectos son iniciativas del gobierno de Lugo, pero debido a las trabas impuestas por el Congreso nunca fueron aprobados. Como actualmente existe un mayor acercamiento entre el Ejecutivo y Legislativo, las expectativas de aprobación son mejores.

Nice. Everyone claims that Fernando Lugo is inept, yet the newly installed president starts by asking Congress to pass the exact same bills Lugo wanted. And while Congress was pissy before, now it will pass them.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Franco the Fonz

The websites of the Paraguayan Congress are not particularly helpful. You would think that primary documents for such a major event would be available, but they're conspicuously absent. However, if you want to see Federico Franco doing his Fonzie impersonation, then it's the perfect site.




Was there a coup in Paraguay?

Was Fernando Lugo's removal a coup? Loads of people, including him, have been weighing in on this, but generally in a pretty vague way (my personal favorite is "golpeachment").

Here is the definition from The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World. The entry was written by Claude Welch, an expert on civil-military relations:

A nonconstitutional change of governmental leadership carried out with the use or threatened use of violence is known as a coup d'état.

The "nonconstitutional part" is immediately a problem. At this point, no one contests the impeachment and removal per se, but rather the time Lugo was given to defend himself. But I have yet to hear Lugo himself say the process was nonconstitutional. As for violence, none was used. The army proclaimed itself neutral, but is not an apolitical body so we don't know what was said in private. However, Lugo has made no indication of a threat of violence (though after the fact he used that as an excuse for why he accepted the situation, which makes little sense because now he's calling for resistance). As he has said, though, for him it was constitutional enough that there is no legal avenue for his reinstatement.

Or take the definition from 21st Century Political Science: A Reference Handbook, Volume 1:

If a transfer of power occurs according to some legislative action or constitutional directive, a coup has not taken place (p. 125).

My concern is that "coup" become so broad and so vague as to diminish the term entirely so that it becomes "change of government I strongly dislike," as has occurred with "terrorism," which to many people these days means "people I strongly dislike." They mean everything so ultimately they mean nothing.

As is quite common, maybe we can add some adjective to "coup" as a qualifier. That's fine as long as it conveys the legal process and the lack of violence (generally meaning lack of military action).

Now, this leaves open the problem of what constitutes legitimate impeachment. But that's for another day.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hugh O'Shaughnessy's The Priest of Paraguay

I remembered that some time ago I received a copy of Hugh O'Shaughnessy's The Priest of Paraguay: Fernando Lugo and the Making of a Nation (2009). It is a quick, interesting, and entirely overly optimistic view of Lugo at the beginning of his presidency. He was going to exorcise Alfredo Stroessner's ghost, he was going to do the things no president had ever done, he was going to bring Paraguay into the twenty-first century. He was even going to embody Bartolomé de las Casas.

Alas, no. Still, the book is probably the most in-depth view of Paraguay and Lugo that you are likely to get in English. We learn, among other things, that Lugo was strongly influenced as a priest by a group known for not being too strict on the whole celibacy thing.

The book is a reminder of how much is wrong in Paraguay, and how much needs to be done:

--land distribution is obscenely unequal
--there is no real professional civil service
--there is far too little taxation
--virtually everything connected to the state is corrupt
--discrimination against the indigenous populations is rampant

Lugo resigned as bishop in 2005 because he felt he couldn't do enough to help people (trivia: his announcement to run for president came in the form of a letter to the pope). Trying to do more--even as little as he did--as president got him shoved out.


Monday, June 25, 2012

SCOTUS and immigration

Here is the text of the Supreme Court's decision on Arizona et al. v. United States. My initial take is that this is devastating for those who support restrictive state laws. Everything is struck down except for status checks, more popularly known as "papers please." Even that, though, has a caveat:

Without the benefit of a definitive interpretation from the state courts, it would be inappropriate to assume §2(B) will be construed in a way that conflicts with federal law. Cf. Fox v. Washington, 236 U. S. 273, 277. This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.

So expect more lawsuits. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer calls that victory, but I doubt she really believes that. Despite all the rumors that the court seemed sympathetic to Arizona, this decision says that Arizona overstepped its constitutional bounds by a lot. Every state that copied SB 1070 will have to go back to the drawing board.

For North Carolina, where I live, I would guess this means the legislature will not move forward because the legislative leadership was waiting for a SCOTUS ruling before doing anything.


Whither Paraguay?

I'm quoted in this AP story on Paraguay, and one of the things I mention is the fact that Fernando Lugo didn't rapidly receive popular support, such as occurred in Venezuela in 2002 and Honduras in 2009.  Lugo complained a bit but then just left. There were some protests on Sunday, and the Paraguayan press mentions newly formed groups that pledge to go to the streets throughout this week. So will there be large numbers and staying power?

As with Honduras, simply being in power gives the new government tremendous leverage. It just has to wait things out. Unseating Federico Franco will therefore take enormous pressure.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Text of Paraguayan accusation

Thanks to a commenter for linking to the text of the accusation against Fernando Lugo. I should say I can't verify it 100%, and I couldn't find an official version at the websites of either the Paraguayan House or Senate, but it corresponds to narrative accounts at those sites. If this isn't it, I'd like to know.

This is quite a document, and even crazier than media accounts discuss. It argues that Lugo had a master plan to foment violence in such a way as to launch an "assault" and "install a regime contrary to our Republican system." It is openly intended to be insulting.

What's most undemocratic, though, is that it is extraordinarily vague. "Various" of his supporters, or "often times" without any specifics. Moreover, not only is almost no evidence presented, but the document says specifically that it doesn't even need any.

Todas las causales mencionadas más arriba, son de pública notoriedad, motivo por el cual no necesitan ser probadas, conforme a nuestro ordenamiento jurídico vigente.

Who needs evidence if the accusers agree? That whole due process thing is a waste of time anyway.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Regional response to Paraguay

The presidents of Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela have said they will not recognize the government of Francisco Federico Franco. Costa Rica deplored Fernando Lugo's removal (and offered safe harbor) but did not mention recognition. Bolivia, Chile, and Colombia expressed concern. UNASUR is sending a delegation. Across the ideological spectrum, there is a sense that the politically-motivated and rushed procedure was not a legitimate way to remove a president.

So will that matter? Unfortunately, the answer is likely no, unless governments are willing to strangle the Paraguayan economy or credibly threaten to do so. International relations is all about power, and strong rhetoric now can be massaged later. The outcry about Honduras in 2009 ultimately had no impact whatsoever. In fact, Dilma Rousseff's response now strongly echoes that case:

"What the ministers are trying to do is to create an environment that allows a less traumatic solution for democracy, since President Lugo has a mandate that expires in eight or nine months and cannot be re-elected," said Dilma Rousseff, president of regional powerhouse Brazil.

Translated cynically: an election is coming up, so let's figure out a way to stall until then.

Franco, meanwhile, said that "God and destiny wanted me to assume the presidency." He did not mention the boatload of corrupt lawmakers.

Colin Snider has a good discussion over whether to label it a coup. I agree with his assessment that it is an illegitimate way to remove a president, but it's not precisely a "coup."


Capital Tonight

A few days ago I taped a segment on Capital Tonight, which aired yesterday. My part was on Obama and the Latino vote. It's a political show based in Raleigh, so I drive down to their Charlotte studio. I sat on a tall chair in front of a camera with a speaker in my ear, while staring into a bright light and pretending this is a natural way to have a conversation.


Brian Latell's Castro's Secrets

I read Brian Latell's Castro's Secrets: The CIA and Cuba's Intelligence Machine (2012). Based on interviews with high-level defectors, especially "Tiny" Aspillaga, it tells the story of the cloak-and-dagger struggle between the United States and Cuba in the 1960s.

The book's main attention has come from the claim that Fidel Castro had prior knowledge of the Kennedy assassination. I actually found this the least interesting part of the book, as there is no firsthand knowledge so dots are connected with speculation. And, admittedly, because I am uninterested in Kennedy conspiracy theories.

Of much greater interest is the clear professional--though obviously not ideological--admiration Latell (himself former CIA) has for how quickly Fidel and Raúl put together one of the most effective intelligence services in the entire world. It's quite remarkable. Time and time again, and even now, the U.S. government has underestimated Cuba and has guessed wrong. In the 1960s, moreover, Cuba's DGI routinely fooled the U.S. with double agents.

Today, what the U.S. knows about the inner workings of the Cuban government largely comes not from intelligence operations but from the Cubans who decide--for whatever reason--to leave on their own. Latell quotes multiple CIA sources as admitting they had lost the espionage war.

As with any account of U.S.-Cuban relations, there are a number of references to crazy ideas. My favorite quote from the book is about Desmond FitzGerald:

His most notorious idea, quickly discarded, seemed to his staff like a three-martini idea, except that it occurred to him one morning while shaving. He wanted the Agency's "dirty tricks department"--the technical services staff--to devise a waterproof explosive seashell (p. 159).

Maybe U.S. intelligence just needs some more martinis. In all, it's a fun glimpse at a particularly twisted relationship.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Paraguay and legality

Events in Paraguay are moving fast--see boz for updates. The Senate is expected to vote on removal by 4:30 pm EST today. Fernando Lugo has been fighting Congress and facing coup rumors since he took office. The essential point here, as in other cases (I couldn't help but think of Bill Clinton) the complaints are political rather than criminal. The opposition just doesn't like what he's doing.

Yet it corresponds to the constitution, which is vague on this point. From Article 225:

El Presidente de la República, el Vicepresidente, los ministros del Poder Ejecutivo, los ministros de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, el Fiscal General del Estado, el Defensor del Pueblo, el Contralor General de la República, el Subcontralor y los integrantes del Tribunal Superior de Justicia Electoral, sólo podrán ser sometidos a juicio político por mal desempeño de sus funciones, por delitos cometidos en el ejercicio de sus cargos o por delitos comunes. 
La acusación será formulada por la Cámara de Diputados, por mayoría de dos tercios. Corresponderá a la Cámara de Senadores, por mayoría absoluta de dos tercios, juzgar en juicio público a los acusados por la Cámara de Diputados y, en caso, declararlos culpables, al sólo efecto de separarlos de sus cargos, En los casos de supuesta comisión de delitos, se pasarán los antecedentes a la justicia ordinaria.

What is "mal desempeño de sus funciones"? A rough translation is "poor performance of his duties." It's up to the legislature to decide what that means. It can, in fact, mean anything they want it to as long as they have the votes. I am not saying this is good; I am saying it is constitutional.

This made me think about an odd point, namely that the political left and right in Latin America are constantly accusing each other of conducting nefarious plots legally. As far as I've seen, Lugo has argued that the actions are illegitimate, but not that they are illegal.

We constantly hear that actions taken by Rafael Correa and Hugo Chávez represent the development of a "constitutional dictatorship" because they fall within the constitution but are undemocratic. Yet the right now says Paraguay is totally different because the right is acting within the constitution. Both the left and the right often seem to acknowledge the legal nature of their opponent's actions.

There are three conclusions we can take, some of which are contradictory. I am not yet convinced of any of them, but offer them as thoughts in process.

First, too many extreme political maneuvers are legal in Latin America. Constitutions are jam packed--Paraguay's has 291 articles. There is extraordinarily broad scope that allows for too much. I should mention, though, that the Paraguayan constitution has tremendous detail, yet the impeachment article is left vague.

Second, endemic corruption can adapt to any legal form. Who cares what the constitution says if the driving force of regime change is the entrenchment of corrupt elites? Lugo had powerful enemies, so they would figure out some way of ousting him.

Third, it's positive that all sides at least on the surface adhere to the laws. Manipulating constitutions is not new, but should we applaud the fact that the military has publicly said it would remain neutral? This is preferable to the clearly unconstitutional actions in Honduras three years ago.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Academia-policy divide

Josh Busby has a great post at Duck of Minerva about the academia/policy divide. This is well-trodden ground but well-worth periodic revisiting. He had just attended a workshop intended to bridge the gap between the two.

I'm a strong proponent of academic engagement with the policy world and the media. Blogging and tweeting is part of that engagement. I understand all the concerns he also lays out, such as time drain and oversimplification. Untenured faculty need to be particularly mindful of these. Nonetheless, I've found that writing blog posts, crafting op-eds, giving periodic talks in DC and/or talking to reporters is useful because it forces me to be more concise and clear. Beyond that is the satisfaction that to some small degree my own work becomes known and thought about outside academia.

Being too declarative is problematic, but on the other hand you don't want to say "on the other hand" so many times that you end up with ten hands. If you wrote an article or a book on a topic of great interest to you, then boil it down into an op-ed and see what happens. Yes, it will take you some time, but even if it's never published--or just published as a blog post, perhaps--it will require you to think about your core argument, stripped away of the fluff. And that's good for your research.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Farms and immigration in NC

I hadn't noted the recent op-ed in the Charlotte Observer about immigration by the president of the NC Farm Bureau.

North Carolina has enacted no laws such as those in Arizona and Alabama, but the rhetoric surrounding those laws has impacted our farming and business communities. Such laws place pressure on N.C. legislators to take similar action. Right now, the Supreme Court is reviewing the Arizona immigration law. Even if the court decides that states can enact such laws, the fact remains that the laws negatively impact state and regional economies. Only a federal fix can solve the problem. 
We need look no farther than Georgia and South Carolina to see the effects of such laws. In both states, farmers have cut back on production for fear they will not have enough workers to harvest their crops. The effects of these laws are already spilling over into North Carolina.

Read more here:

The state legislature decided--quite prudently given the legal costs involved--not long ago to wait on the upcoming Supreme Court ruling before doing anything. If the court upholds key parts of the Arizona law, then of course there will be pressure to do the same in North Carolina--odds are very good the Republican-dominated legislature will do so. Just because you can, though, does not necessarily mean you should.

At this point, the political backlash is not so much from the Latino electorate, because Latinos constitute only just over 1% of registered voters. Instead, growing concern is coming from farmers and religious leaders. Farms and religion both matter in North Carolina, so a coordinated political strategy targeting individual elected officials is the main way to block such a bill.


More on Romney and immigration

I'm repeating myself here, but it's irresistible. Here is Mitt Romney in June 2012:

“What I can tell you is that those people who come here by virtue of their parents bringing them here, who came in illegally, that’s something I don’t want to football with as a political matter,” Romney told Fox.

Let's set aside the matter that "football" is not a verb. Now here is Mitt Romney six months ago:

"For those who come here illegally, the idea of giving them in-state tuition credits or other special benefits I find to be contrary to the idea of a nation of law," he said.

The turnaround is stark. Even more notable is that the Republican leadership is trying not to talk about it at all. In other words, President Obama blindsided them completely. A Bloomberg poll shows 64% of likely voters approve of his decision.

I still don't think this will be a major issue for voters, but the post-primary Romney is a very different guy. Unfortunately for him, his effort at moderation is so vague that he is getting no support from anyone.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Aponte vote

Take a look at the vote on Mari Carmen Aponte's nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, and you will see the disappearing Republican moderates. They've been voted out (Lugar), scared off (Snowe), and/or backed off past moderation (McCain and Graham). There aren't many more.

It's notable, though, that Marco Rubio voted in favor as he could not afford to alienate his Puerto Rican constituency.

On the vote, see also Mike Allison and Tim's El Salvador Blog.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Copper Law bill

Andrés Velasco, the hugely popular former Finance Minister of Chile, has an op-ed in La Tercera about the legislation to replace the Copper Law. In short, he hates the proposal. The basic problem, he argues, is that the new proposal still privileges the military in an undemocratic manner. Further, it adversely affects social spending:

Para ver lo insensato de esta ley, imaginemos que el país debe reasignar recursos para enfrentar una contingencia mayor, como un terremoto. De acuerdo a la “ley Allamand”, para financiar la reconstrucción no se podrá tocar el presupuesto de armamentos y la presión del ajuste caerá sobre el gasto social. Esto es exactamente lo que hizo Pinochet el año 82 para financiar el rescate de la banca. El gasto en defensa no se tocó y al final pagaron el pato la educación, la salud y las pensiones.  ¿Es eso lo que queremos para Chile en el futuro?

The underlying problem is the rigidity. As is the case now, elected officials would not have the authority to make major changes to defense spending. Further, the controversial budget floor is based on a level of spending that no democratic government has ever been able to change and, as he points out, also based on a period of time that corresponded with high copper prices.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Axe and Bors' War is Boring

David Axe and Matt Bors' War Is Boring is a curious graphic novel ostensibly about the coverage of global conflicts but mostly about self-loathing. Axe has waded into most of the violent conflicts around the world, but starts to wonder why he's bothering. He starts to realize that it's all about him as opposed to any desire to alleviate suffering or to bring attention to little-known tragedies, though this doesn't really change anything he does.

He admits in the Afterword that "The more different people I meet, the less I believe in their humanity." He sees people in their very worst moments, indeed wants to, and feels misanthropic as a result. If anything, it will make you feel less sympathetic toward war correspondents (a title that he also insists he does not like).


Romney's response

Remember way back when Mitt Romney was against the DREAM Act? Well, actually it was as recently as January when he said he would veto it. How times have changed since he got the nomination. His response to President Obama's DREAM-like Act actually suggests he wished Obama had gone even further.

"It's an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country," Romney said. Obama's executive order to allow some illegal immigrants to obtain work permits and stay in the U.S. legally was problematic, he said, because "an executive order, of course, is a short-term matter. It can be reversed by subsequent presidents."

This is clearly the tack he's chosen, which is to criticize Obama's failure to pass anything without acknowledging that he himself is on record as opposing passing anything.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Sorta dreamy

The Obama administration announced it would implement a modified DREAM Act. Here's the relevant info:

According to DHS, eligible immigrants will now receive “deferred action,” which essentially means a two-year reprieve from deportation along with a permit that allows them to work. The deferral will be available to any immigrants who came to the United States under the age of 16, have lived in the country continuously for at least five years, and are currently in the country. They must be currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the military or the Coast Guard.

It's a step in the right direction, but when you boil it down, it simply means you'll be deported later rather than sooner. I suppose a glass-half-full view would that there would be enough to support to pass the DREAM Act within two years, thus making deportation moot.

I don't see this as enough to boost Latino political participation in the November election on its own. However, if Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders make a point of railing against it, it could well help Obama at the margins. The problem for Obama is that he's made so many promises on immigration and immigrants that have not panned out.

Update: Roque Planas told me via Twitter that DHS mentions it is "subject to renewal." No more details than that.


Evangelicals and immigration

An Evangelical group is starting to organize in favor of immigration reform. I remain skeptical about how much this will matter. The problem?

When asked how evangelical voters might square immigration with other hot-button issues such as abortion and gay marriage, Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said it’s a matter of individual conscience. 
“That’s a decision that each individual person has to make,” he said. “We tell people they need to vote their values, their beliefs, and their convictions. When they’re faced with a choice where they agree on some and not on others, they need to prayerfully decide for themselves what their hierarchy of issues are.”

I don't see immigration reaching that kind of level. In fact, I blogged about this exact issue two years ago, and nothing has changed since. Back then I just said to stay tuned, but there still isn't much to tune into.

There is a very real undercurrent of religious support for immigration reform, but up to this point it has fallen far short of becoming politically influential. Until it can tap directly into Congress, it will mostly be the topic of periodic newspaper stories.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

FRUS as e-book

Very cool. The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series of volumes is now becoming available in e-book format. It worked perfectly and instantly on my iPad. For Latin America, there are two volumes currently available: Guatemala 1952-1954 and the Cuban Missile Crisis. They note an as yet unresolved problem with page numbers, which is obviously a problem for citations, but the document numbers remain the same.

When I first started graduate school I had to go to the library and look at/photocopy the volumes there, because you couldn't even check them out. Moving to online and then e-book is a huge step forward for public accessibility.

h/t Chad Black on Twitter (@parezcoydigo)


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Copper Law proposal

Under the direction of Defense Minister (and longtime part of RN's leadership) Andrés Allamand, the Piñera administration is proposing a bill to end the Copper Law in Chile, which gives 10% of sales to the armed forces. The Concertación repeatedly tried and failed to do so from 1990 to 2010.

Now the legislative battle centers on creating a budget floor for the military, which some within the Concertación oppose. The floor is what helps make it palatable to the pro-military right. I find it hard to believe that this would be a deal breaker for the center-left, though, because the Copper Law has a very high symbolic value. Nonetheless, I have no idea what the vote count looks like. Piñera sent a reform bill to the legislature just over a year ago that died out.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Twitter insults

Too funny. José Cárdenas just got a Twitter feed (@JoseCardenasUSA), and his first tweet was to think I was agreeing with him on a rant against Ecuador at Shadow Government--he refused to respond to a rebuttal from the lawyer representing Ecuadorians:

GregWeeksUNCC Thanks for your concern but responding to paid flacks is a waste of my time.

Then he didn't like my response:

Facts or flacks are a waste? RT Thanks for your concern but responding to paid flacks is a waste of my time

So his second tweet was to insult me without knowing anything about me:

GregWeeksUNCC I also don't have time to play word games with assistant professors with too much time on their hands

Bienvenidos a Twitter!


Alvaro Uribe on Twitter

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe may well qualify for whiniest ex-president. He is also very active on Twitter (@AlvaroUribeVel), which means periodically he shoots off scathing diatribes against Hugo Chávez and Juan Manuel Santos. Is there a full moon today? Because he is really mad at Santos:

Gobierno Santos pone a Colombia en incertidumbre y como país impredecible al abrir puertas de impunidad y elegibilidad de terroristas

Irate about Chávez:

Hay que evitar caer en el engaño de democracia que aparenta la Dictadura Chavista en elecciones, sabemos que pasa despues

Oh, and he hates Eva Golinger:

EvaGolinguer sirve a la dictadura Chavista como verdugo contra el periodismo libre

It's an interesting use of social media, and I think unique for former presidents, both in terms of using Twitter and criticizing a successor. Also of note is that people shout back at him on Twitter (just click on the links above to see responses). It does not constitute a dialogue, but Twitter does become a type of forum for people to air their views publicly and directly to the ex-president.


Immigration blame game

A lengthy article in the Washington Post looks at Obama and immigration. The administration makes an argument I've not heard before, and one that is unconvincing:

Administration officials have said the rise in removals resulted from sharp spending increases on enforcement passed by Congress before Obama took office, while the advocates argued that the administration could take many steps on its own to limit the threat to otherwise law-abiding people.

So the buck is passed entirely. Elsewhere, Obama tells reform advocates to blame Congress for not passing legislation, but also blames Congress for legislating enforcement spending. What this misses is that Obama does have authority over how the money is spent, and despite his calls for a focus on criminals that hasn't been happening in practice.

He and his aides signaled privately to lawmakers in the months that followed that some middle-ground resolution was in the works. Eventually, the administration would enact a policy of “prosecutorial discretion,” calling on immigration officials to focus on deporting serious criminals, repeat border-crossers and others considered security threats rather than students, veterans or seniors. 
The policy, which would later include a case-by-case review of deportation cases, seemed like a potential victory for immigrant advocates. But so far, they have found the results to be disappointing. Only a fraction of cases would be closed under the review, and advocates remain wary.

The "Blame Congress" game can only take you so far, especially when your administration is deporting more people than in the entire history of the United States.


Saturday, June 09, 2012

Peter Bryant's Red Alert

I read Peter Bryant's 1958 novel Red Alert, which was the inspiration for the movie Dr. Strangelove. The two diverge in very significant ways that ultimately highlight Stanley Kubrick's creative talents, not to mention Peter Sellers'. The novel is earnest and dead serious. A rogue general (the novel's Quentin becomes Jack D. Ripper in the movie) decides the only way to save the world is to destroy the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal, even though that means killing millions of people. He uses a top secret plan that tells bombers to attack, then puts his base on lockdown so that no one can recall them.

What Kubrick saw was that the story was so serious, crazy, and yet ultimately rather believable that the narrative deserved to have a mocking tone. Dr. Strangelove is not in the novel, nor are there references to "precious bodily fluids," or George  C. Scott's goofy gum chomping general, or the Colonel Bat Guano's constant references to commie "preverts." The novel, in fact, does not have the Doomsday Machine either. Instead, there is the very human drama of a U.S. president agreeing to allow the destruction of a U.S. city (Atlantic City) if a Soviet city were hit first. It shows some optimism about how human beings can work together, whereas the Doomsday Machine is out of any human hands.

The most important difference between the two is that the serious work had a happy ending and the farcical work ended with the destruction of the planet.

Anyway, if you haven't seen Dr. Strangelove, or haven't seen it recently, check it out again, as I did. There's always something new to find in it.


Friday, June 08, 2012

IACHR flap

Manuela Picq has a great take on the IACHR human rights flap in Al Jazeera. We should focus less on ideology and more on speaking to power.

Cases involving extractive industries also blur the lines between political parties on the right and the left. The form may vary, but the substantive content of these cases does not. Following in the footsteps of authoritarian governments before them, progressive governments on the left from Bolivia to Brazil are being taken to court for human rights abuses. Beyond the inevitable disillusionment with the arrival of the left to power, the current situation shows that human rights violations transgress familiar political and ideological camps.   
The point is not to tar political parties on the right and the left with the same brush, however, but rather to point out that it may matter less whether the right or the left is in power as much as to call attention to the fact that that it is in the nature of power itself to resist and deny mechanisms of accountability. And that is precisely why the IACHR will always be necessary.

Governments don't like human rights criticism. Period.


Thursday, June 07, 2012

More on Cuba policy

Roberta Jackson speaking to a Senate subcommittee:

In Cuba, the Obama administration’s priority is to empower Cubans to freely determine their own future. The most effective tool we have for doing that is building connections between the Cuban and American people, in order to give Cubans the support and tools they need to move forward independent of their government. U.S. citizens, engaging in well-defined, purposeful travel, are the best ambassadors for our democratic ideals.

Where to start with this? The United States has made a massive effort to make sure there are as few connections as possible with Cuba. We aren't giving Cubans anything but a policy that helps keep the dictatorship in place.

Further, the "well-defined, purposeful travel" is an insult. In a free country you should not have the government defining your travel for you. I should be able to do as much undefined, purposeless travel that I want. According to the government's logic, Jack Kerouac should have written On the Well-Defined, Purposeful Road.


Latinos and the presidential race

News 14 Carolina came over to my office yesterday to interview me about Latinos and the presidential race. The bottom line: the Latino electorate votes in smaller numbers but could play a role in the outcomes of some states. And naming Marco Rubio or some other Hispanic politician as VP could help Republicans, though not very dramatically.

And I appreciate the video plug of my book.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

AMLO and Mockus

The Mexican presidential race seems to be getting tighter. See boz, Aguachile, and Americas Quarterly. The big story is AMLO's resurgence. What I keep wondering, though, is whether this is like the 2010 Colombian election. Antanas Mockus received a lot of attention as election day neared, with polls showing him close to Juan Manuel Santos, then he got hammered, with only just 21.5% of the votes.

Or maybe AMLO could also be compared with Marco Enríquez-Ominami, the Chilean presidential candidate who had no chance but also generated a lot of press. He's in Mexico advising AMLO. One major difference is that AMLO is not even pretending to run outside the established party system.


Monday, June 04, 2012

Supreme Court and immigration

An interesting look at how the Supreme Court decision on SB 1070 (which is supposed to come later this month) will affect the presidential race. I disagree with Steven Camarota on most everything, but on this I think he's on target.

"Neither of them is sure whether the position that they've staked out on immigration hurts or helps them on balance," said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that favors vigorous enforcement of immigration laws. "Obama doesn't want to alienate all kinds of voters in battleground states that he might (if he emphasizes immigration reform on the campaign stump). And it's the same with Romney: He's just not sure."

Indeed, the key is "battleground." The election is not won nationally, so Obama and Romney will tailor messages to particular states. Take North Carolina, for example, which went to Obama in 2008 but is an uphill climb this year. Since the Latino electorate is so small, Obama will not likely trumpet immigration since it could in fact rub other voters the wrong way.

Another point is that the election is five months away, so will outrage last that long? The answer could potentially be "yes" if the decisions gives the green light to states and leads to a rash of new restrictive laws.

As always, though, we need to be very careful not to overstate. Overall, this election may hinge more on Greece than anything else.


Saturday, June 02, 2012

Syria and ALBA

There are very good reasons to be concerned about military intervention in Syria, for reasons ranging from sovereignty to pure national interest. However, this is an embarrassment. Whatever you think the optimal U.S. or global response should be, please do not copy ALBA and pretend the Syrian government is doing anything in good faith.

"We value the Syrian government's steps in attending to the legitimate demands of those who have protested peacefully ... and the program of reforms carried out, as well as its willingness to implement the peace plan of (mediator) Kofi Annan," the ALBA statement added in praise that contrasted with a chorus of disgust against Assad elsewhere round the world.

Oh please.


Friday, June 01, 2012

Border Tunnel Preventish Act of 2012

Well, they passed it. The Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2012. I mentioned it back in March. This bill is so short and so useless that courtesy of Just the Facts I will paste here in its entirety for your perusement, if that is a word. It might not be.

H.R.4119 -- Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2012 (Enrolled Bill [Final as Passed Both House and Senate] - ENR)--H.R.4119--
One Hundred Twelfth Congress
of the
United States of America
Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday,
the third day of January, two thousand and twelve
An Act
To reduce the trafficking of drugs and to prevent human smuggling across the Southwest Border by deterring the construction and use of border tunnels.
    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


    This Act may be cited as the `Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2012'.


    Congress finds the following:
    (1) Trafficking and smuggling organizations are intensifying their efforts to enter the United States through tunnels and other subterranean passages between Mexico and the United States.
    (2) Border tunnels are most often used to transport narcotics from Mexico to the United States, but can also be used to transport people and other contraband.
    (3) From Fiscal Year 1990 to Fiscal Year 2011, law enforcement authorities discovered 149 cross-border tunnels along the border between Mexico and the United States, 139 of which have been discovered since Fiscal Year 2001. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of cross-border tunnels discovered in Arizona and California since Fiscal Year 2006, with 40 tunnels discovered in California and 74 tunnels discovered in Arizona.
    (4) Section 551 of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007 (Public Law 109-295) added a new section to title 18, United States Code (18 U.S.C. 555), which--
    (A) criminalizes the construction or financing of an unauthorized tunnel or subterranean passage across an international border into the United States; and
    (B) prohibits any person from recklessly permitting others to construct or use an unauthorized tunnel or subterranean passage on the person's land.
    (5) Any person convicted of using a tunnel or subterranean passage to smuggle aliens, weapons, drugs, terrorists, or illegal goods is subject to an enhanced sentence for the underlying offense. Additional sentence enhancements would further deter tunnel activities and increase prosecutorial options.


    Section 555 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
    `(d) Any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense under subsection (a) or subsection (c) of this section shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.'.


    Section 2516(1)(c) of title 18, United States Code, is amended by inserting `, section 555 (relating to construction or use of international border tunnels)' before the semicolon at the end.


    Section 982(a)(2)(B) of title 18, United States Code, is amended by inserting `555,' after `545,'.


    Section 1956(c)(7)(D) of title 18, United States Code, is amended by inserting `section 555 (relating to border tunnels),' after `section 554 (relating to smuggling goods from the United States),'.


    It is the sense of Congress that--
    (1) success in combating the construction and use of cross-border tunnels requires cooperation between Federal, State, local, and tribal officials and assistance from private land owners and tenants across the border between Mexico and the United States;
    (2) the Department of Homeland Security is currently engaging in outreach efforts in California to certain landowners and tenants along the border to educate them about cross-border tunnels and seek their assistance in combating their construction; and
    (3) the Department should continue its outreach efforts to both private and governmental landowners and tenants in areas along the border between Mexico and the United States with a high rate of cross-border tunnels.


    (a) In General- The Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit an annual report to the congressional committees set forth in subsection (b) that includes a description of--
    (1) the cross-border tunnels along the border between Mexico and the United States discovered during the preceding fiscal year; and
    (2) the needs of the Department of Homeland Security to effectively prevent, investigate and prosecute border tunnel construction along the border between Mexico and the United States.
    (b) Congressional Committees- The congressional committees set forth in this subsection are--
    (1) the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the Senate;
    (2) the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate;
    (3) the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate;
    (4) the Committee on Homeland Security of the House of Representatives;
    (5) the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives; and
    (6) the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives.
Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Vice President of the United States and
President of the Senate. 

So, tunnel burrowers, do you feel deterred? It will serve as a preventish, or if you like, a deterrentish, measure. The federal government is going to do a bit more, tacking onto your sentence, at least in the unlikely even you're caught. And that whole thing about how our current immigration system attracts illegal migrants and, by extension, your illegal and violent presence? No worries, because that isn't going away. You keep making a lot of money and just have to pay your lawyer a bit more if you're caught making the tunnels the U.S. often doesn't find until they're empty.


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP