Friday, August 31, 2012

Latin America in Republican platform

Shannon O'Neil outlines the mentions of Latin America in the Republican platform. To sum up:

Overall, the Republican Party generally seems to see the region (when it considers it at all) as a threat rather than an opportunity.

How sad that is. It is a policy of conscious self-isolation. All we can hope is that if Mitt Romney is elected, he ignores the platform.


IADC talk

I lectured yesterday at the Inter-American Defense College to a group composed primarily of Latin American military officers. It is always fascinating to give a talk to the political groups you study. Since my main focus was conceptualizing civilian expertise, they were probably more favorable toward me than they otherwise would've been.

What I liked in particular was that they were from all over the region (including Ecuador) and so there was a lot of interesting comparative discussion, and even disagreement. Not surprisingly, they did not agree with all of my conclusions or assessments (Hondurans and Guatemalans seemed especially skeptical) but it's not often you get such a group of people (up and coming officers, mostly colonels) to sit and listen to you.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Corrupt elites

Tucked into the Republican platform on immigration is the following:

We recognize that for most of those seeking entry into this country, the lack of respect for the rule of law in their homelands has meant economic exploitation and political oppression by corrupt elites.

This is pretty remarkable because immigrants come overwhelmingly from countries the United States considers allies, e.g. Mexico. And Republicans were at the forefront of protecting corrupt elites in Honduras who overthrew the president in 2009, which in turn prompted more turmoil and emigration. If indeed corrupt elites are the problem, then perhaps we need to see less ironclad support for corrupt elites.


Walk the immigration plank

I hadn't had a chance to blog about the proposed Republican platform plank on immigration. It's hard to call it anything but extreme, as its purpose is to use government power to punish immigrants, businesses, universities, and others. It's more extreme than the statements Mitt Romney has made, though on immigration he seems not to care much and changes his mind frequently.

But should anyone care? What's funny is that John Boehner is repeating that platforms are a joke.

But Boehner's message, over and over, was that the convention and the election are about the economy. Don't even worry about what's in the platform, he said. 
"Have you ever met anybody who's read the party platform?" Boehner asked. "I haven't meet anybody."

Read more here:

He's saying that largely because he doesn't want people talking too much about the extreme parts of the platform, but in fact he's right. Platforms are for party activists, and don't necessarily inform policy later.

Nonetheless, the immigration plank is yet another indication of how much the party has changed over the years. Look, for example, at the mention of immigration in the 1980 Republican platform.

Republicans are proud that our people have opened their arms and hearts to strangers from abroad and we favor an immigration and refugee policy which is consistent with this tradition. We believe that to the fullest extent possible those immigrants should be admitted who will make a positive contribution to America and who are willing to accept the fundamental American values and way of life.

Quite a difference from now, though in fact that plank did inform policy, namely the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which Ronald Reagan signed with obvious pleasures in 1986, and which now is considered evil incarnate by the party that constantly invokes him.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Political effects of refinery explosion

I'm quoted in this Bloomberg article on the potential political effects of the refinery explosion in Venezuela. It ends up making it sound a bit like I am urging Henrique Capriles to take advantage of it, but my point was just that the political effect will depend in large part on the opposition's ability to thread together all the disparate problems in the country. One explosion will not affect an election, but a string of things could. It will still take a lot to defeat Hugo Chávez in the election.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Iran's trade with Latin America

Iran trumpets its trade with Latin America, which is apparently almost $1 billion. Three points worth mentioning:

First, it is incredibly lopsided. Iran exported $172.8 million and imported $772.9 million. This is not how influence expands, since Latin American countries are not looking to Iran to provide them with much of anything but a market for commodities, and at least these days that is really easy to find.

Second, for all the ideological hype, two major trading partners are Mexico and Chile.

Third, the facts above will have no impact on the U.S. Congress.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lake Norman Triathlon

This morning I did the Lake Norman YMCA Triathlon, which was my first. It was 750 meter swim, 17 mile bike, and then a 5K run. Really fun race, with lots of people cheering you on, and very well organized The only downside was periodic tailgating from impatient cars on two-lane roads, but that really can't be helped.

My goal now is to get faster on a bike.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Hal Weitzman's Latin Lessons

Hal Weitzman is a reporter for the Financial Times and published a book called Latin Lessons: How South America Stopped Listening to the United States and Started Prospering (2012). It controversial--and in my opinion not convincing--argument is that unlike the United States, Latin America is booming because it is riding a virtually permanent commodity boom. Here is the crux:

Commodity markets had always gone through cycles of boom and bust, but an increasingly large number of analysts began to argue that because of the needs of industralizing countries, raw materials were in a "supercycle," in which prices would be permanent higher than historical norms" (p. 9).

Isn't this always a common view during periods of commodity boom? I just don't see this as realistic or sustainable.

Now, it is true that many South American governments are doing things of which the Bush and Obama administrations did not approve, showing a decrease of direct influence. Yet what Weitzman calls "paralysis" could equally be viewed as prudence. What's odd is that later in a policy prescription section he writes that the U.S. "should accept the legitimacy of policies with which it does not agree" (p. 256) but in many ways that's really often--though certainly not always--what happened in the latter part of the Bush administration and now the Obama years. They may not have liked it, but for the most part they did not see changes in Latin America as requiring a strong-armed response as in the not-too-distant past.

Nonetheless, it's very readable and evocative if you step aside from the main argument.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Death of a Department Chair

Not surprisingly, novels about academia tend to center on English departments. I know political scientists are boring, but are English departments really so wild? I read Lynn Miller's Death of a Department Chair and wondered that again. There is a ton of sexual intrigue and lesbian jealousy that permeates the entire department and even its job searches. There is infighting and it is ridiculously intense.

For that reason, I spent much of my time happy I did not work in such a place where so many people disliked each other so much (it is UT Austin, with barely any attempt to disguise it). I didn't really get into the mystery part of it much, figuring that virtually any of them could be guilty and I'd be perfectly happy no matter what insecure faculty member it might be. The department chair was killed in the midst of a department debate about who to hire, and the narrative dives not only into sexuality but also into race.

All I'm saying is that I am a department chair and so I hope our searches don't end up with me dead and stripped naked at my desk.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Private sources of military funding

Maiah Jaskoski, ""Public Security Forces with Private Funding: Local Army Entrepreneurship in Peru and Ecuador." Latin American Research Review 47, 2 (2012): 100-119.

Note: this is a great article, but journal dissemination FAIL. I received the paper copy as part of my LASA membership, but I cannot find it anywhere online since the LARR site is months out of date.

Anyway, her argument is that the traditional notion of "mission" needs rethinking. We would expect the military to privilege missions centered on their national security priorities. In fact, that does not necessarily happen because military commanders see many opportunities for gain from private funds, such as oil or mining interests. This need not be corruption, but rather opportunity to receive vehicles, fuel, and food: "Local commanders facing severe shortages of central army funds have ordered much of this work in response to outside compensation for the security services" (p. 95).  Of particular use is the in-depth qualitative analysis, which is top notch. Over 330 interviews, for example.

She ends on a pessimistic note, arguing that this has grave consequences for civilian supremacy over the armed forces since their priorities may be skewed by private interests. I agree, though I would argue that part of the problem could be addressed simply by having civilians more involved. Soldiers are underled and underfunded by the government, not just undercontrolled, though the former contribute to the latter.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Easy appeasy

This op-ed by Mario Diaz-Balart on Obama's Cuba policy comes perilously close to nonsensical, given that Obama's stance is barely different from George W. Bush and Cuba is laughable as a national security threat. This whole "appeasement" theme is over the top. But I love this in particular:

Similarly, after thoroughly and seriously studying the issue, Romney’s running mate, my friend Rep. Paul Ryan, fully understands that a policy of appeasement and accommodation only emboldens the terrorist Castro regime. 
Seven or eight years ago, my brother Lincoln, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and I had long and thorough briefing sessions on the issue of Cuba with Paul Ryan, and, since then, Rep. Ryan has not only supported a vigorous U.S. pro-democracy policy toward Cuba, he has been one of the strongest supporters of a free Cuba in the U.S. Congress.

"Studying" and "briefing" really means being told you are *&^%@ed in Florida if you keep talking your pro-market libertarian talk about Cuba. On Ryan's wholly fictional conversion, see this great post by Anya Landau French.


Wikileaks Ecuador style

Check out this editorial in Ecuador's La Hora about the penalties someone would bring down on themselves if they tried to release information a la Wikileaks in Ecuador. You would go to jail and pay somewhere between $500 and $10,000. When the information is hacked from the state, you face even worse consequences because of national security laws. It can vary a bit depending on whether you are the individual doing the hacking, or if you are just disseminating the information.

So let's see someone publish sensitive state information that the Ecuadorian government wants secret. I suspect we would hear a lot about jail time, and not much about the joys of transparency.


Monday, August 20, 2012

More on Correa & Assange

Anita Isaacs, who studies Ecuadorian politics, has an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that the Assange case is a way for Rafael Correa to take a bigger international role.

In asserting Ecuadorean sovereignty and defying the United States, President Correa is also vying for hemispheric leadership. The declining health of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, who has been battling cancer for over a year now, has created a potential opening in Latin America for someone else to move in as the standard-bearer of leftist, populist and nationalist opposition to the United States.

I'm not as sure of this. It could be seen as unique because of Wikileaks, which is what drew Correa's attention to the Assange case in the first place. Whether this is a new trend or not, Britain's refusal to rule out the use of force was a terrible idea, and gave Correa the opportunity to convene Unasur and make a big point about international rights through a formal declaration.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Harry Barnes RIP

Harry Barnes has died. He was the US Ambassador to Chile during the Reagan administration, and actively supported democratization. Proof of that is that Jesse Helms criticized him.

Further proof comes from the Chileans praising him. He stood against violence and for free elections.

It's easy to forget that the Reagan administration soured on Augusto Pinochet. There are a number of reasons, one of which is resentment about the murder of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC. State terrorism is one thing, but not even friendly governments are supposed to do it in the United States. In addition, the Pinochet government had outlasted its usefulness. There was no Marxist threat anymore, hadn't been for years, and increasingly even conservatives didn't see the point of getting beat up over human rights abuses in Chile. An orderly transition would preserve capitalism and allow Reagan to claim his commitment to democracy (despite glaring examples to the contrary elsewhere in Latin America).

Whatever the reason, it was the right thing to do, and Barnes played a key role.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Assange & Ecuador

I'm quoted in this Los Angeles Times article on Julian Assange and Ecuador. What a weird story. Given that   opposition was already growing in the U.S. Congress to extending the Andean Trade Preference Act for Ecuador--it expires in 2013--we can reasonably expect this to be the last straw (Bolivia already experienced the same a few years ago).

Rafael Correa hasn't stuck his neck out all that much globally, so this is a new step for him. Indeed, even for crises in Honduras or Paraguay, other Latin American governments took the lead. But right now this seems a no-lose situation for him. If Assange gets out, he can claim to be protecting the whistle-blower from imperial powers. If the UK really busts into the embassy, he'll get a boatload of international sympathy. If (or when, really) the U.S. punishes him, then he'll score regional points.

It is ironic, however, that he will be harboring someone whose stated goal is total free speech, while Correa himself has sued media outlets for their statements and otherwise harassed opposition media. If Assange keeps quiet about it for his own personal sake, then the hypocrisy will be even more full blown.

Update: it was pointed out to me that Correa took the lead on the OAS/Cuba flap a few months ago. Fair enough, though I would argue that is not on the same level.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Coca vs. Cocoa

The challenges of crop substitution remain serious. What do you do when cocoa prices fall and coca prices hold steady?

“It’s not easy to convince farmers now to plant cocoa since we are coming out of a price situation that’s difficult,” Pinzon said. “But if you’ve lived through it, you know this is cyclical.” 
Not for all commodities. According to Colombian police, concern about global economic growth hasn’t dented international demand for cocaine and domestic prices for coca leaves have held steady in the past 12 months -- making it a better bet than cocoa, coffee, orange juice and cotton.

But try telling a poor farmer that all he or she has to do is sit tight and wait it out because it's cyclical. Your best bet is to grow both legal and illegal crops. Coca is hearty, relatively light, and prices are less volatile. As a result, no one has figured out a way to make crop substitution viable over the long term.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Baseball in Brazil

From the Rio Times: baseball is becoming more popular in Brazil. It seems the internet in particular has been important for making it easier for people to see/hear major league games. MLB, which has focused more and more on Latin America, is working to promote it. Brazilian Yan Gomes actually came up for the Blue Jays this year (no Chileans yet!).

MLB brings with it real problems of corruption and exploitation in Latin America, so it is a double edged sword. Nonetheless, it's fun to see other countries play more baseball.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Paul Ryan and Latin America

Via Jonathan Schwarz: Elliott Abrams is a foreign policy adviser to Paul Ryan.

The few people who pay attention to U.S. foreign policy usually remember Elliot Abrams for pleading guilty to lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra scandal, or for helping to cover up the El Mozote massacre of at least 800 unarmed peasants by the Salvadoran government in 1981. (He collaborated on this with Thomas Enders.) 

Vice presidential candidates can be fun to discuss as long as we remember that they matter very little. However, this comes on top of Mitt Romney having very far right advisers on Latin America, such as Ray Walser. With Romney, as with George W. Bush, we would very likely see a push--though, to be fair, also pushback, a la Thomas Shannon--by Cold Warriors to become influential once again, with the goal of returning U.S. policy largely to a 1980s mindset. If Romney is elected, look for some appointment battles.


Monday, August 13, 2012

DeLong on Ryan on Latinos

Nice quote from Brad DeLong on Paul Ryan and Latinos:

You know, Paul Ryan's self-image is of a rugged individualist, upwardly-mobile, eager to take risks and strike out for new frontiers, a pioneer willing to move thousands of miles and become a stranger in a strange land in search of opportunity--and not somebody obedient to picky bureaucratic rules and regulations. 
In short, Paul Ryan's self-image--and the self-image of a great deal of his cheering section, it happens--is that he is an illegal immigrant from Oaxaca. 
But he really does not like illegal immigrants from Oaxaca

True enough.


Free and fair in Venezuela

At Caracas Chronicles, Francisco Toro--no friend of the Chávez goverment, to put it mildly--has a good post on election fraud in the upcoming presidential election. His argument is that Chávez clearly violates electoral law with regard to use of state resources, but will not resort to numerical fraud, i.e. tinkering with the vote totals.

This brought two things to mind.

First, Chávez is popular and can win elections without numerical fraud. This is hard for many opponents in the United States to swallow.

Second, it raises the question of how to define "free and fair" elections. Francisco argues that because of Chávez's use of state resources, the election cannot be considered free and fair. The Democratic Charter of the OAS, though, does not mention that aspect of elections:

the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people

That language is largely the same as the United Nations:

[C]itizens, without distinction of any kind, have the right and the opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives, and to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors

The focus, then, is on making sure the vote is secret and the counting is not tampered with. Peter Smith, who has studied Latin American democracy for many years, discusses "free" as free to enter a contest, and "fair" as the outcome not being rigged (in his Democracy in Latin America, esp. page 10).

To a certain extent, this is a debate about semantics. When it comes to international approbation, however, semantics matter because a label is affixed to a particular election. My guess is that in the absence of numerical fraud, Venezuela's election will be labeled "free and fair."


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ideas and foreign policy

In my U.S.-Latin American relations class, I use Kathryn Sikkink's work in particular to show how ideas and foreign policy can interact, especially with regard to human rights.

In Honduras, for example, we would expect concerns about drug trafficking--a national security priority--to trump everything else. Yet what Sikkink has argued is that local activists can make connections to international actors like NGOs and academics, who can then transmit human rights concerns to influential policy maker like the Secretary of State. Right now, the US is withholding aid to certain law enforcement units until the police chief's role in death squads can be investigated.

Ae shouldn't overstate the importance here, since this will not drastically change U.S. policy toward Honduras. But it does demonstrate that human rights are more embedded in U.S. policy than many people realize, and certainly far, far more than in the past.

And, as Mike notes, it is nice to know the petitions can periodically end up in my inbox actually do make a difference sometimes.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Chiquita non grata

Late last year I blogged about Chiquita coming to Charlotte. My basic take back then: the company had some serious ethical problems related to human rights in Colombia and Charlotte coughed up a lot of concessions just as developing countries often do. Overall, though, I understood that the jobs coming to Charlotte were the reason the city went so, ahem, bananas for it.

Now, after a few short months of settling in, we find out that Chiquita is in terrible shape, so bad that the CEO, Fernando Aguirre, is stepping down and says the company needs someone experienced in turning out troubled firms.

Now I understand all his tweets about having insomnia (which the article also notes!). Bonus quote:

Aguirre defended his business decisions over his tenure. 
“Right now, I wouldn’t change anything. The only thing I wish we could have done differently is, obviously, get better results,”

Read more here:
I think we all wish we could do nothing different and somehow get better results. Perhaps like the Charlotte City Council.


Thursday, August 09, 2012

Formal and informal labor

In an otherwise unremarkable Wall Street Journal article comparing the Mexican and Brazilian economies, this little nugget that underlines the often poor understanding of developing economies.

What could trip Mexico, though, is if a new government elected in July doesn't undertake labor reforms to unify its "formal" and "informal" labor pools, the report said. Formal is defined as organized labor that is expensive, while informal labor is free of associations but is also unskilled.

This is wrong on numerous levels, though to be fair I don't know if the misunderstanding is the Nomura Group, which wrote the report, or the reporter. Regardless:

  • Formal vs. informal refers to legality, not expense or skill.
  • Formal labor is not necessarily organized. In fact, it often isn't.
  • Organized labor is not always expensive, though we could quibble about the definition
  • Reforms should make informal labor more formal. I am not sure if that what is meant by "unify." The tone of the article hints at the opposite, with references to "investor-friendly policies."
  • Informal labor is not necessarily free of associations, e.g. landless movements in numerous countries


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Chávez on Cuba

Henrique Capriles is running an ad showing a Chávez video clip from 1998 where he says Cuba is a dictatorship (though he then quickly says he can't condemn/judge it).

I don't know whether Venezuelans will care much about this or not--my hunch is that the vast majority have already made up their minds about Cuba and will not vote based on it--but it is an old story.  Once you make allies, then they're suddenly no longer dictatorships. I wrote last month about a similar parallel between Venezuela and the United States with regard to how states treat their allies.


Whitewashing Paraguay

Unasur named a special committee to write a report on the Paraguayan situation, and it will apparently be released tomorrow. Do not expect much:

“What we all wish and are working for, is the quickest possible re-integration of Paraguay to Unasur, once the minimum democratic conditions have been compiled with”, said the Peruvian chancellor.

Translation: we will make some statements but not to worry. Hold your April 2013 elections and we will forget about it. P.S. Venezuela says muchísimas gracias to the Paraguayan right since it paved the way to Mercosur membership.


Monday, August 06, 2012

From president to legislator

Fernando Lugo says he might run for president in the next election. Or maybe not. Some people are looking into it and he's not sure. Some say yes, some say no. Could be he runs for senate, and he's asking around on that. He's not sure. He'll get back to you.

That made me think of José Manuel Zelaya, who says he's running for Congress in November primaries for the 2013 elections. His wife says she is running for president, but that is another story.

I would love to do some research on former Latin American presidents going into Congress, which has a long history. Given the reality of strong presidentialism, the reasons are not immediately apparent. Why go from very powerful to barely--or at least much less--powerful? Yet strong presidents like Chile's Arturo Alessandri did so.

Lugo and Zelaya present a real twist, given how they were removed. That reminds me of Fernando Collor, who was legitimately impeached but came back as an elected senator.


Sunday, August 05, 2012

Electoral rules in Venezuela

Hugo Chávez routinely ignores electoral rules by using the "cadena," or mandated state media time, to campaign. Yet he is up in arms because Henrique Capriles wears a baseball cap with the Venezuelan flag colors.

Aside from the hypocrisy, I keep wondering why wearing the colors matters (i.e. who is influenced by that?). The benefit of the cadena, by contrast, is obvious.


Saturday, August 04, 2012

Mark Harris' Bang the Drum Slowly

Mark Harris' Bang the Drum Slowly is a sad novel, the fictional story of a major league catcher in 1955 named Bruce Pearson who is diagnosed with Hodgkin's and whose life fades out over the course of the season.

The narrator is Henry Wiggen, who protects Pearson. He does what he can to make Pearson's life as pleasant as possible, hiding the illness as long as he can so that the club won't drop him. He details the long, slow baseball season, which seems to be mirror the long, slow journey toward death.

The narrative itself is like someone speaking out loud, e.g. "would of" instead of "would have." That gives it a very personal feel, as Wiggen tries to cope with his friend's decline.

I've never seen the movie so I need to rent it.


Friday, August 03, 2012

Using iAnnotate

A while ago I read a post in the Chronicle of Higher Education's ProfHacker blog that really caught my attention about the iAnnotate PDF app for the iPad. The author, Doug Ward, had a cool idea about using voice recording to grade papers. I am going to give that a shot this semester, but in the meantime started playing with the app for other things. I had a long meeting this morning, so I opened the agenda as a PDF file in iAnnotate (it automatically takes a Word document and opens it as a PDF). When I wanted to take notes during the meeting, I did so directly onto the agenda using a stylus (you can type as well or do both as you like in a variety of way). Once the meeting was over, I exported the file into Dropbox.

I just finished my first month as chair of my department, and I am acutely aware of the amount of paper I will be receiving, so this is a welcome way of remaining as paperless and--even more critically--as organized possible. And with Dropbox, I don't have to worry about losing the notes.

Incidentally, if you in academia and are not familiar with ProfHacker, then you should give it a look. It focuses on technology for research and the classroom, but also on time management, productivity in general, and other issues that everyone face.


Venezuelan oil deals

Henrique Capriles says he will end preferential oil deals if he is elected president, saying you shouldn't have to buy friends. If he does become president, then I hope he realizes that in the international system you are in much better shape if you can buy friends. It wouldn't surprise me, in fact, if he simply chooses to buy different friends.

In any case, it's notable that the countries cited are all over the place ideologically, given that we mostly hear about Cuba:

The youthful former state governor named Belarus, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Argentina as countries that would stop receiving oil on preferential terms.

And you gotta love the gratuitous insertion of "youthful" in there, presumably in contrast to the "other puffy candidate."


Thursday, August 02, 2012

Immigration racket

Just a reminder that if you support large scale raids, roundups, and arrests of undocumented immigrants, then  by definition you also support giving billions of taxpayer dollars to companies running prisons.

The companies also have raked in cash from subsidiaries that provide health care and transportation. And they are holding more immigrants convicted of federal crimes in their privately-run prisons. 
The financial boom, which has helped save some of these companies from the brink of bankruptcy, has occurred even though federal officials acknowledge privatization isn't necessarily cheaper. 
This seismic shift toward a privatized system happened quietly. While Congress' unsuccessful efforts to overhaul immigration laws drew headlines and sparked massive demonstrations, lawmakers' negotiations to boost detention dollars received far less attention. 
The industry's giants —Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp. — have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found.

To put it slightly differently, the United States is quietly becoming a boomtown prison state, and we're all paying for it. Maybe we need a new major in Prison Guard Studies.


Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Ecuador and ATPA

Connie Mack introduced a resolution to punish Ecuador by allowing the Andean Trade Promotion Act to expire in July 2013. The funny thing about it, though, is that he admits Ecuador is doing exactly what the ATPA intended, namely fight drug trafficking. Here is the United States Trade Representative's summary of the agreement:

The Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) was enacted in December 1991, to help four Andean countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru) in their fight against drug production and trafficking by expanding their economic alternatives.

Mack lists many things about Ecuador that he dislikes, such as attacks on media, expropriation, relations with Iran, etc. but then inserts this:

Whereas although the Ecuadoran authorities report seizing 21.5 metric tons of finished cocaine in 2011, according to the United States Department of State's 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, `Ecuador is a major transit country for illegal narcotics';

Translated, this means the Ecuadorian government is fighting drug trafficking, but drugs go through the country on their merry way to users elsewhere. This should not be terribly surprising given the country's proximity to major production countries (Ecuador does not grow any appreciable amount of coca). I can guarantee you will not hear Mack criticize the Honduran government for drug transit, but it is the exact same situation.

The U.S. Congress can certainly stop giving Ecuador trade preferences for whatever reason it wants, but at the very least the debate should be put in the context of the original--and non-ideological--intent of the legislation.


Declassify Latin America

Peter Kornbluh, whose career is dedicated to declassifying U.S. documents related to Latin America, has an article in The Nation with an overview of Wikileaks and U.S. policy. He suggests that the documents may shed more light on Latin American than on Washington.

From the Cuba cables, as much can be ascertained about the thinking of Raul Castro’s government as about US policy toward it. This is true for the broader region as well. In Latin America, where declassification of records on internal government deliberations is severely limited, the WikiLeaks cables provide detailed information on official conversations, meetings, national security plans, social policies, foreign policies, economic policies and more. 

Readers in Argentina, for example, can track the debate within Cristina Kirchner’s administration on decriminalizing the use of marijuana. Hondurans can listen in as those generals and politicians who overthrew Zelaya plotted to consolidate their post-coup powers. Chileans can better understand how their government alters building codes on the construction of thermonuclear plants at the behest of foreign corporations.

It's an interesting point. We rightly criticize the U.S. government for keeping things classified (did you know, by the way, that the Department of Defense will not reveal the biggest threat faced by the U.S. in 1975?) and organizations like the National Security Archive fight to declassify them. But more attention should be paid to the fact that Latin American governments hold on even more tightly.

Plus, given the history of repression, scolars and activists alike tend to focus on the documents of military regimes rather than more recent democratic governments, who nonetheless have plenty of dirty secrets.


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