Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Don't Retract the Crappy Pro-Colonialism Article

Inside Higher Ed talks about the call for retraction of Third World Quarterly's pro-colonialism article. This is not a good idea. Just ignore the damned thing. Or if you feel the need to engage with it, just call it a piece of crap and move on.

There are a lot of crappy academic articles, some of them to the point of being laughable. They are generally laughed at and ignored. With some like this, you stop laughing and get annoyed or even angry. But that doesn't merit censorship.

Now the petition itself does have an interesting charge:

The peer review process exists to ensure rigor in published research. We understand that this piece was rejected after review, and that decision should have been respected and this sub-par scholarship should never have been published. Editor or editors at Third World Quarterly allowing this piece utterly lacking in academic merit to be published should be replaced from the Editorial Board.

Hmm. This is hearsay so I would like to know more--the editor says differently, or at least suggests that peer-review led to its acceptance rather than the opposite.

Shahid Qadir, editor of Third World Quarterly and an honorary research associate at the University of London, said in statement Monday that Gilley’s piece had been published as a Viewpoint essay after “rigorous double-blind peer review.” 

I really wish I could see the reviews. If anything, I'd say release the reviews and leave them anonymous.

But it's a moot point. It's a "viewpoint" article, which is like an op-ed. I imagine you do not agree with all op-eds but that does not mean we censor them. This is an egregiously poorly written and argued op-ed that indirectly says genocide is A-OK, but it shouldn't be censored. Retraction would likely give it a lasting impact as a martyr.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

U.S. Options for Venezuela

The Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee had a hearing entitled, "The Venezuela Crisis: The Malicious Influence of State and Criminal Actors." The emphasis was on international actors. The upshot:

R. Evan Ellis: Russia and China are serious threats. Sanction the crap out of Venezuela. Unfortunate about how it will hurt Venezuelans, but it'll also save them. Lean on China and Russia.

Francisco Toro: Cuba has a major and extensive influence over the Venezuelan government. Focus on intelligence and proliferation (i.e. giving weapons to Bolivarian militia). No policy recommendations.

Harold Trinkunas: Great quote: "We should avoid over-connecting the dots." External actors mostly trying to make money. Use combination of diplomacy and sanctions targeted at individuals.

We should always start by consciously refusing to over-connect dots--there could be a great analysis of how doing so leads to bad policy. I disagree almost entirely with Ellis' policy prescriptions, which I think will make the crisis worse. Quico did not make any policy prescriptions, but in terms of U.S. policy I think his observations should be wrapped into U.S.-Cuban relations. Cuba's role will diminish once democracy returns to Venezuela, and the U.S. can put pressure on the Cubans by offering carrots elsewhere.


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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Latin American Response to Venezuela

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian takes a historical look at Latin American diplomacy to argue that there is precedent for dealing with a situation like Venezuela. He cites the Contadora Group in particular, which worked on the Central American crisis in the 1980s.

Today, the world and region are immersed in dynamics that are not dissimilar to the past. The case of Cuba shows what the region must avoid. Instead, Latin Americans should emulate cooperative efforts made in Central America by the Contadora Group. This method could help to stabilize the situation in Venezuela before it is too late. Whether the states of Latin America have learned from the past or have the political will, however, remains to be seen.

He uses the case of the Cuban Revolution to show the passivity of Latin American governments, which allowed for Cuba's isolation. Doing the same with Venezuela could have the same effect, which in practice could mean years more of repression.

This has been a vexing question. It is in the collective interest to find a solution to the crisis. Venezuela's problems will spill over. But that spillover is not uniform. Bolivia is more committed to ideology, for example. Plus, such an effort requires considerable time and commitment. Colombia is implementing a peace process while Brazil is trying to impeach everyone.

Article after article has been written about what Latin America needs to do. More should analysis what they're actually doing now and why. I gave my pessimistic view about all this earlier this year.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Trump and Mexico



This tweet says so much.

1. President Trump does not care about Mexico, even to the point of ignoring natural disasters until public clamor finally prompts him to acknowledge it (remember too that he ignored Mexico's offer of help after Hurricane Harvey.

2. He believes we're stupid. Even if you take the tweet at face value, one reporter who was around where Enrique Peña Nieto was traveling had a cell signal. It's insulting and he knows it's insulting.

3. He believes Mexicans are stupid as well. These tweets are part of diplomacy. Chris Sabatini has a recent piece on the disasters of diplomacy for Latin America policy and this just adds to the disaster.

4. U.S.-Latin American relations are going downhill fast. This comes on the heels of an ill-advised announcement about Colombia.

It's depressing, really.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Trump's Colombia Blunder

A White House memo states that Venezuela and Bolivia are not adequately combating narcotics and that Colombia may be decertified, which would mean aid cuts and possibly other measures.


In addition, the United States Government seriously considered designating Colombia as a country that has failed demonstrably to adhere to its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements due to the extraordinary growth of coca cultivation and cocaine production over the past 3 years, including record cultivation during the last 12 months.  Ultimately, Colombia is not designated because the Colombian National Police and Armed Forces are close law enforcement and security partners of the United States in the Western Hemisphere, they are improving interdiction efforts, and have restarted some eradication that they had significantly curtailed beginning in 2013.  I will, however, keep this designation under section 706(2)(A) of the FRAA as an option, and expect Colombia to make significant progress in reducing coca cultivation and production of cocaine.

As refresher, one year ago President Obama also singled out Venezuela and Bolivia (he also emphasize the importance of drug treatment, which Trump did not include). I've written before why putting Bolivia on the list contradicts empirical evidence.

But Obama correctly saw Colombia as an ally.

Trump's Latin America policy (the "Trump Doctrine," if you will) has been characterized by threat, bluster, then little change. We can only hope that holds with Colombia as well. The U.S. can only lose by penalizing Colombia, especially at such a delicate time. Literally nothing good can come of it--it could endanger peace, disrupt markets, affect the Colombian peso, and undermine regional confidence (to the extent there is any). Some of these might start happening anyway in anticipation of a possible policy change. All to "scare" Colombia into doing what the U.S. wants.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Podcast Episode 41: Mining Protests in Latin America

In Episode 41 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast I talk with Michelle Bonner, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Victoria. She studies democratization and human rights in Latin America. Going from an article she recently published in Latin American Research Review we discuss the state response to mining protests. How does the ideology of the government matter? What is "dialogue"? What does this tell us about democracy and repression in Latin America?




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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Gotta Love Colonialism

A political scientist has published an article arguing that colonization was positive and that former colonies should either recolonize or copy the colonizer.

For the last 100 years, Western colonialism has had a bad name. It is high time to question this orthodoxy. Western colonialism was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found, using realistic measures of those concepts. The countries that embraced their colonial inheritance, by and large, did better than those that spurned it. Anti-colonial ideology imposed grave harms on subject peoples and continues to thwart sustained development and a fruitful encounter with modernity in many places. Colonialism can be recovered by weak and fragile states today in three ways: by reclaiming colonial modes of governance; by recolonising some areas; and by creating new Western colonies from scratch.

My first thought was that we're just being trolled. If we just take the case of Latin America, extolling colonialism require you to believe that at a minimum that genocide is positive, forced labor is a benefit, militarism works well, and racism is acceptable. Those are not things the typical person believes.

It is ironic that an article arguing about "research that is careful in conceptualising and measuring controls" and "includes multiple dimensions of costs and benefits" does precious little of either. Cherry-picked examples don't add up to much.

I would've loved to see the peer reviews of this one. Perhaps they just thought it would be fun to cause some controversy. In that sense, it might be less of a trolling and more of plain old click bait.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

U.S. Military Aid and Coups

A recent academic article looks at the relationship between U.S. military aid and coup probability.

Jesse Dillon Savage and Jonathan D. Caverley, "When Human Capital Threatens the Capitol: Foreign Aid in the Form of Military Training and Coups," Journal of Peace Research 54, 4 (2017): 542-557.

Abstract (gated):


How does aid in the form of training influence foreign militaries’ relationship to domestic politics? The United States has trained tens of thousands of officers in foreign militaries with the goals of increasing its security and instilling respect for human rights, democracy, and civilian control. We argue that training increases the military’s power relative to the regime in a way that other forms of military assistance do not. While other forms of military assistance are somewhat fungible, allowing the regime to shift resources towards coup-proofing, human capital is a resource vested solely in the military. Training thus alters the balance of power between the military and the regime resulting in greater coup propensity. Using data from 189 countries from 1970 to 2009 we show that greater numbers of military officers trained by the US International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Countering Terrorism Fellowship (CTFP) programs increases the probability of a military coup.

Interesting, but I feel like there is more to this story. For Latin America, this should be disaggregated into Cold War and post-Cold War, which would provide a clearer picture. The U.S. has been pouring military aid into Colombia (no coup), Mexico (no coup), Guatemala (no coup--failed autogolpe in 1992) and Honduras (2009 coup). But if you isolate the 1970s and 1980s, you'd see many more.

In other words, context would make this a richer discussion. Nonetheless, the basic thrust of the paper should be part of any aid discussion. All things being equal, making a military institution in a developing country (economic development should be part of this) strong vis-a-vis the civilian government is a dangerous business.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Trump's Doctrine of Retreat

I've written a good amount about how Donald Trump has squandered soft power and lost leverage in Latin America. Now the Senate Appropriations Committee report on its budget for the State Department and Foreign Operations serves up a harsh assessment.

The lessons-learned since September 11, 2001, include the reality that defense alone does not provide for American strength and resolve abroad. Battlefield technology and firepower cannot replace diplomacy and development. The administration’s apparent doctrine of retreat, which also includes distancing the United States from collective and multilateral dispute resolution frameworks, serves only to weaken America’s standing in the world.

Boom! This is not word mincing.

Adam Isacson noted approvingly the support in the bill for the Colombia peace initiative, which Trump has always been lukewarm about. It even has nuggets like this:

The Committee is concerned that representatives of Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and other minority groups, as well as rural women, are not sufficiently integrated into the process of implementing the peace agreement, and urges the Government of Colombia to prioritize engagement with these communities, including through economic and social development programs. The Committee underscores the importance of security and stability in formerly-held FARC areas, particularly in the Pacific coast region. 

Certainly not a Trumpesque policy prescription. The U.S. has a positive role to play in Colombia and elsewhere, and needs the personnel and resources to do so.

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Hurricane Maduro's New Laws

Nicolás Maduro proposed eight new laws to the Constituent Assembly. They're a combination of delusion and fantasy.

They would fix prices for 50 goods while increasing the minimum wage by 40%. The main result will be to increase both scarcity and inflation. There would also be a law that punishes "economic crimes" that vaguely covers speculation and other natural consequences of price fixing and general economic mismanagement.

He also ordered PDVSA to increase oil production. Just snap your fingers and it'll happen. Never mind that PDVSA is a total disaster and production is at a 25 year low.

In a country wracked by economic woes and violence, he also called for increased tourism.

Finally, he announced that Venezuela would soon be free from the clutches of the dollar and would be instead making international payments through a basket of currencies.

“If they pursue us with the dollar, we’ll use the Russian ruble, the yuan, yen, the Indian rupee, the euro,” Maduro said.

I don't think I even know what that means. Maybe he does. Perhaps the best response to all this was from Henrique Capriles:



Hurricane Maduro wipes everything out wherever he goes.

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Thursday, September 07, 2017

Podcast Episode 40: DACA

This morning I went on WFAE's Charlotte Talks to discuss Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). If you're interested, here is the link, where they've already posted the show. Since there were threads I didn't get to follow on the show, I decided to do a podcast as a follow up, so just click here. The key question is whether Congress will actually act or not.


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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Passing a New Dream Act

Under what circumstances could a Dream Act pass these days? Senator Thom Tillis is putting together what he calls a conservative Dream Act, but defining that will be important. If it denies any pathway to citizenship, then it will face stiff opposition from Democrats. If it provides any avenue for citizenship, it will be stiffly opposed by Republicans. Overall, many House Republicans in particular are opposed to any reform of any kind. It's a small needle to thread.

Further, these days the Senate is more hospitable than the House, where any reform will be controversial. We talk about "bipartisanship" but there is the question of the so-called "Hastert Rule" whereby the majority party does not allow a vote on legislation that might pass with a minority of the majority supporting it. Paul Ryan has no incentive to let anything through that does not have majority Republican support.

Time is a problem. The Dream Act was first proposed in 2001. That's right, before 9/11. Now Congress has six months to overcome all the past challenges, while Trump is simultaneously calling on Congress to pass tax reform, which is not exactly a simple task.

Back in 2010, the Senate could not pass the Dream Act. Critics said this would hurt Republicans, which was not true. It did pass the House. Then in 2013 the Senate passed an immigration reform bill, which the House wouldn't even vote on and John Boehner declared it dead. That didn't hurt Republicans either.

The lesson for Republicans? Not acting will not hurt their re-election chances. In fact, doing nothing might boost their chances in the next primary. And Donald Trump tweeted that he would "revisit" the issue in March 2018 if Congress failed to act. Since Trump has already declared executive order on the issue to be unconstitutional, skeptical Republicans could logically take this to mean he might cancel DACA without a replacement if they don't act.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Trump Ends DACA

The Trump administration has ended DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The statement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is littered with questionable assumptions and falsehoods. Without irony, he says that ending DACA shows compassion, saves lives, promotes assimilation, helps poor Americans, raises wages, and combats terrorism, all of which are false. Insultingly false. Fly in the face of both common sense and empirical evidence false.

He says:

This does not mean they are bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way.

This is also false. Trump himself famously said:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

This is red political meat for xenophobes and not much else. Hundreds of thousands of people who grew up in the United States for reasons entirely beyond their control will be punished to please xenophobes. It is heartless, cruel, and simply mean-spirited.

I've had numerous students protected under DACA, and they are universally the kind of people we want to stay, live, and work in the United States. They will make the United States a better place if we don't abuse them. Consciously destroying their lives is sick. And Trump now owns that.

Update: Trump released his own statement, which contains this whopper:

DACA made it impossible for President Trump to pursue the reforms needed to restore fairness to our immigration system and protect American workers [bold in original].

DACA doesn't make any legislative action impossible. In the statement he provides no basis for the logic.

Another Update: Here is President Obama's response. It is strongly worded and accurate:

Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us. They are that pitcher on our kid’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages.

Update: Paul Ryan's statement.

It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.

If you rely on presidential leadership now, you're not in particularly good shape.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell issued a statement.

President Obama wrongly believed he had the authority to re-write our immigration law. Today’s action by President Trump corrects that fundamental mistake. 
“This Congress will continue working on securing our border and ensuring a lawful system of immigration that works.”

That was the entirety of his statement, which does not generate much confidence in congressional action by March.

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Canada's Stance on NAFTA

There are all sorts of issues popping up as part of the NAFTA negotiations going on. One in particular that caught my eye came from Canada:

Canadian negotiators are demanding the United States roll back so-called "right to work" laws – accused of gutting unions in some U.S. states by starving them of money – as part of the renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement. The request is part of a push by Ottawa to get the U.S. and Mexico to adopt higher labour standards under the deal.

This not only goes after "right to work" laws but it hits Mexican corporatism directly, which has involved corrupt deals between the government and union leaders. Therefore they rejected the idea.

Overall, it's healthy to have a more public discussion of wages. An important part of my Latin American Politics class is to explain why countries can see strong economic growth and general dissatisfaction at the same time. Even if you have a job, it might pay very little and offer few to no benefits, which has become increasingly problematic in the United States.

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Monday, September 04, 2017

Trump and the Cuba Sonic Attack

The story about U.S. and Canadian diplomats suffering serious injury because of some sort of sonic attack is just weird. It's well known that the Cuban government, like probably almost every other dictatorship, bugs diplomats as much as possible. But it has no incentive to attack the U.S., which gains them nothing while opening Cuba up to retaliation.

Even more curious to me, though, is this sort of thing is low-hanging fruit for Donald Trump. So easy to tweet about, so easy to score political points with hardline Cuban-American conservatives, so easy to bluster and crow. But he isn't.


The United States has stopped short of accusing Cuba of being behind the alleged attacks. The Cuban government has denied any wrongdoing and is said to be cooperating in the ongoing investigation.

Why not? One current hypothesis is that someone--who else but the Russians, really?--was using them to harass U.S. diplomats for U.S. policy elsewhere.

Indeed, US investigators are probing whether a third country was involved as "payback" for actions the US has taken elsewhere and to "drive a wedge between the US and Cuba," a US official told CNN. 

Under this scenario, the U.S. doesn't see Cuba as responsible. But that's weird too. Can the Russians actually do such things in Cuba without Raúl Castro knowing? And if he knew, we're back to square one about why he would take a big risk for no gain.

Somehow, someone convinced Donald Trump that Cuba, which he loves to rail about, is not worth railing about in this instance. Since this sort of thing is right up his alley, it's hard to understand why he is showing restraint. That's almost weirder than the attack itself.

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Saturday, September 02, 2017

Venezuelan-Americans as Voters

The Miami Herald has a piece that is part of a trend toward portraying Venezuelans in Florida as a voting bloc that politicians need to pay attention to.

And as Republicans look to defeat Nelson and maintain majorities throughout Florida in 2018, attacking Democrats on Venezuela could pay off politically, even if Florida Democrats are now talking tough on Venezuela.

Unfortunately, the article only provides quotes from Republicans and has no data. A recent article in Americas Quarterly suggests that in already heavily Cuban-American Florida districts like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's, Venezuelan-American voters are about 10% of the total. Elsewhere that's much lower. It also notes that Venezuelans do not appear to vote as predictably as Cuban Americans once did. In practice, this could mean agreeing with today's version of the Republican Party on Venezuela but not much else.

I've heard plenty about Venezuelans in the United States voting in Venezuelan elections (where the government has made it as inconvenient as possible, such as forcing people in Florida to vote in new Orleans, knowing how they lean) but not so much in U.S. elections. Plus, of course, when they arrive from Venezuela they are not eligible to vote so this takes a lot of time. However, they have the money and the successful lobbying model of the Cuban American community to emulate.

It does mean that candidates will find themselves needing to address the crisis in Venezuela more than they did in the past. The 5-10% in a district may or may not sway an election, but if they jam the polls during primaries then you need to pay attention to them even to get to the general election.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

What Guatemalans Think of CICIG

Liz Zechmeister and Dinorah Azpuru published a brief report on Guatemalan public opinion, based on LAPOP data. The upshot:

In summary, recent survey data show that Guatemalans experience high levels of corruption victimization, have fairly cynical views of the proportion of politicians who are corrupt, hold the CICIG in very high regard, have moderate levels of trust in the Constitutional Court, and fairly high levels of trust in the MP. In such a climate, attempts by President Morales to defy the CICIG, the Constitutional Court, and/or the MP may risk running afoul of the court of public opinion. 

This is on the verge of being a hypothesis. If the public gains trust in state institutions intended to fight corruption, that can have an impact (in what exact manner, I don't know) on political efforts to undermine those institutions. At this point we'll just have to read the news to watch how that public trust translates into pressure on the president.

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Venezuela's Future

Andrés Cañizález has a piece in Global Americans about the possibility for democratization in Venezuela. There's not much room for optimism:

But as important as international condemnation is, collective pressure thus far has failed to have a critical role in triggering a democratic transition and will continue to do so, especially if political will in Venezuela remains challenged by just a few in power. The international community has limited influence over an autocratic regime that has no intentions of democratizing or yielding its  absolute control of national wealth, at least not in the remainder of 2017.

It's useful to read Elías Jaua's opinion piece in TeleSur along with it. He basically argues for a fully Cuban-style system, with state control over all distribution of income, instilling Communist military doctrine both in the military and society, and other similar measures. This he calls "liberation."

And indeed, this is the direction Venezuela will likely take, or at the very least the direction Nicolás Maduro will attempt to take. We have seen already that the government will not engage in meaningful dialogue (with "meaningful" involving concessions or acceptance of the opposition's legitimate right to political power), that the opposition can't seem to unite, and that Latin America will not unite in condemnation. That gives Maduro political space, and expanding the state's control over society is the logical step for the intransigent, especially when resources are becoming scarcer.

Cañiláz's article mostly hopes for more defections and increased youth disaffection, but will they matter as the state increases its control?

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

U.S. Role in the Honduran Coup

Jake Johnston has an article that The Intercept entitled, "How Pentagon Officials May Have Encouraged a 2009 Coup in Honduras." I highly recommend checking it out. There's no smoking gun, really, and the main new thing we learn is that there were discussions of some sort between U.S. and Honduran military personnel immediately prior to the coup. The core conclusion, however, is really this part:


The new information paints a picture of an American government with no single policy, but rather, of bloated bureaucracies acting on competing interests. Hidden actors during the crisis tilted Honduras toward chaos, undermined official U.S. policy after the coup, and ushered in a new era of militarization that has left a trail of violence and repression in its wake.

At the time, I wrote about how then-Senator Jim DeMint clashed with John Kerry. As Johnston notes, along with Connie Mack, DeMint was working actively in favor of the Honduran military. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's own perceptions of the coup (specifically whether to call it a coup) diverged. Further, despite all the human rights talk, U.S. military aid starting flowing in not long after the 2009 presidential election, and abuses worsened.

Johnston's narrative shows how the Honduran coup plotters were looking for positive signals from the United States (an issue that Kathryn Sikkink discusses in her book Mixed Signals, which I am actually using right now in my U.S.-Latin American relations seminar). According to Johnston's account, they went looking in particular at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, where they got an informal positive sense. It's hard to believe they took that as official approval, but if it happened then they certainly would've been heartened. They also knew for sure that they would find strong congressional support in the U.S.

Overall, though, Johnston's main thesis as stated above is critical. As we all saw at the time, U.S. policy veered around and a multitude of voices said contradictory things. President Obama would sometimes make clear statements but they wouldn't be followed with action. Unfortunately, and I also noted this at the time, Latin America waited for the U.S. to take the lead, with even Hugo Chávez begging Obama to do something! In the midst of that mess, the coup government was able to wait things out and Honduran democracy, such as it was, suffered.

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Human Rights Abuses in Venezuela

The UN Human Rights Office issued a report citing "extensive human rights violations and abuses" in Venezuela. Here's the full text.

Credible and consistent accounts of victims and witnesses indicate that security forces systematically used excessive force to deter demonstrations, crush dissent and instil fear. 

The report also rejects the whole "economic war" and "both sides are equally responsible" government line.

Starting in 2014, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has experienced an aggravation in the economic crisis derived from the drop in the international price of oil and other factors such as currency and price controls, lack of investment in infrastructure and in the production system, and the heavy dependency on oil revenues to import basic goods. 

What a change. Hugo Chávez loved the UN as a forum to rail against the United States (like his famous 2005 speech). He worked the rooms at UN meetings. Now Venezuela is becoming a pariah.

As you might guess, the report calls on the government to start respecting Venezuelans' rights. Instead, the opposite is happening, as the Constituent Assembly issued a decree allowing opposition leaders who support sanctions to be arrested. We'll see more such decrees in the days to come, often created quickly in response to events on the ground to allow for wider arrests and repression.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

ELN Trying to Increase Leverage

The Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) attacked an oil pipeline in Colombia, which compelled the government to shut it off. The ELN has been in talks with the government and this sort of attack is intended to put pressure on President Santos to make more concessions. This is a tricky move because the ELN will also need to prove it can stop being violent. In July 2015, for example, the FARC announced a unilateral ceasefire, which almost certainly helped get to the peace negotiation finish line (the ceasefire became bilateral in August 2016). There had been talk that the ELN would do the same to coincide with the Pope's visit, so I guess they figure they should get some bombings in beforehand to remind the government of their strength.

Meanwhile, the hypocrisy of bombing pipelines is evident. The ELN claims to be on the side of the rural poor, while ensuring that raw oil periodically gets spilled in rural areas. All those spills mean woe for farmers, those who rely on fishing, etc.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Mexico's Statement to Trump

The Mexican government released a statement in English in response to Donald Trump's statement and tweets about Mexico paying for a wall and possibly terminating NAFTA. They took the very high road. I suppose it takes a Donald Trump to make Enrique Peña Nieto appear serious and presidential. I like this part in particular:

Mexico will not negotiate NAFTA, nor any other aspect of the bilateral relationship, through social media or any other news platform.

And indeed, Trump's statements are intended to achieve two goals. The first is to intimidate Mexico with a hard line, which Trump actually appears to believe strengthens his bargaining position. I suppose it must've worked sometimes in real estate for him to keep trying it.

The second is to send his core xenophobic supporters the message that he still dislikes Mexico and Mexicans. He's gone all over the map about who would pay for the wall, but those people want to hear that Mexico is a nasty place and its nasty people will pay so periodically he reassures them on that point.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Karl Ove Knausgaard's Autumn

Karl Ove Knausgaard's Autumn is not part of his My Struggle sextet (the last of which does not come out in English until next year) but it's the next best thing. It is a series of short essays and letters to his unborn daughter, emphasizing the beautiful (he uses that word a lot, too much really) in ordinary things. Toilets, wasps, chewing gum, you name it. He's so good at making the ordinary interesting that I liked them despite how mundane they sound. The chapters all wonder about how we relate to the world, even how our bodies open up to it.

But being the compulsively honest person he is, even to his daughter he writes about labia, piss, and vomit. And there are passages like this:

The stars are out tonight. I was just outside taking a leak on the lawn, something I do only when everyone is asleep and I'm alone (p. 85).

No context, nothing. That's how he rolls. Yet at the same time he is so earnest. He loves his children dearly and wants to explain the world--all of it--to them.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Venezuela Complains about International Press

The Venezuelan government did a study of front page news in foreign newspapers and complains that Nicolás Maduro's rambling press conference did not receive much coverage. Instead, papers focused on Trump's military comments and Luisa Ortega's flight from the country.

They conclude that this is the result of censorship and hegemony. It's more accurate to say that the latter two issues are actually news, whereas Maduro repeating himself is not. We heard nothing new at the press conference, except for the normal vague pronouncements and not-credible assertions of being ready for sanctions.

From a PR perspective, this is such a big difference between Maduro and Hugo Chávez. Maduro is boring and rarely has anything new to say. Chávez suffered from neither.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Panama Policy Toward Venezuela

Beginning October 1, Panama will require a visa of all Venezuelans entering the country. President Varela and Mike Pence had already mentioned it during this joint remarks a few days ago.


Over the next few days, Panama will take measures which support the return of democratic order in Venezuela and strengthen our internal security together with migratory measures, always within the framework of respecting human rights of migrants.

I assume the measure is intended to stem the flow of money laundering being done by Venezuelan government officials. which will accelerate if the regime starts to crumble. Panama has already accused Venezuelan Vice President Tareck al Aissami of being involved.

Haltingly and cautiously, Latin American governments are making statements and taking action. Lenín Moreno recently acknowledged and expressed his concern about political prisoners in Venezuela. It's a big deal for a leftist president to publicly state that the Maduro government is throwing people in prison simply for their political beliefs.

So there's no unity yet (my dire prediction back in March still holds true) but there's movement.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Pence Pushes North Korea Policy in Latin America

I'm quoted in this story about how Mike Pence's visit to Latin America failed to get any regional backing for U.S. policy toward North Korea. My main points were that Latin American leaders want to make 100% sure no one believes they support Donald Trump's stance on North Korea; and that they do not want to talk about North Korea.

It's just tone deaf, and is reminiscent of George W. Bush's bullying tactics during the debate over the Iraq invasion in 2003. They backfired, relations were set back, and they never recovered. Latin America is not a place to find support for war or aggression, and leaders want the U.S. to acknowledge the issues they find pressing. North Korea is not on the foreign policy radar, and trying to push it there just strengthens the impression that the Trump administration has no interest in Latin America.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Venezuelan Legislature

According to Delcy Rodriguez (and repeated uncritically by state media in English) the Venezuelan legislature was not dissolved. You imperialists keep repeating such nonsense.

Instead, there appear to be two main points. The constituent assembly (ANC) only took some, not all, of the legislative duties. So no biggie. And you claim to want dialogue, yet we offered to make a big federal legislative unit where your deputies can work with the ANC while exerting no real power, but you refused. We have to remember, she said, that Venezuela is in the middle of "institutional reorganization" where by the ANC has "absolutely faculties" to achieve "reorganization of the state." You know, for peace.


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Saturday, August 19, 2017

FDI in Latin America 2017

A new report from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean shows that Foreign Direct Investment in Latin America dropped. It feel 17% from 2011.

But in all this, some good news. The end of the commodity boom has had some positive effects.


After the end of the commodity price boom, investment in extractive industries slowed and this sector’s share of FDI has been falling since 2010, down to 13% of the total in 2016. By contrast, the share of manufactures and services increased to 40% and 47%, respectively. The new investments announced were concentrated in renewable energies, telecommunications and the automotive industry, with the region receiving 17%, 21% and 20%, respectively, of overall investment. Meanwhile, for a second year in a row, the renewable energy sector attracted the most investment, receiving 18% of the total announced for the region, with a third of those investments going each to Chile and Mexico.

Of course, those industries need investment, and it's up to governments to find creative ways to attract it.

The report talks about a "revolution" in the automobile industry. As Europe moves to end the combustion engine and people in the U.S. think more about electric cars, this is obviously a critical time for strategic change. And, as the report notes, cars have increasingly sophisticated computer systems, and Latin America needs to produce the necessary engineers.

It goes without saying that screwing with NAFTA puts all this in jeopardy.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Nick Hornby's Housekeeping vs. the Dirt

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt is the second collection of Nick Hornby book review essays that I've read (the other was The Polysyllabic Spree, which I see I thought was less funny than he thought. I didn't get that type of impression this time). I find these books irresistible because he's a great writer, is not at all pompous about the books, and embraces the idea of being spontaneous about buying books but then reading according to mood. In fact, reading him makes me add stuff to my Amazon list that I may or may not ever buy or read.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Podcast Episode 39: Muslim Immigration to Argentina

In Episode 39 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Steven Hyland, an assistant professor in the Department of History and Political Science at Wingate University. He specializes in modern Argentina and international migration. He has a new book coming out entitled More Argentine Than You:Arab-Speaking Immigrants in Argentina with University of New Mexico Press. We discuss Muslim immigration to Argentina how that fit with Peronism, and broader patterns across Latin America.


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Trump Doctrine in Latin America

I have a post up at Global Americans, trying to explain the contradictions of the Trump Doctrine in Latin America, and how Mike Pence and others have to spend time explaining to foreign leaders that they need to ignore his boss. My take on the Trump Doctrine.


Indeed, at least to this point the “Trump Doctrine” in Latin America has two essential elements: first, strong and sometimes bellicose rhetorical opposition to the Obama Administration’s policies; second, significant substantive continuity with Obama Administration policies combined with threats to change that fact. 

Click to read more!

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Santos Lectures Pence

It happened that Mike Pence went first to Colombia for his Latin America visit, so it was up to Juan Manuel Santos to tell him that Donald Trump's comments on Venezuela were counterproductive.

Santos said no Latin America country would accept any form of U.S. military intervention in Venezuela and that it should never even be considered. Recalling more than a century of U.S. military action throughout Latin America, Santos said no Latin leader wants "that phantom" to reappear.

There's an important point here. Trump supporters (or those playing devil's advocate) say that of course every option is on the table, that's true for all presidents, and Trump was just stating the obvious. But Santos is pointing out that in Latin America the military option should remain off the table. It won't work as planned and is not credible.

Remember, that's coming from an ally. And ideologically, Santos is not one to harp on U.S. intervention, given how deeply involved the U.S. government was with Plan Colombia. In other words, the Trump administration needs to make sure it's listening.

Instead, as I noted two days ago, the administration is insisting on treating the situation as bilateral.

Earlier Sunday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told Fox News Sunday that Trump talked about the possibility of military action to "give the Venezuelan people hope and opportunity to create a situation where democracy can be restored.

The only "opportunity" will come with multilateral pressure. The only way to generate multilateral pressure is to avoid inflammatory statements. Coalitions are hard to construct and they require a lot of keeping your diplomatic mouth shut.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Will Englund's March 1917

Will Englund's March 1917 covers the events of that month that culminated with Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war and enter World War I. He's a good writer and especially in the second half he narrates the tension that led up to Wilson's speech (which actually was not in March).

The disparate figures in the book, from Wilson to musician James Europe, first female member of Congress Jeanette Rankin, journalist H.L. Mencken, and a number of others, don't always add up to any particular whole. People were doing stuff, even interesting stuff, as the country lurched toward war. Some were influential, some were not. So I think the book is trying to get at mood more than anything else.

One element of the book that is worth pondering is how World War I gave Americans more of a sense than ever that they were messianic saviors of the world. The messianic part had always been there*, but the war made it truly global. We've suffered a lot as a country as a result because it is applied so broadly.

* On this point, read Brian Loveman's No Higher Law.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Trump's Venezuela Policy

I have a piece in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs that just came out about U.S. policy toward Latin America. More specifically, it examines the effectiveness of soft power versus hard power.

Coincidentally, shortly after it came out Donald Trump announced that a "military option" was not off the table for Venezuela. This is Trump's "deal making," whereby he blusters to appear tough and then backs down. I suppose he believes such a statement will frighten the Venezuelan government to the bargaining table.

I am one of many who argued that doing this was a gift to Nicolás Maduro, who can use it to whip up nationalist sentiment. Chavistas who are wavering will find it harder to pull away when he talks like this.

But it was also unfortunate because Trump seems to be claiming that the Venezuela situation is somehow bilateral. It makes diplomacy more difficult, to the extent that the Trump administration cares. Allies in the region such as Mexico, Colombia, and Peru, all came out against the statement. It makes a multilateral solution even more challenging, and it was painfully difficult to begin with.

Henrique Capriles hasn't said anything, except to retweet the U.S. Defense Department's statement that it didn't know anything, and in general the opposition isn't talking. That's unfortunate. Perhaps they want to be careful about offending Trump, since they like how he keeps Venezuela in the headlines. Trump is a vain man who pays attention to those who criticize him.

Several months ago, I noted that Trump was doing little with Venezuela and that was a good thing. It is likely he will continue doing little, but there comes a point when the "walking loudly" is counter-productive.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

U.S. Leverage in Venezuela

A group of U.S. senators seem not to understand leverage. They are publicly asking Donald Trump not to impose sanctions on the Venezuelan oil industry, arguing (correctly, in my opinion) that such a move would hurt U.S. refiners and would push Venezuela more toward China and Russia.

“There is a market outside of the U.S. to receive the Venezuelan oil,” the senators wrote. “Ultimately, it is in the best interest of the U.S. and the Venezuelan people to maintain our economic ties as leverage for delivering a democratic government back to the people.”

Right now, a chunk of the U.S. economy is dependent on the continued flow of Venezuelan oil. As a result, no U.S. president has seriously contemplated stopping it. That means the economic ties do not generate any leverage. If anything, they do the opposite--Nicolás Maduro and the Constituent Assembly can feel reasonably confident that their actions will not be punished beyond the individual sanctions, which don't have much impact.

The idea that the U.S. could "deliver a democratic government back to the people" is both insulting and incorrect. The U.S. won't have much to do with the solution to the Venezuelan crisis as long as it fails to forge a multilateral solution, which right now it appears not to be doing.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Immigration Policy and Prices

When I've been asked about the effects of immigration reform, one answer I always give is that prices will increase. One reason produce is so cheap, for example, is that undocumented workers are being paid very low wages. Since picking fruits and vegetables is so taxing, if all workers are legal then farmers will have to raise wages significantly.

In California we're seeing a problematic wrinkle on this issue. In the absence of reform and in the context of harsh anti-immigrant policies, growers are offering higher wages and benefits but not getting takers.


Farmers say they're having trouble hiring enough people to work during harvest season, causing some crops to rot before they can be picked. Already, the situation has triggered losses of more than $13 million in two California counties alone, according to NBC News. 
The ongoing battle about U.S. immigration policies is blamed for the shortage. The vast majority of California's farm workers are foreign born, with many coming from Mexico. However, the PEW Research Center reports more Mexicans are leaving the U.S. than coming here.


This is the worst of all worlds. Crops rot, farmers get hit, workers don't have jobs, and prices go up.

Update: Minneapolis Fed President tells employers to shut up, stop whining, and just raise wages higher.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Ecuador Supports the Constituent Assembly

9 days since constituent assembly vote. 4 days since it took power.

I had been writing about how Lenín Moreno was remaining conspicuously silent about Venezuela. He as an individual remains silent*, but his government released a statement condemning Mercosur's suspension of Venezuela. Here is the key part:

Ninguna voluntad extraña puede conminar al Gobierno de Venezuela a tomar decisiones contrapuestas a sus intereses legítimos, ni a desconocer la voluntad general de su pueblo, que se ha expresado en las urnas a favor de instalar al Poder Constituyente

Ecuador is saying straight up that a clearly fraudulent process is the will of the people. This is a very nice boost for Nicolás Maduro. Bolivia and Ecuador can stand as serious obstacles in the OAS.

* As a matter of fact, on Twitter he was talking about getting more foreign oil investment.

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Monday, August 07, 2017

Broadening the Venezuelan Opposition

8 days since constituent assembly vote. 3 days since it took power.

Henrique Capriles is reaching out to disaffected Chavistas. This is a good move that will broaden the opposition and shift its image. This won't be easy because those Chavistas hate Maduro, not Chávez.

I would go even further and consider giving one of those leftists a prominent leadership role. The opposition has found it hard to shake accusations of privilege, of wanting to ignore the reasons Hugo Chávez came to power in the first place, of disregard for the poor. Leopoldo López can't be the face of a unified opposition. The "united" part would be for free elections only--I can't imagine such a thing morphing into a ruling coalition sometime later.

Since Maduro is not allowing democratic change to occur, a broader opposition will serve as a signal both to Chavistas and the armed forces that the government is too unpopular to support. No doubt the opposition is putting out feelers to the military as well. Ideally, the combination of domestic and international pressure would force the government to engage in substantive dialogue, which would ultimately lead to elections. I am not holding my breath, but that's the hope.

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Sunday, August 06, 2017

Rebellion in Venezuela

7 days since constituent assembly vote, 2 day since it took power.

A major question in Venezuela right now is what the rank and file military officers are thinking. They are the foundation of state power, and we do not know the extent of the gap between the generals and lower-ranking officers.

Along these lines there was an attack on a military base in Carabobo state, which may or may not involve active duty officers but which is likely not to be the last example of rebellion. The state is eliminating all forms of legal political opposition (forcing out Luisa Ortega is the most obvious recent example), which means the opposition can only take to the streets and encourage military action. Closing out legal channels of dissent may well be the most dangerous thing the government is currently doing--the long-term effects will be violent and bad for everyone.

As the violence increases, the government will need the army to quell dissent. That is where loyalty is sorely tested. The soldier on the street aiming his gun at fellow Venezuelans--not the general sitting in his air-conditioned office and driving a new imported car--is the one whose loyalty will matter. And the worse things get, the less you can count on it.

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Saturday, August 05, 2017

Review of John Farrell's Richard Nixon: The Life

John Farrell's Richard Nixon: The Life is a snappily written and well-documented biography. The tone can move toward disbelief and sarcasm here and there, but given the record of unethical, illegal, and downright stupid actions, that can perhaps be forgiven.

The main attraction of the book is that Farrell does a tremendous job getting at the emotion, especially through the use of recorded interviews, notes, and the like regarding key moments. The Checkers speech was preceded by intense frustration and tension, with everyone wondering whether it would end with his announced resignation as VP candidate. The Pentagon Papers, which should've been a hit to LBJ and JFK, made him furious and so he lashed out. Watergate, of course, led to despair. There are a lot of great quotes, often related to Nixon's utter amorality or his extreme discomfort with other human beings.

That emotional side also helps you see Nixon's gradual emotional decline. By the time he was president, it took almost nothing to set him off. Indeed, he knew he would give orders that shouldn't be carried out. He admitted it, which itself is insane for a president. But when you're surrounded by ideologues like Charles Colson, those orders will sometimes be followed. And he'll hire crazier people like Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. Farrell argues that Nixon hoped J. Edgar Hoover would do the dirty work, as he had periodically done for past presidents, but when he refused Nixon had to find his own people.

As I read, I realized there was no mention of previous biographies until the end, no explanation of what niche this book fills. Not until the acknowledgments do we learn that he liked the past biographies but wrote it to include more sources (like oral histories, which help capture the emotion) and to be an accessible one-volume biography for people to read for the 50th anniversary of his 1968 election. Fair enough.

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Friday, August 04, 2017

Podcast Episode 38: The Russia-Cuba Connection

In Episode 38 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Mervyn Bain, who is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations and Head of School of Social Sciences at the University of Aberdeen. He has published extensively on the relationship between Russia and Cuba. Among other things, we discuss the continued strength of the relationship, the role of the United States, and what the future might hold. I find it particularly intriguing to think about how many Russians might feel angry if they felt they "lost" Cuba, just as Americans felt the same way half a century ago.



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Veto in Quito

Fascinating scene in Ecuador, where there is a leftist brawl, a mirror image of the conservative brawl in Colombia. Lenín Moreno stripped Vice President Jorge Glas of his authority because of corruption charges and because of Glas' criticisms, which prompted Rafael Correa to go off on Twitter.



Get out your popcorn on this one. Glas is still VP but without any authority, which I have not heard of before, but he says he will not resign. The Alianza País party is in an uproar. The party released a statement on Twitter calling for unity and telling the "rancid" right this would not mean any change of platform or ideas.

Article 147 of the Ecuadorian constitution stipulates the following:

The Vice-President of the Republic, when not replacing the President of the Republic, shall perform the duties that the latter assigns him/her.

What this means it that the Vice President has power only to the extent that the President assigns/delegates it. If the president assigns nothing, the VP does nothing even though he/she remains in office.

Incidentally, this is yet another reason not to expect Ecuador to play much of a role in the Venezuela crisis.

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Thursday, August 03, 2017

Venezuela's Core Support

TeleSur notes that four countries support Venezuela's Constituent Assembly: China, Russia, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. Unwittingly, the article gives a long list of countries opposed but can only come up with four specific examples of supporters. (Oddly enough, they do not mention Cuba, which is unsurprisingly supportive). What this shows is how weak Venezuela's international position is.

China's support is based on protecting its investments. The Chinese government made a statement that the voting was "generally held smoothly," which helped boost Venezuela's bonds. Last year China indicated it did not want to throw good money after bad, and it does not want default. Therefore it does not want unpredictable regime change.

Russia's support is based largely on poking the United States. Russia has a long diplomatic relationship with Venezuela, which has fueled countless conspiracy theories, but for the most part it's a reminder to the United States that Russia is present in its back yard (with the obvious message that the U.S. should stay out of Russia's). At the same time, Russian companies are also exposed in Venezuela and so do not want more upheaval.

Neither country will stick its neck out for Nicolás Maduro, and China in particular just wants reassurance about its investments.

Nicaragua's support is Daniel Ortega's ingenious ability to support everything. He talks stridently about imperialism while working closely with the U.S. government. He can be counted on to stick with Maduro all the way, but would also be ready to work with anyone. He will not sacrifice much for Maduro.

Evo Morales, meanwhile, is a true believer. He can be trusted to support Maduro to the hilt and blame all troubles on the U.S. He is one of the last of the leftist leaders who swept in over a decade ago still in office, and seems to see himself as the standard bearer of that era.

Conspicuous by its absence here is Ecuador. Rafael Correa was a vocal leftist internationalist but Lenín Moreno is not, which is partly why they're beginning a Juan Manuel Santos/Alvaro Uribe type of feud. Moreno tends to keep his mouth shut about Venezuela, and definitely is not providing support.

Overall, this is shallow support. Evo Morales is the key, as he can work the smaller countries in the hemisphere to reduce any majority in the OAS. Cuba is not particularly relevant diplomatically, and the rest will not stick their necks out too far.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

U.S. Support for Colombia Peace

There was a hearing today on the Colombia peace process before the Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women's Issues. What's especially notable is that there is a diverse group of people giving testimony and two of them are the current front runners for the important Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs position (William Brownfield and Francisco Palmieri, who is currently the interim). But all agree that the U.S. needs to stay committed to promoting the peace process.

The Trump administration is focused almost exclusively on drugs. Well, fine--funding alternative crops and bringing the displaced back into the formal economy helps with that, but it requires commitment. You hate the FARC? Fine, but never-ending war doesn't achieve much. Bring them into the formal economy and the political system, all the while verifying what they're doing. We can only hope that Trump doesn't care about Colombia to the point that he lets his own officials do the work. Work, incidentally, that is just a continuation of President Obama's policies.

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Taking Stock in Venezuela

3 days since the constituent assembly vote.

In terms of the hemispheric response to the Venezuela vote, there's a sense of taking stock.

--Chile announced that two Venezuelan judges had taken refuge in their embassy and might be granted asylum. 

--Overall, the hemisphere is largely critical but cautious (see this post at Global Americans). It's worth noting, however, that criticism is more widespread than it has ever been since Hugo Chávez first took office.

--Rex Tillerson continued the administration's blustery response with ill-advised words:

The situation, from a humanitarian standpoint, is already becoming dire. We are evaluating all our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future and wants to leave of his own accord or we can return the government processes back to their constitution. 

Talking off the cuff about regime change doesn't help anything.

--Smartmatic, which made the voting machines used in Venezuela, said the vote total was false.

This is going to be the sort of situation that involves a lot of small factors gradually coming together. As more evidence of fraud and human rights abuses emerge, more governments will feel empowered to be critical and perhaps even more Venezuelan government officials will feel empowered to speak out against their own leader (which, incidentally, is precisely why you have to be careful about imposing sanctions on lots of people in government).

At this point, the Venezuelan government will get the assembly together as fast as it possibly can to impose change before more of the hemisphere becomes more critical. Nicolás Maduro says it'll happen soon.

Finally, here's a nice look at the issue of the military, which has to keep order throughout all this. As I've written, Hugo Chávez become prominent in large part because of resistance to Carlos Andrés Pérez using the military to attack the people. Now we've come full circle and at some point one has to wonder whether the rank and file like to keep repressing fellow Venezuelans.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Symbolic Unilateral Sanctions in Venezuela

2 days since the constituent assembly vote.

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Nicolás Maduro himself, which puts him on a list of people who are given symbolic sanctions yet remain in power. Maduro responded by referring to Trump's popular vote loss, which is actually something that might get the president's attention. Meanwhile, Canada condemned the vote but is not pursuing sanctions. That's true of a number of countries in the hemisphere.

And that's really the problem. Unilateral sanctions aren't going to do much but no one has the stomach to act multilaterally--not just for sanctions but for anything.  Back in March I argued that Latin America would not unite and so far it hasn't. Inaction is Maduro's biggest ally right now. The Trump administration can bully and bluster but at best that has little impact and at worse entrenches the Chavista core and makes other Latin American countries more hesitant to jump on board.

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Monday, July 31, 2017

AMLO and Venezuela

Andrés Manual López Obrador isn't too happy about accusations of being close to Nicolás Maduro. The PRD is demanding he make a clear statement about the Venezuelan crisis. AMLO went so far as to say his opponents want to "scare" people. In other words, Nicolás Maduro is a boogeyman, even for AMLO.

The political impact in Mexico is obvious. AMLO is a serious candidate for president and the other parties want to torch him. They've been trying to link his ideas to Venezuela for a while and laying it on as thick as possible.

But it also says a lot about Venezuela's regional presence. This is what being a pariah state means--even a hardcore leftist insists that he doesn't want anything to do with Venezuela. Latin American leftists seeking office don't want to associate with Maduro or the Venezuelan economic model more generally.


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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Venezuela Vote Explainer Explained

Venezuelans are voting today on members of a Constituent Assembly. TeleSur's handy explainer tells us a lot, actually more than it probably intends. Three main points:

1. The nine stated goals (as laid out in a decree from Nicolás Maduro) make no sense. Somehow this assembly will mean Venezuela is no longer dependent on oil and Venezuelans will all get along. Laying them out so uncritically would be amusing if it weren't so perverse.

2. The sectors are confusing and the voting system chaotic.



A post at Caracas Chronicles highlights how confusing it is for voters. Even if you sort out your sector (there are nine sub-sectors within workers too) then you have to figure out who the candidates actually are and where to vote.

Conditions change by the minute, and because there are so many candidates, people will vote for a number, not a name. Chances are, people will just pick them at random.   
The grandpa scratched his cheek. 
“Well, first I’ll vote for number one, that’s Delcy (Rodríguez). Then I’ll vote for the number a friend is going to tell me, someone she knows and I like.”
There's too little information available and the voting system is intended to be opaque. Just choose a number and get a Chavista. The state will work out the rest.

3. The process is an explicit rejection of representative democracy.

This has been described as an attempt to deepen the kind of participatory democracy mentioned in the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution, but developed more explicitly after 2005 by the government of Hugo Chavez. However it is anathema to those who believe representative democracy – electing representatives every four or five years and leaving it to them – is the only acceptable form of democracy.

This almost renders #2 moot. Who cares about the name of the candidate when they have no plans to represent you anyway? And that really sums up the explainer and the process itself.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review of Murder on the Orient Express

On a whim, I bought Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express at a used bookstore, in Julian CA, of all places. It was a perfect book for traveling. I had read it years ago and in fact about 1/3 of the way through remembered the solution, but several things stood out for me anyway.

First, it begins in Aleppo, then quickly discusses Mosul and Baghdad. Right away it is showing you the places involved in the current fight against ISIS. And of course everyone in the novel sees the area as both a necessary part of the British Empire and a nuisance because of the locals. Later the British train official doesn't want the "Jugo-Slavian" police involved because they get all puffed up and indignant when talked down to.

Second, it engages in the worst stereotypes about "Latins" (in this case an Italian, but obviously it could be a Spaniard, Chilean, or anyone else). Of course they would be more likely to stab someone 20 times. That's what they do!

Third, it makes the same sorts of stereotypes about women, who also are more likely to get crazy and stab someone in his train bed. Couldn't be the stiff-upper lip British guy because they're so non-violent.

At least it is true, though, that the stereotypes are used to distract the reader because the truth is not so clear. Nonetheless, those stereotypes are accepted as generally accurate anyway.

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Jeff Sessions in El Salvador

Attorney General Jeff Sessions went to El Salvador where he emphasized that MS-13 had its "base" in El Salvador, when in fact it originated in Los Angeles and is based there and many other places. He then asked President Salvador Sánchez Cerén to put "emphasis" on gangs, as if that was something that perhaps a Salvadoran president doesn't already do. All of that to promote a mano dura policy that is widely seen as counterproductive, especially in a country with abusive police.

It's a seductive approach, as it drips with masculine images of being tough, hurting "bad guys," throwing people in prison and throwing away the key, etc. When it doesn't work, you can easily just say you didn't do it hard enough. And every so often you can go down to El Salvador and tell them to work harder, then head back to tell your boss how tough you are.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

The Administration Has No Positive Role to Play in Venezuela

Lots of discussion about the Trump administration's sanctions on Venezuelan officials and more generally what kind of role the administration can/should play.

I think what David Smilde recently wrote is characteristic of those who argue that the administration needs to be careful and that unilateral sanctions will likely be counterproductive:

The Trump administration can certainly do a lot to facilitate logistics and diplomacy around the negotiations. However, it must refrain from trying to lead and must resist adopting distracting unilateral actions.
Increasingly I am leaning toward the idea that the administration has no positive role to play at all. The idea that it could bring countries together, provide logistics, or talk to Nicolás Maduro in any sort of productive manner, seems silly. The Secretary of State has shown no ability to do any such thing, and in any case is peripheral to (or perhaps even absent from) decision-making. Indeed, the president undercuts him all the time. Lots of lower level positions are unfilled, and even qualified people need their instructions from above. There is no one above with the diplomatic skills to explain what's needed. For whatever reason, Secretary Tillerson himself seems to be avoiding the issue of Venezuela.

In short, the United States should and could be playing a role in bringing hemispheric partners together but it is simply unable. The Trump administration has alienated almost everyone, has no leverage anywhere, and tends to make things worse when it acts. Therefore it's preferable that it does nothing.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mexican History in Wax

Like last year, I took my kids across the border today into Tijuana for a little excursion. As I wrote last year, Mexico needs tourists and if you're in San Diego, I strongly encourage you to go and even just spend a few hours in Tijuana. This is all especially true now as anti-immigrant and anti-Mexico sentiment is so high and alarming. It is easy to park and walk over. The primary challenge is waiting in line to return (we waited about an hour mid-afternoon). Even walking around with three kids, I felt as safe in Tijuana as in any large U.S. city.

We even checked out the wax museum, which is near the border. It's a blend of history and kitsch. You see ancient history, the revolutionary leaders, some current leaders and artists, but then also some of the stars of the early 1990s when the museum was opened. So there's Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes along with Catinflas. We chatted a little about Mexican history, and my 12 year old daughter actually recognized Vicente Fox (whose pointing finger is inexplicably broken!) because of his viral Trump videos.



Especially with kids, it's good to walk around and just talk about stereotypes of rapists and criminals, and about how tightly connected border cities are. You can literally look at how a global economy works.

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