Sunday, November 19, 2017

Don't Celebrate Coups

Last week I expressed skepticism at the idea of a "democratizing coup" in Venezuela. Now Argentine political scientist Rut Diamint does the same, just more blistering, as she notes Latin American lessons for the coup in Zimbabwe.

I would dispute that Zimbabwe’s political rupture will usher in an era of order and progress. And I think many Latin Americans would agree with me. I wish Zimbabweans luck, but based on my country’s past, I fear for their future.

I really got the impression that she was reading optimistic views and it just ticked her off.

World history is full of atrocities committed in the name of law and order. The international community should be concerned about what’s happening in Zimbabwe right now. I’m an Argentinean scholar of Latin American militarization, and I can attest that so-called “democratizing coups” are largely fiction.

She does not get into the question of whether the military decides to stay in power or not, which matters quite a lot. But to her point, either way the military will remain a powerful political actor, hovering over everything, which itself is detrimental to democracy.

I think the parallels between Venezuela and Zimbabwe mean that we'll see comparisons between the two. In neither case is it a good idea to celebrate a military coup.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Latin America Liked Obama, Trump Not So Much

Latinobarómetro released a report on the Trump era. What you see is that the general Latin American view of the United States has not changed all that much since the Obama administration. Indeed, most of the questions are just general "United States" and are fairly stable. When you start asking about Trump specifically, then you see a change.

So here is the view of Donald Trump in his first year:



And here is the view of Barack Obama in his first year.


To sum up, Trump's most favorable rating (in Paraguay!) is still substantially lower than Obama's worst rating (Bolivia).

The report claims a correlation between views of the U.S. president and views of the U.S. more generally, but I don't see that. What I see instead is the optimistic view that, at least for the time being, Latin Americans do not consider Trump to be representative of the United States and so place more blame squarely on him personally rather than on the country. We can only hope that continues.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Democratic Coup in Venezuela?

Law Professor Ozan Varol raises the possibility of a coup in Venezuela that potentially leads to democracy in a post at The Monkey Cage. I like these kinds of arguments because they're counterintuitive and challenge conventional wisdom. Unfortunately he does not tell us what factors would make it more versus less democratic, as the latter is much more likely. He also distinguishes between a "full-blown" vs. a "haphazard" coup, though it's not clear what these mean.

Finally, he notes the following:

As I demonstrate in my book, other countries as diverse as Portugal, Mali, Colombia, Burkina Faso, Britain, Guinea-Bissau, Guatemala, Peru and the United States have all undergone democratization after their military forces turned their arms against their authoritarian governments.

Hmm. What was the coup attempt in the United States? I assume he means the civil war, but that's not a coup. And I don't know what Guatemalan coup he refers to because the last coup was 1954 and it led to authoritarian rule. If you want to include self-coups, then I guess you count the 1993 case in Guatemala but that's a whole different context since a) it involved strengthening the executive rather than overthrowing it; and b) it failed. So I'm not feeling too convinced at this point.

Update: I think the Guatemala case must be 1944.

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Dialogue in Venezuela

The Venezuelan opposition has postponed dialogue with the government until foreign ministers are included, which appears to be a scheduling issue.

The opposition’s principal demand is for free and fair conditions for the 2018 presidential election. 
It also wants freedom for jailed activists, autonomy for the opposition-led Congress, and a foreign humanitarian aid corridor to help alleviate Venezuela’s unprecedented economic crisis. 
Maduro accuses his opponents of conspiring with the United States and a right-wing international campaign to oust his socialist government via a coup. The government is seeking guarantees against violence and recognition of the pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly that has overridden Congress.


Should the opposition trade recognition of the Constituent Assembly for a 2018 presidential election that is fully overseen by international observers? I think the observers--which the government has rejected before--are necessary for anyone to believe in the elections at all (as I noted on Monday, this is one big difference from the Chilean case).

The Constituent Assembly is clearly illegitimate so this is a bitter pill. But if you've decided to engage in dialogue, then you've resigned yourself to bitter pills in order to achieve a main objective. If you can figure out a way to ensure free and fair elections and also, I should add, not some crazy gerrymandered structure, then maybe you go for broke and see if you can win. Whether or not free elections are possible is an empirical question that will be up to the opposition to sort out. If the answer is "no," then the opposition can say it tried everything and the government was intransigent.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Venezuela is in Default

Standard & Poor's has declared Venezuela in "selective default"* as it failed to pay $200 million that was due after a 30 day grace period. Bizarrely, the government had announced a big meeting of bondholders, then gave them an Honor Guard salute, chocolate, and no other news. The government claims it is in the process of restructuring debt but that is not actually happening (the parallel to Donald Trump is eery in this regard).

S&P says Venezuela is also overdue on four other bond payments worth a total of $420m but that the grace period has not yet expired on those payments. 
Venezuela's total external debt, which also includes loans from countries like Russia and China, is thought to be as much as $140bn.

So what now? Venezuela is low on reserves, oil output is down, inflation could get up to 2,300% by the end of the year, and raising cash is going to be hard even if Russia (and perhaps China, which has always seemed more reticent) remains generous. The government is literally running out of money. At some point bondholders are going to demand their money and take the government to court.

It may well be that as long as the hardcore Chavistas, including in the military, can generate enough oil revenue to keep themselves above water, they will simply ignore everything else, which will include immiseration. As we see with Zimbabwe, this strategy can actually work for a surprisingly long time.

* Selective default:

SD and D - An obligor rated ‘SD’ (Selective Default) or ‘D’ has failed to pay one or more of its financial obligations (rated or unrated) when it came due. A ‘D’ rating is assigned when Standard & Poor’s believes that the default will be a general default and that the obligor will fail to pay all or substantially all of its obligations as they come due. An ‘SD’ rating is assigned when Standard & Poor’s believes that the obligor has selectively defaulted on a specific issue or class of obligations but it will continue to meet its payment obligations on other issues or classes of obligations in a timely manner.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Possible Chilean Advice to Venezuelan Opposition

Tim Padgett has interesting advice for the Venezuelan opposition, using the Chilean opposition to the Pinochet government as a model, as they successfully won a referendum:

1, Grow up and unify
2. Take part in the process - even if the process stinks
3. Don't lash out at the regime's supporters - reach out
4. Reach out harder and smarter - abroad

The unity part is clear as day, and it is worth remembering how bitter the Chilean Socialist Party was for many years. It went from being to the left of the Communist Party during Allende's government to being the voice of moderation in the late 1980s. Socialists were the most successful at talking to military officers in the government. Change of heart was central to getting the "no" vote out. Ultimately the Communists chose not to participate, thus leading to their exclusion from the winning coalition for many years.

For me, the second point is the trickiest. The Pinochet government stacked the deck against the opposition (air time, harassment, and the like) but the electoral process was actually pretty fair. The critical difference is that Pinochet thought he was going to win so did not feel the need to cheat. When it was clear he wouldn't, his own junta pushed back against his desire to overturn it. Pinochet was in a position of strength so could ride out the loss.

The situation is quite different in Venezuela. The government is weak and unpopular, and as a result is clearly tampering with the elections. Maduro and others cannot (or at least feel they cannot) survive a change of government so will hang on desperately as long as possible. This makes participation in elections more complex. Doing so demonstrates commitment to a peaceful solution but almost certainly will not lead to success.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Podcast Episode 43: Corporatism & Democratization in Mexico

In Episode 43 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Ana Isabel López García, who is is Assistant Professor of Public Administration at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana and Visiting Research Fellow, German Institute of Global Affairs and Area Studies. She does research on Latin American democratization and political institutions. She recently published an article on corporatist organizations and political parties in Mexico in The Latin Americanist. So our topic is corporatism and democratization in Mexico.


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Trump Losing Influence in Latin America

Chris Sabatini and William Naylor have a piece in Foreign Affairs about how the Trump administration seems dedicated to losing influence in Latin America.

When I was in Buenos Aires recently for a conference, I attended a panel on Trump and Latin America. The Latin American view was essentially the same. One panelist expressed puzzlement that Trump was pulling out of agreements (like the TPP) that in many ways were specifically intended to increase U.S. influence at the expense of China. Others mentioned how even after 10 months in office, it was unclear what, if any, goals Trump has in Latin America. Further, with the exception of Venezuela, South America seems barely to exist for Trump.

For years, I've gone against the current of people arguing that the U.S. was losing influence in Latin America. But I am changing my mind:

With the arrival of President Donald Trump, however, the United States’ relations with its southern neighbors have reached a new low. The problem is no longer one of neglect, but of malice, ad hoc policy responses, and blatant disinterest. 

Again, I don't actually agree there was as much neglect before as Chris and others claim, but the ad hoc and malice part is indeed true now. So much of the policy seems to be xenophobia for the sake of appeasing his xenophobic base.

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

Nicaragua Loses TPS, Just Shrugs

Mike Allison writes about how Temporary Protected Status has ended for Nicaraguans, roughly 5,000 of them. It seems the Nicaraguan government did nothing to try and lobby otherwise, unlike its Salvadoran and Honduran counterparts. That surprises me.

A quick scan of Nicaraguan newspapers shows that the issue is not necessarily on the front page anymore. Further, Vice President Rosario Murillo said (whined?) that no Nicaraguan had yet come to a Nicaraguan consulate for help. Further, the government really has no idea where anyone is:


El Gobierno de Nicaragua sostuvo que hasta ahora no cuenta con información oficial sobre la situación de los ciudadanos nicaragüenses. 
De acuerdo con Murillo, es posible que los nicaragüenses en Estados ya tengan una situación migratoria diferente, hayan regresado a Nicaragua o estén en otro país.

The Trump administration itself noted that the decision was made easier because Daniel Ortega never asked otherwise.

También destacó que el Gobierno del presidente nicaragüense, Daniel Ortega, no solicitó a Estados Unidos una extensión de dicho programa.

In short, Daniel Ortega decided he didn't care about those 5,000 families, perhaps because asking for an extension was an implicit recognition that his country was not able to absorb them and he did not want to claim that.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Oil Embargo Against Venezuela

Mauricio Macri (who is currently in New York) called on Donald Trump to impose a full embargo on Venezuelan exports to the United States. And there's more: he says it would have broad support across Latin America.


“I think we should go to a full oil embargo,” Mr Macri said. “Things have gotten worse and worse. Now, it’s really a painful situation. Poverty is going up every day, sanitary conditions are getting worse every day.” 
The Argentine president is the first Latin American leader to openly advocate such as tough step. But Mr Macri, a centre-right politician who has succeeded in transforming Argentina from an international pariah to one of Latin America’s emerging starlets, said there would be “broad support” across the region for such a draconian measure, despite the hardship it would entail. 
“We have been talking about this many times with many people over the past month,” he told the FT.

Meanwhile, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) did the same in a letter to the Treasury Secretary:

I urge the Department to continue targeting Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), and consider banning the import of Venezuelan crude to the United States until constitutional order has been restored in Venezuela.

There's a lot going on here. Here are some key points to keep in mind.

First, this will do serious damage to the U.S. economy (though not as much to Florida and not at all to Argentina!). Gas prices will shoot up and oil-related jobs will evaporate. Self-inflicted wounds are the worst kind.

Second, I do not believe this would have broad support around Latin America. In fact, it is exactly the kind of unilateral policy that isolated the U.S. from the region with regard to Cuba. To repeat, the embargo has not isolated Cuba, nor will it isolate Venezuela unless the sanctions are multilateral. That would mean no Latin American country buys the oil--I didn't hear Macri saying anything about Argentina's role. It is a bad idea for the U.S. to engage in unilateral sanctions like this.

Third, it will greatly strengthen Russia's and China's position with Venezuela, just as the Cuba embargo accelerated and deepened Cuba's dependence on the Soviet Union. Again, a self-inflicted wound. (Update: Russia is right in there helping Venezuela ease its debt burden).

I tend to doubt that Trump cares enough about Venezuela to accept the risks, assuming he fully understands them. He would likely face an intense (even bigly) backlash at a time when his approval ratings are already terrible.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Maduro's Restructuring Plan

An article at CNBC quotes risk consultants about Nicolás Maduro's announcement of debt restructuring and concludes that this is a political gambit to make himself look stronger for the October 2018 presidential election.

I don't really see this. Maduro's main strategy has to kick cans down the road when faced with a crisis. This sort of announcement gives him and core Chavistas breathing room to sort out their next move. What's notable is that we're not seeing any sort of Néstor Kirchner or Rafael Correa move, which is to give the middle finger to creditors and thereby win the adulation of nationalists. That sort of move would qualify as making himself look stronger, but in fact everyone knows he can't because he needs his creditors too badly.

Maduro is known for empty announcements (remember early Christmas? Oldie but goodie) and I tend to think this restructuring will be taken as such until it shows something more concrete. Certainly it will have no ripple effect that can last an entire year until the election. But by delaying as long as possible, the government can come up with ways of neutralizing (often by arrest) the opposition and carefully planning election fraud so that the outcome of the presidential election is not in doubt.

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Monday, November 06, 2017

Review of Black Man in a White Coat

I read Dr. Damon Tweedy's Black Man in a White Coat. What a cool book. He's a doctor (in psychiatry) at Duke, where he also got his MD. It is a memoir about how he dealt with race in the 1990s as a student, such as being mistaken by a professor for a maintenance worker, and then later as a doctor. As you might guess, that experience burned in him. Yet he is so thoughtful, and used that to become more self-aware of his own biases. He would see poor white people with Confederate flags and immediately make assumptions about them, even ticking off his assumptions, then gradually came to see they were inaccurate.

In that sense he is really honest. In particular he dissects his own failings, not wallowing, but rather understanding. He once had unprotected sex and knows he cannot judge those who got pregnant because he just got luckier. It's all about being aware of yourself so that you are less likely to automatically judge other people. Although he is quite apolitical, he also has a lot to say about how the poor--regardless of race--are largely excluded from health care. There he also realized he made assumptions that people who didn't have health care must not work, but at clinics he found so many working full time who still couldn't afford it, or barely could. There's a lot to ponder in here.

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Latin America in Global IR

I've been in Buenos Aires at a conference hosted by Flacso Argentina on Latin America in Global International Relations. A lot of the ideas talked about here will work their way into this blog and a larger project I'm starting on Latin American autonomy in US-Latin American relations.

One in particular is the question of connecting IR scholars in the US to those in Latin America. Right now that relationship is almost entirely one way--Latin American scholars have used theories developed in the US and adapted them in various ways, but this work does not make its way back to be cited in US-based articles. I made the case that US scholars needed to start reading Latin American stuff more (and that includes me). From a variety of Latin Americans however, I got pushback. That's not realistic, they told me, because of the language barrier. Instead, we need to publish in English and get it out there.

Yet even if they are published, will US scholars take them seriously when they come from journals they've never heard of that may not have an impact factor? Or if they're qualitative? Those who study Latin America will, but others likely won't, unless I'm being overly pessimistic.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Commodities Dominate Latin American Exports

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has a new report that is a "glass half-full/half-empty" type of thing. The value of Latin American exports increased 10% in 2017 but it was based almost entirely on commodities. Processed goods and technology seriously lag behind.

The regional export basket is dominated by basic products such as raw cane sugar, coffee (not roasted or decaffeinated), soybeans, soymeal, maize and frozen beef. In contrast, the region shows a poor export performance in processed products. 
According to ECLAC, the current high concentration in raw materials imposes the urgent challenge of “decommoditizing” the export basket, which is also true of other sectors related to natural resources. 

This has been a policy suggestion for about 60-70 years. Mexico and Brazil have shown some success but too little has changed.

Also of interest, and certainly no surprise, is that trade with China and the rest of Asia is growing more rapidly than anywhere else.

the recovery in regional exports in 2017 will be led by shipments to China and the rest of Asia (23% and 17% value increase, respectively) while exports to the United States and within the region will expand at a rate near the average (9% and 10%, respectively). Meanwhile, sales to the European Union will be less dynamic (with a 6% increase).

China is establishing a relationship whereby it exports manufactured goods and imports raw materials. It has been even more active in pursuing such ties after Donald Trump's election, and before that had been focusing on increasing the import of food from Latin America.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Not So New Cuba Documents

The release of JFK declassified documents has included a few related to Cuba, which have been getting some attention. As I skimmed through them, however, they just seemed familiar. So familiar, in fact, that I was sure I had shown one of them in my class last semester.


For example, one of the documents is particularly disgusting, casually (and sometimes jokingly) referring to killing large numbers of innocent people. The following quote is from page 16 of that document:

"We could sink a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida (real or simulated). We could foster attempts on lives of Cubans in the United States, even to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicised."


I don't know why this is the case. In any event, it's not a bad thing to have everyone reminded of the background of U.S.-Cuba policy, or the repellent nature of so much of JFK's foreign policy.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Crazy Cuban Cicadas

The Cuban government has issued a rebuttal of U.S. charges about the infamous "sonic attack." This situation had already become weirder before, and now this is just piling on. The first Cuban argument was that this was illegal so couldn't possibly have taken place in Cuba, which frankly is not the most convincing logic.

Then it gets better:


“It’s the same bandwidth and it’s audibly very similar,” said Lt. Col. Juan Carlos Molina, a telecommunications specialist with the Interior Ministry. “We compared the spectrums of the sounds and evidently this common sound is very similar to the sound of a cicada.” 
The program’s narrator said that unnamed “North American researchers” had found that some cicada and cricket noises could be louder than 90-95 decibels, enough to produce hearing loss, irritation and hypertension in situations of prolonged exposure.

This sounds like a 1950s B-Movie.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lessons About Chavismo

Steve Ellner has an article in Monthly Review outlining his ideas about the lessons of the Bolivarian Revolution. It's worth looking at largely to see exactly how Venezuela gets framed from the left. Two things stand out for me.

First, he skates around but does not directly address the tension between "direct democracy" (which is intended to replace representative democracy) and protection of civil liberties. More specifically, does the opposition deserve any rights? He does not say so, but the answer appears to be no. He lauds Nicolás Maduro for playing "hardball" and putting people in prison, saying they deserve it and it is a positive sign of "perseverance." Working with non-Chavistas, in fact, is a bad idea:


if left unchecked, the government’s relationship with sectors of the bourgeoisie will solidify and continue to undermine the leadership’s socialist commitments.
He does not mention nullifying elections when the opposition win them, but clearly that would detract from the mission of socialism as well. Where non-Chavistas fit into Venezuela at all is unclear (is it simply a choice between jail and silent non-representation?).

Second, he notes problems with Chavismo but they tend to be on the margins. Tactical questions. He does not even like the idea of blaming both sides equally:

by censuring the government and opposition in equal terms, the ex-Chavistas obscure the vital fact that the latter is the aggressor, while the former has been relentlessly attacked, compelling it to take emergency measures, with damaging long-term effects.

The causes of the economic crisis are not addressed directly, but the multiple references to the opposition's hostility leaves little doubt where he leans.

All this made me wonder about calls for dialogue. If it is a bad idea to work with capitalists and to give the opposition representation, then what can dialogue ever achieve? By definition, such dialogue is supposed to entail compromise of some sort on both sides, but you cannot allow compromise if it undermines socialism. Where does that leave Venezuela?

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

TPS and Trump

Next month there will be 60,000 Hondurans in the United States who will face eventual deportation unless the Trump administration extends Temporary Protected Status for them. This extends back to Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and TPS has been extended 13 times. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez is lobbying on their behalf.


Honduras is not prepared to take people back, both officials and citizens say — and the lack of opportunity there might even prompt some to return to the U.S. illegally. Honduras’ economy is dominated by agriculture, and Honduran Minister of Agriculture Jacobo Paz said that despite government programs to improve agricultural practices, providing training to thousands of returning Hondurans will overtax the country’s abilities.

Does Donald Trump care? He extended TPS for Haitians, but John Kelly said that countries needed to start thinking about their citizens coming back. As far as I can tell, Honduras is just the second case in this hemisphere. El Salvador will come early in 2018. Clearly Trump's base wants immigrants gone but I have not heard him say anything about it.

TPS is a weird thing because clearly more than a decade is not "temporary" but Congress won't provide any more permanent path. Therefore it becomes a limbo, a permanent impermanence. Yet sending people back will likely be counterproductive. Honduras already is poor, underdeveloped, and plagued by organized crime. If you force tens of thousands back into it without any prospects, you're asking for trouble, and trouble in Central America always makes its way to the United States.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pragmatism or Populism in Latin America?

Robert Muggah and Brian Winter argue in Foreign Policy that populism is poised to make a comeback in Latin America. I don't really agree, in large part because "populism" has ceased to mean anything very meaningful anymore in popular discourse (labeling Michelle Bachelet as part of this is problematic, for example). As I've argued before, what we're seeing is not necessarily radicalization or a move to populism, but rather anti-incumbent sentiment. I wrote this in July 2016 and I think it holds up:

What you're really seeing is the development of democratic rule in the region. Too many people have a tendency to see elections as the "death of the left/right" in some way, without taking the larger context in mind. As I've written over and over, Latin American voters are more pragmatic than we give them credit for, and will continue seeking solutions to the problems they face. If the left can't do it, they'll look to the right, and vice versa.

Will anti-incumbent arguments lead to radical populism? Sure, they can, but there is no reason to assume they are going to "set alarm bells ringing," as they argue. I get that the LAPOP data should concern us, but it could also be a blip so in my opinion it's premature to panic.

I don't mean to argue that nothing bad could happen. They note correctly how screwed up Brazil is, and how easily this could lead to radical candidates. But I am not sure how much the Brazilian case can be compared too fruitfully to other Latin American countries. In general, my instinct is to be wary of alarmism.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Academic Kindness

The New York Times Magazine has a lengthy story about Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist who did research on "power poses," where she argued that standing in a particular position made people feel more powerful. She did TED Talks and became well known for it. Then other researchers said they could not replicate her findings and she was attacked for it.

For me, the story was so much about academic kindness, or rather the lack thereof. Academics seem particularly prone to being mean, condescending, and heartless to each other. We judge everyone else constantly while jealously cultivating our own reputations. You don't have to step back very far to realize how stupid and petty it is. We take ourselves too seriously and cloak meanness in the mantle of "integrity." We're not being mean, we're just pointing out errors so that knowledge moves forward properly.

If someone does TED Talks or major media public appearances, then it gets worse. You get phrases like "media whore" (which, fortunately, I hear less and less) and questions about the person's academic prowess. People even often feel obligated to apologize a bit before saying they've been on TV or other media. They do so because there is a culture--now slowly but definitely changing--that it should be the role of think tanks or journalists, not us pure academics, to talk to the public.

The article does not mention sexism but you have to wonder about how bias, conscious or unconscious, also plays a role. In all, you have a situation where a professor becomes famous and gets attacked in large part because of that. This plays out in many, many other, less visible settings in universities everywhere (including Latin American, as I have occasionally learned).

The answer to all this is so simple that people can't seem to follow it. It's this: when you wake up every morning, tell yourself that on this day you won't be an asshole to your colleagues. That's it. If you have Ph.D. students, add that you will model not being an asshole to them as well. Just doing that would change academia quite a bit.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Evo Morales History Tweeting

Every so often I write a "still fighting the War of the Pacific" post (the first was almost exactly 10 years ago). The case grinds its way through the International Court of Justice, with Chileans (both right and left) arguing that Bolivia has no case for reclaiming territory.* Now Evo Morales is tweeting about it. It's not often that a president starts tweeting about a 1904 treaty.



He's referring to the 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which defined the border and gave Bolivia some access to the ocean through Chile. The Bolivians didn't and don't consider it too friendly or peaceful, so we have the president getting up in the morning and tweet ranting about it.

* In fact, Evo Morales recently called Michelle Bachelet a liar about it.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Incentives for International Pressure in Venezuels

Jorge Castañeda has an op-ed on the importance of international pressure on Venezuela. It is better than most such analyses, which tend to show considerable optimism for a united front of international actors. He explains the importance of gathering the votes in the European Union for sanctions.

However, there is a major sticking point that he simply glosses over:

En algún momento, dejará de poder pagar el servicio de su deuda externa, sobre todo si los chinos y los rusos dejan de ayudarle.

If. If. If. Even more forcefully, Moises Rendon at the Center for Strategic & International Studies makes the following case:

When looking at resolving the Venezuelan crisis, we must consider China’s economic and geopolitical interests, along with Russia’s commercial and oil relationships and Cuba’s political assistance. China has given more than $62 billion in loans to Venezuela in the last 10 years, more than all the multilateral institutions combined. Though China might have a strategic interest in continuing to support an anti-U.S. government in the region, it would also benefit from a transition in Venezuela if a new government brings economic stability, the rule of law, and a respect for previous treaties and bilateral loans.
 Venezuelan engagement with Russia ranges from arm deals to visa reciprocity agreements and oil-production agreements. Russia will also play a role when restructuring Venezuela’s sovereign debt. Rosneft, the Russian oil company, owns 49 percent of CITGO, the Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) oil subsidiary based in the United States. Despite the fact that Russia doesn’t have the financial flexibility to keep the regime afloat, it plays an important role in the international arena, especially as part of the UN Security Council. Cuba, on the other hand, is the political mentor of the regime and Venezuela’s closest ally. Thousands of Cubans reside in Venezuela, either through medical assistance programs or military and intelligence efforts. Eliminating assistance to the Maduro regime from these three countries is key.


Yes, all three countries could figure out a way to deal with a change of government in Venezuela, but do any of the three have an incentive to push it? I just don't see it. Russia and Cuba in particular have a lot to lose politically if the opposition takes power, and Cuba has even more to lose financially. So why would they go along?

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Venezuelan Government is Stronger Than Ever

Your best guess right now is that the Venezuelan government is in a stronger position than ever. The Trump administration can impose sanctions, Luis Almagro can complain (and, incidentally, even the Venezuelan opposition is telling him to shut up), and the opposition can get protests going, but the regime won. And it won bigly.

The opposition is entirely in tatters, splintered and angry at itself. Some of the losing candidates talk of how the leadership paid no attention to local electoral realities. Running a relentlessly negative anti-Maduro campaign appeared not to resonate with Venezuelans, who wanted more from gubernatorial candidates. There is no opposition leadership. María Corina Machado talks of creating a new "Soy Venezuela" as if a new slogan will do the trick.

The opposition can protest, but everyone knows you can't keep that up forever and they have had no impact up to this point. It could use violence but that is a losing proposition both in PR and practical terms. There is every reason to believe the army and police are firmly behind the government. Fighting when you've just lost an election won't be a winning strategy. You could engage in dialogue but the government will run you in circles because it knows you don't have a firm constituency behind you. You've got no leverage anywhere. Mostly what you can do now is work on a clear, positive, coherent message that goes beyond insulting Maduro and convinces Venezuelans that you're not a bunch of out of touch elites who just want back in power.

With that, you look to the 2018 presidential election. You don't really have any other choice.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Cuba and Israel

For the first time, a group of Israeli business leaders is making an official trip to Cuba to talk trade, with the approval (but not endorsement) of the Israeli government. I find this fascinating because not only are there no diplomatic ties between the two countries (Fidel Castro cut them) but the Castro regime has been blistering in its condemnation of Israel and glowing in its relations with Palestinians. Apparently President Obama's thaw inspired Israeli business leaders to push for their own.

It is worth nothing that last year at the annual United Nations vote against the Cuba embargo, Israel switched its traditional "no" vote to an abstain, as did the United States. That vote will be coming up again on November 1, and although I expect the U.S. to go back to "no," it may well be that Israel will not.

This also serves as a stark reminder about how President Trump's foreign policy is often out of step with just about everyone. Even Israel, which he was careful to cultivate, is moving away from the Cold War mentality on Cuba.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Venezuela's Contentious Elections

Venezuela held gubernatorial elections yesterday. As you might guess, there is plenty of controversy. Here is a good summary from Caracas Chronicles. Some thoughts:

First, the results showed an overwhelming number of wins for the government, which sharply contradicted pre-election polls. Such polls should always be viewed with caution, of course, but all things being equal the results should be regarded with suspicion because a) the election was originally postponed precisely because the government was concerned at how bad it would lose; and b) the country is in tatters and the government is not popular.

Second, new governors will be required to declare allegiance to the Constituent Assembly, which is essentially both legislature and constitution at the same time. I have to wonder how that's going to go because the assembly itself was created to circumvent the opposition-led legitimate legislature.

Third, there was debate in the opposition about whether to vote, but ultimately many people decided it was their right and they should exercise it. Make the government crack down, make it commit fraud, and the international community would respond. Nicaragua, Cuba, and Bolivia all jumped to congratulate the government. TeleSur tries to claim that Honduras did as well, but it's a letter from Mel Zelaya. The smaller OAS states with long ties to Hugo Chávz won't likely budge, so in Latin America it's hard to see this fostering much change.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Losing Jobs to Mexico

Tremendous long-form article in the New York Times profiling a woman in her 40s in Indianapolis who loses her manufacturing job to Mexico. Not metaphorically, but literally--she and her co-workers are asked to train Mexicans. There's a lot here.

--She obviously loved Trump's message about jobs (he mentioned her factory in a tweet) but her support for him was skin deep and she did not bother voting. Clearly existing parties offer her nothing--she felt Democrats talked too much about safety nets instead of jobs. She was nervous when she heard Trump was considering ending the health care program that took care of her disabled granddaughter.

--She is gracious about the training, which is just a barbaric practice. The young Mexican man she trains seems genuinely not to know he is taking her job and that she was losing hers. He seemed stricken when he found out. The human element here is strong. She is not the stereotype of the racist working class and indeed even wants to travel to Mexico. A underlying message here is that workers have a lot in common. No, the article is not Marxist, but it's hard to miss the message about owners and workers.

--The reporter is subtle but blasts the modern business model that reward CEOs with millions as they fire people. It is entirely in the interest of executives to screw people. And they do.

--The broken families and domestic violence are clearly a drag, as they contribute to instability, to lack of education and therefore to fewer opportunities. But health care is front and center--bills eat her up quickly.

--In our consumer society, self-worth is derived from the product you produce and the consumer goods you consume.

--there is still a ray of hope at the end, which is her daughter getting a college scholarship. Higher education gets all kinds of criticism these days but it's still the best way to get and keep a job.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Inflation in Venezuela

The IMF's World Economic Outlook has projections on inflation. See page 252 of the statistical abstract for the specific numbers. For the region as a whole, the 2018 projection is 3.6%, which shows how much inflation has been tamed and how high a priority governments give it regardless of their ideology.


And then, of course, there is Venezuela, which for 2018 may be looking at 2,530%, which is a catastrophe and about double the projected final amount for 2017. In the past, hyperinflation was a scourge in numerous countries, so it's particularly striking to see how badly it hits only one country. And that's why the government stopped releasing inflation data almost two years ago.

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Mohsin Hamid's Exit West

Mohsin Hamid's Exit West is an intriguing and unusual novel. The two main characters, Nadia and Saeed, are two young people who live in an unnamed but certainly Middle Eastern country. They come together and when militants take over their city, they flee through one of the many magic doors popping up around the world, which take you somewhere else.

Migrants are doing this globally, which sets the stage for exploration of migrant experience, displacement, nativism, development of new nationalisms, and even personal relationships. If borders disappeared, what would happen?

It's beautifully written, a pleasure to read really. There is no plot per se--people are fleeing and trying to find new meaning in new places, but there is no narrative arc and definitely no effort to explain more broadly what new international responses there are and what the outcome is. That would be interesting to contemplate but it's not his point. Instead, he tries to sort out what happens to these two people.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Latin Americans Feel Corruption is Worse

Transparency International just released a report on corruption in Latin America. The upshot is that people are reporting more instances of it. The report is based on surveys conducted in conjunction with Latinobarómetro.

62% thought corruption had worsened in the past 12 months. The worst by far (87%) is Venezuela, which should not surprise anyone. But the second worst (80%) is Chile. Even stranger, the best results came largely from Central America (Nicaragua is low!). One bright spot is that Guatemalans feel (or at least felt until the recent crisis) more positive about corruption being combated. It's just another reminder how important transnational efforts like CICIG are.

The worst offenders are police and politicians.



There is a lot of interesting (though sometimes sickening) nuance about where bribes are paid. That varies a lot. The fact that health care is a major area for bribes is particularly egregious. Health care is expensive and difficult enough even without paying bribes to access it.

The conclusions are the same as ever. Latin America needs better institutions. More transparent and impartial judicial system. Rinse, wash, repeat.

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Monday, October 09, 2017

The Price of DACA

The Trump administration announced what it wants in return for not shutting down DACA.

Before agreeing to provide legal status for 800,000 young immigrants brought here illegally as children, Mr. Trump will insist on the construction of a wall across the southern border, the hiring of 10,000 immigration agents, tougher laws for those seeking asylum and denial of federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” officials said.
 The White House is also demanding the use of the E-Verify program by companies to keep illegal immigrants from getting jobs, an end to people bringing their extended family into the United States, and a hardening of the border against thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America. Such a move would shut down loopholes that encourage parents from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to send their children illegally into the United States, where many of them melt into American communities and become undocumented immigrants.
...
The president’s demands include new rules that say children are not considered “unaccompanied” at the border if they have a parent or guardian in the United States. They also propose treating children from Central America the same way they do children from Mexico, who can be repatriated more quickly, with fewer rights to hearings.
 Mr. Trump is also calling for a surge in resources to pay for 370 additional immigration judges, 1,000 government lawyers and more detention space so that children arriving at the border can be held, processed and quickly returned if they do not qualify to stay longer. 


So if this is meant to be a serious proposal rather than a way to claim Democrats are axing DACA by refusing to negotiate, it's a matter of what Democrats can swallow. Obviously, this is a hardliner wish list. Both from ethical and PR perspectives, trading one group of young people for another doesn't seem too likely. I will also be curious if any Republicans balk at what will be a high price tag--I don't know if anything cares about deficit spending anymore.

Trump is also a moving target so it's unclear what his bottom line might be. He had his dinner with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi on immigration and has mentioned how he feels compassion for DACA recipients, which made his base howl. So he has lurched back the other direction.

So we'll see what happens. The default prediction on passing immigration bills is failure, but in the past there hasn't been the looming deadline for so many people.

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Saturday, October 07, 2017

U.S. Influence in Honduras

As we all know, in 2009 the U.S. government did not want Manuel Zelaya to return to the presidency after he was overthrown, so effectively stalled until regularly scheduled presidential elections took place later in the year. Porfirio Lobo won those elections. His victory was spun as a boost both to democracy and to fighting corruption. We know the opposite to be true.

Now the New York Times has a long and disgustingly fascinating story about the U.S. government's efforts to combat narcotrafficking in Honduras, which boomed after the 2009 chaos the U.S. helped engender. A major drug lord is now helping and it reaches to the former president.


The evidence, a prosecutor said at a hearing on Sept. 5, showed nothing short of “state-sponsored drug trafficking.”
 Investigators have also gathered evidence that Honduras’s former president, Porfirio Lobo, took bribes to protect traffickers, and that drug money may have helped finance the rise of the country’s current president, Juan Orlando Hernández.


Lobo's son was just sentenced to 24 years in U.S. federal prison on cocaine charges as well.

Back to 2009. The country was in turmoil, activists being killed, democracy crumbling, and in the midst of this the drug traffickers go talk to Porfirio Lobo to seek protection in exchange for large amounts of cash. Even as Lobo talked anti-corruption, he happily took the money.

Concerned about the possibility of extradition to the United States, Mr. Rivera said they paid more than $400,000 in bribes to President Porfirio Lobo, before and after his November 2009 election. At President Lobo’s home in early 2010, Mr. Rivera received the assurance he wanted.

Eventually because of the pressure from the U.S. Treasury Department, the drug lord and his brother portrayed in the article decide to talk. The irony here is palpable. The U.S. has both helped encourage and then fight corruption. This points to the trouble with using the term "U.S. government." Investigators do their job on behalf of the U.S. government but don't have anything to do with policy making. Meanwhile, policy makers may well find it convenient to ignore evidence if it suits them. So we feed all sides of the monster.

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Friday, October 06, 2017

US-Cuba Relations Get Weirder

About a month ago I wrote about how weird the sonic attack issue was with Cuba. It has become weirder and not in a good way. Examples:


It seems more an excuse for Trump to lash out at Cuba and look tough more than anything else. 

I am stuck with two thoughts. If the Cuban government is not responsible, I don't see how something this important could occur with it knowing who is. On the other hand, the government has nothing to gain and a lot to lose by making such attacks.

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Thursday, October 05, 2017

Sebastian Bitar's U.S. Military Bases, Quasi-Bases, and Domestic Politics in Latin America

I read Sebatian E. Bitar's US Military Bases, Quasi-Bases, and Domestic Politics in Latin America (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). It's a good read.

The core argument is that Latin American domestic politics is the key variable for understanding why the United States has pursued more quasi-bases that are secret and not well known. In a democratic era in Latin America, domestic opposition can use electoral or institutional means to block the approval of formal bases. If the government is willing, then the U.S. can pursue more informal "quasi-bases" (use of airports or local bases, etc.). This provides less oversight but it's also suboptimal for the U.S. because a change of government can change the entire arrangement whenever it wants. With formal bases newly elected governments must wait until an agreement ends (like in Ecuador).

I don't agree with the idea that George W. Bush neglected Latin America and that Barack Obama's administration was marked by "excessive neglect" (p. 32) but that doesn't detract from the empirical argument. In fact, he points out that Latin American countries were more autonomous than the past but still welcomed military bases. They were rejected (as in the case of Colombia) only after domestic outcry.

In short, democratization gave opposition groups institutional veto power. He pays particular attention to the judiciary, parties, and civil society. Although he looks at the universe of cases, he has chapters on failed agreements in Ecuador and Colombia.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Venezuela Still Hearts Syria

Iran claims Venezuela is working with it and Syria to build a new oil refinery in...Syria. That will unshackle Venezuela from the economic war and allow revolutionaries to work together. Or some such, I imagine.

There is really nothing to do but chuckle. Venezuela lacks the resources to embark on such a venture. But more importantly, it should be rather obvious to everyone that Syria is in the midst of a brutal civil war, which makes any investment doomed. The article does a nice job of showing that the announcement is intended primarily as a public statement that Venezuela is not isolated and has allies in other parts of the world. This thing is not going to be built and it is unlikely that the Venezuelan government believes it will be either.

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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Trump's Response to Puerto Rico

Back in 1998, Lars Schoultz published Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America. The core argument is that policy making has been based on the belief in Latin American inferiority. That should inform how we understand Donald Trump's response to Puerto Rico. It is their fault.




This comes on the heels of his tweets about how Puerto Rico is a disaster to begin with and needs to pay the banks.



In short, Puerto Rican leaders and weak and incompetent. Only the mighty U.S. government can save these poor people, who are incapable of doing it themselves. And, of course, they will need to pay for our beneficence. They also need to be grateful. Even better if they show public gratitude to Donald J. Trump. If not, he'll go on Twitter to show his displeasure.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Cuban Doctors Fight Back

From the NYT: Cuban doctors are suing in Brazilian courts to allow them to work independently instead of just having the Cuban government take it all. Two things come to mind:

First, renting Cuban doctors without compensating them is reprehensible. This quote from the Brazilian health minister--in a conservative government!--is reprehensible:

“There is no injustice,” said Brazil’s health minister, Ricardo Barros. “When they signed up they agreed to the terms.”

You mean the Cuban government agreed to the terms and took the cash.

Second, diplomatic normalization under the Obama administration helped encourage this development.

The legal challenges are all the more important because the doctors have lost a common backup plan: going to the United States. The American government, which has long tried to undermine Cuba’s leaders, established a program in 2006 to welcome Cuban doctors, with the aim of exacerbating the island’s brain drain.

Attacking in the courts and publicizing this practice is an unforeseen outcome of normalization.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Umberto Eco's Travels in Hyperreality

Umberto Eco's Travels in Hyperreality was an impulsive used bookstore purchase. It consists of only loosely connected essays. The hyperreality one is good--he traveled around the United States to examine how we construct different realities. Sometimes they are copies of European originals and sometimes, like Disneyland and Disney World, we construct fake worlds that are intended to be artificial but actually better than reality. And he can be pretty funny.

Some of it veers into the impenetrable: "But this sport squared (which involves speculation and barter, selling and enforced consumption) generates a sports cubed, the discussion of sport as something seen" (p. 162). I still am not sure what he's getting at there. And he kept using the word "bricolage." Yet he can be funny even with the dated (the essays span from the late 1960s to the 1980s) stuff, like a discussion of jeans (which for him appeared to be a relatively new thing). He had heightened awareness of how they fit: "A garment that squeezes the testicles makes a man think differently" (p. 193). Indeed.

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El Salvador in 2016

Mike Allison has an article in the recent issue of Revista de Ciencia Política (from Chile) summing up the challenges El Salvador faced in 2016 (the issue has that theme for the region with case studies). The Salvadoran case is not what you'd call positive:


El Salvador continues to struggle with elevated levels of criminal violence perpetrated by street gangs, drug trafficking organizations, members of the security forces, and other criminal groups. The Attorney General’s Office and courts have taken some positive steps towards tackling impunity for current and civil war-era crimes. However, a history of corruption and favoritism within those institutions continues to undermine citizens’ faith in the legitimacy of their actions. Finally, El Salvador confronts a challenging road ahead characterized by uncertainty over the implications of an overturned amnesty law, low rates of economic growth, and a new U.S. president in the White House. 

Corruption, violence, strict abortion laws, stubborn poverty rates, slow economic growth, indifference and unpredictability from the Trump administration you name it. Go take a look but don't expect to feel good afterward.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Latin America Response to China

Simeon Tegel has a nice take on Latin America's relationship with China. That relationship is often portrayed as one-sided, where Latin America is becoming more dependent, China is spreading its influence, and the like. But it ignores how Latin American leaders are consciously forging their paths, picking and choosing, and avoiding too much entanglement.

But despite Beijing's best efforts – and the uncertainty about future relations with the U.S. as Trump seeks to renegotiate NAFTA and other trade deals – the RCEP remains on the backburner with no Latin American leaders talking up the deal. 
"For ideological reasons, it's very difficult to enter a trade pact led by China," notes Roncagliolo, who also stresses that Latin American nations are not about to repeat the mistakes of the past when the region was in thrall to Spain, Britain and then the U.S. 
Others go further. "China is not the way of the future for Latin America. I just don't see it," says Dawisson Belém Lopes, a professor of international politics at Brazil's Federal University of Minas Gerais, highlighting how Beijing simply cannot compete with the U.S.'s "soft power."


We should start with the assumption that Latin America (with perhaps the exception of basket cases like Venezuela) has agency and has choices, so is not just desperately reaching out to China and it is definitely not passively accepting Chinese "encroachment." Yet that's precisely how so many stories and congressional debates seem to go.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Travel Restrictions on Venezuelans

Donald Trump added Venezuela to the list of countries with travel restrictions. The wording is as follows:

The government in Venezuela is uncooperative in verifying whether its citizens pose national security or public-safety threats; fails to share public-safety and terrorism-related information adequately; and has been assessed to be not fully cooperative with respect to receiving its nationals subject to final orders of removal from the United States. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of certain Venezuelan government officials and their immediate family members as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas is suspended.
Three things come to mind.

First, media stories lump Venezuela in with North Korea, Syria, etc. but it's a totally different case. It is highly targeted and Venezuela is not a military threat.

Second, as result of #1, it's a good bet that adding Venezuela was simply a way of claiming the original ban wasn't aimed at Muslims. The ACLU has already mentioned this.

Third, this isn't actually a policy change. It's an expansion of existing sanctions, or at least appears to be since I haven't seen how many Venezuelans were added to the list.

Update: quoted in this Bloomberg article on the topic.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Cuba's Role in a Venezuela Transition

Jorge Castañeda (academic and former Mexican Foreign Minister) argues in an NYT op-ed that Donald Trump and Raúl Castro have an incentive to work together on Venezuela. As Venezuelan resources dry up, the Cuban leader understand that long-term he really needs the United States. Trump wants (or claims to want) democratization  in Venezuela and Cuba is the only country with enough clout to have a decisive impact. Safe haven in Havana is an incentive for leaders who will otherwise face imprisonment.


Venezuela has a lot to gain from a grand bargain including Cuba and the United States, but so do Cuba, the United States and the rest of Latin America. At the moment, it might seem naïve to think that Mr. Maduro and his allies would accept a deal in which he leaves power just as he appears to have consolidated it. But sometimes that is the best moment to reach an agreement. Venezuela’s situation is untenable, and the Cubans, who have been around forever, know that. Does Mr. Trump?

I tend to agree with this. The main problem is that in the past year or two, incentives haven't worked the way we would expect them to. There are incentives for Latin American countries to work together, but it hasn't happened. Perhaps more importantly, Donald Trump a) has domestic incentives that sometimes contradict foreign policy ones; and b) does not understand those incentives. He is chasing a small group of voters who loved the Bay of Pigs and might decide to stick with them even though they cannot actually get him elected.

You know what Castañeda doesn't mention? The presence of nefarious external actors. And he shouldn't. As Harold Trinkunas and I talked about on Friday in my podcast, their impact is overstated.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Podcast Episode 42: Foreign Influence in Venezuela

In Episode 42 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast I talk with Harold Trinkunas, who is Senior Research Scholar and Associate Director at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. Among other things, he’s done a lot of research on Venezuela, including a book on civil-military relations. Last week he gave testimony at a hearing for the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about Venezuela, and that was the topic of our discussion.


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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chile Squeezes Venezuela

Sometimes bilateral relations mean public statements by presidents and foreign ministers. Sometimes they are more subtle:


Chile’s central bank said on Wednesday it had revoked a reciprocal credit line with its Venezuelan counterpart, citing what it called Venezuela’s failure to pay back its debts.
 In a statement, Chile’s central bank said it had notified Venezuela’s central bank and that the line would be cancelled within 10 days. The monetary authority said it has been taking steps to mitigate its exposure to Venezuela since 2014 and was currently owed $2.1 million by that country’s central bank.
 “The progressive deterioration of Venezuela’s financial indicators and the (Venezuela central bank‘s) behavior in prior years under this arrangement had already motivated us to adapt measures to safeguard the Central Bank of Chile’s wealth,” the monetary authority said in a statement.
 The Venezuelan central bank had made “intensive use” of the credit line in recent years, Chile’s central bank said.


Venezuela is running low on reserves, cannot keep up oil production, has no other exports, and is deeply in debt. Latin American leaders may talk about sovereignty, non-intervention, or even ideological affinity, but they want their money.

In a sense, this is not a good development for the United States. If Venezuela finds its western hemisphere sources of money unavailable, then it will lean more heavily on China and Russia, which for now continue loaning money partly to tweak the United States and partly to avoid regime change, because who knows what a new government will want to repay. When the U.S. squeezed Cuba with the embargo, it hurt the Cuban people and helped the Soviet Union.

Update: Brazil is also getting edgy.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Trump Further Weakens US Influence in Latin America

From Trump's remarks at a dinner he hosted during the UN conference for the presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Panama, and Peru.

We're fortunate to have incredibly strong and healthy trade relationships with all of the countries gathered here today.  They're doing very well with the United States.  We want to try and change that a little bit so we can turn the tables just a little bit.  You're doing very well, and I congratulate you all.   
Nikki knows exactly what I'm saying, and Rex knows exactly what I'm saying. But we have great relationships, and we do great trade.  Our economic bonds form a critical foundation for advancing peace and prosperity for all of our people and all of our neighbors.  

These types of statements weaken the United States in important ways. They undermine confidence in agreements the U.S. has pushed for, they encourage Latin American leaders to seek more economic agreements outside the hemisphere, and they reduce the leverage the U.S. has to deal with other issues in the region.

Of course, this dinner also included discussion of Venezuela, where Juan Manuel Santos said again that there was no military option. Trump's own words end up meaning that Latin America is listening to him primarily to rebut foolish things he says. His comments about wanting to hurt Latin America more on trade gives the other presidents zero incentive to work with Trump at all. In other words, the U.S. is not leading anything at the moment.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Don't Retract the Crappy Pro-Colonialism Article (Updated)

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.

Update: even Noam Chomsky agrees with me.

Update (9/29/17). The publisher released a statement. There was indeed a peer review, where one review said minor revisions and the other said reject. The minor revisions one was returned in just four days--I would love to see it. The editor decided to split the difference and do a major R&R, which was clearly a bad choice given the low quality of the article.

Also, the publisher specifically denies this was click bait. I am not sure I believe it.

Updated (10/10/17) The article has been withdrawn because of violent threats against the editor. This disgusts me. The threats themselves are intended to stifle opposition, which is ironic given the topic at hand. And I hate the idea of caving into that.

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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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