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

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.

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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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