Monday, April 23, 2018

Democratic Fragility in Latin America

This New York Times article about the Paraguayan election caught my eye, especially one quote:

“I didn’t live through the dictatorship, but I know that life was good, and I think we could use another period like that,” José Rodríguez, a 19-year-old medical student, said on Sunday night. “There are too many thieves and assaults, and it wasn’t like that before.”

A young, educated Paraguayan says dictatorship sounds OK. Of course, this is one cherry-picked quote so let's look at the data from the Latin American Public Opinion Project. A 2014 poll showed some indifference to democracy (see p. 64 and around there for that data). Almost 40% think a dictatorship can be preferable, or they don't care much one way or another.

This is troubling and reminded me of the calls for military intervention in Brazil. We are a full generation removed from the end of military dictatorships and so they are much easier to romanticize. In some cases the people are young enough not to have been alive at the time. LAPOP's 2016-2017 regional report notes "a significant decline in the extent to which the public agrees that democracy, despite its flaws, is better than any other form of government" (p. 24).

Read more...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

UNASUR on the Rocks

Half of the countries of UNASUR announced they were suspending their membership until the crisis of "rudderless" leadership was resolved. There is currently no Secretary General, which must be decided by consensus.

Responses are almost entirely ideological. Nicolás Maduro said unnamed "revolutionaries" would protect UNASUR (whatever that means for an international institution). An editorial in Ecuador's El Comercio made fun of the Kirchner statue erected in UNASUR headquarters and wondered whether there were better uses of money. The Uruguayan right argued there was on point in staying in UNASUR. The Kirchnerists in Argentina are upset. Leftists think this is all about pressure from the United States.

You get the picture.

A major question for UNASUR was always whether it could get out of the ideological shadow of its creator, Hugo Chávez. I thought it was, even if haltingly, though I had not paid much attention to it over the past year. Latin American unity is elusive, as I've written about before. Can governments at different ends of the ideological spectrum find consensus (without driving each other crazy?).

It would be good for the region if UNASUR recovers. It's good to have a forum for dialogue and conflict resolution without the presence of the United States. It's good to foster cooperation even when governments are polar ideological opposites. There must be some centrist figure out there who would fit the bill of Secretary General.

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Review of James Comey's A Higher Loyalty

I read James Comey's A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (2018) and if you're looking for new details, you won't find them there. And in fact it's not the point of the book at all. Instead, it's an examination of leadership, where naturally Donald Trump falls quite obviously and publicly short.

It is a very human book, with Comey talking about his background (with some harrowing personal details I did not know about, such as being threatened by a serial rapist and the death of his infant son) and trying to explain how he developed his style of leadership based on people who had been leaders for him when he was young, especially the manager of the grocery store where he worked as a teenager. I liked these parts, as they seemed genuine (he takes pains to show his own doubts and imperfections) and smart.

Then of course there are the decisions he made about Hillary Clinton's emails. He talks about all the different ways a reasonable person could have addressed the new group of emails that came from Anthony Weiner's computer right before the 2016 election (and frankly, all I could think of as I did at the time was how disgusting it was that an asshole like Wiener could have affected an election). Comey doesn't ask you to agree--he just asks you to think about all the possible and very limited alternatives.

Lastly, there is Trump himself. He is everything we already know. Self-serving, narcissistic, and most importantly insecure. He cannot handle the truth, so to speak, and Comey compares him to the mafia bosses he investigated and prosecuted early in his career in New York. Trump needs personal loyalty and lackeys since he is too insecure or emotionally immature to handle push back or contradiction. Comey's whole point is that the truth is our higher loyalty, and it is something Donald Trump consciously rejects.

Update 4/23/18: An interesting take on the book by a top Hillary Clinton aide.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

World Bank Says Latin America Is Growing

The World Bank released a report saying that Latin American economies are recovering and growth will be stronger in 2018 and 2019. Here is the executive summary and here is the full report. To anyone who studies Latin America at all, it will sound familiar and for the many years I've done this blog I have written more posts than I can count about World Bank, IMF, and CEPAL economic projections. Growth goes up and down, but two things stay constant: reliance on global commodity prices and debt. Latin America needs to move away from commodities and reduce debt. It has been thus forever and there is no end in sight.

Their advice is measured and should once again make us wary of the vague term "neoliberal."

In terms of short-run costs, we draw several important conclusions from our empirical analysis. First, 85 percent of the 136 fiscal adjustment episodes that we identify in the region for the period 1960-2017 have involved only cuts in government spending, as opposed to 4 percent involving only tax hikes (the remaining 11 percent involved both). While this is, in principle, good public policy (especially if it is feasible to cut unproductive government spending), we show that the short-run costs of raising taxes (specifically, value-added taxes) are highly non linear: costs are essentially zero for low initial levels of the tax rate (around 10-12 percent) and quite substantial for high initial levels (above 20 percent). Hence, low-taxation countries may actually find it in their best interest to raise taxes as part of a fiscal adjustment rather than cutting public investment or reducing social transfers (particularly to the most vulnerable). Second, the shortrun output costs of reducing primary spending are also non-linear (i.e., marginal costs increase with the size of spending cuts), which makes a strong case for gradual versus shock fiscal adjustments. Finally, even when policymakers should be careful not to rely too heavily on cutting public investment, it should not be done at the cost of reducing social transfers which are found to have important costs on both output and poverty.

The disaster of structural adjustment and shock therapy in the 1980s is now permanently ingrained and the real advances that social spending has achieved is recognized as valuable and important.

As a side note, the Venezuela numbers look very much like the Cuban Special Period. Almost identical. As you might guess, the report shows projections both including and excluding Venezuela because it cannot be fruitfully part of any average.

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Reorienting the Latin American Left

Great interview in The Nation of Gustavo Petro. In particular, he talks about reorienting the Latin American left.

There’d be a change in axis. Latin American progressivism used to revolve around the Havana-Caracas-Buenos Aires-Managua axis. That was an old progressivism, and I don’t think it gave us any solutions. It revolved around oil and coal, Havana included, since it aligned with Venezuela to get oil. It has since fallen apart, and while it was falling apart, neoliberalism got a second wind and began winning elections in Argentina, Peru, and other countries. But I don’t think that it’s lasted long yet—except in Colombia, where it always has been. Take a look at crisis in Peru, what is happening in Mexico, even in Brazil—they needed a coup to take down Lula.

The existence of the FARC prevented any moderate left from gaining traction in Colombia, and the silver lining there is that Petro has a blank political slate to work with. Eventually the Venezuelan left will face a similar situation since the Chavista left is being discredited.

He provides no details about how to move away from extractionism, and of course even Nicolás Maduro talks about it while doing nothing, but it's still important to begin with a goal of changing how the left views the economy.

It will be an axis that sees the transformations of Latin America toward a productive economy, and not one based the extraction of resources. We aren’t going to be primary exporters, as we have been for five centuries. We can also be an intentional society and produce on the basis of knowledge. 

I am not sure what he means here by "producing on the basis of knowledge." He has said this before.

“Over the last 30 years, Colombia has exported oil, coal and cocaine,” he said. “I don’t see how this benefits humanity. I want to export food and knowledge-intensive industrial products.”

Perhaps he means high tech. Regardless, it shows a recognition that the Venezuelan and Argentine models had serious problems and should not be copied. A reorientation is what the Latin American left needs right now if it is to win votes again in more countries and carry on its core goal of reducing inequality.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Context of the Paraguayan Presidential Election


This is a guest post.

Samuel Fishman lives in Paraguay where he teaches English with an English Teaching Assistant Fulbright grant from the U.S. Department of State. He graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Political Economy. He is originally from Baltimore, Maryland. .

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the political protests that reverberated through Paraguay on March 31st of last year. On that day, thousands of Paraguayans of all ages and political stripes took to the streets of the capital city Asunción and throughout the nation. Over the course of the chaotic night the national Congress building was lit on fire by demonstrators and a young protester was shot and killed by police. In spite of the violence however, over the course of this year the protests have showed themselves to have a number of durable effects, most notably a dramatic increase in youth political involvement and the strengthening of local independent media outlets. These two effects will be critical factors when Paraguayans go to the polls this Sunday to choose their next president.

The demonstrations were a response to a proposed constitutional amendment to allow Presidents to seek re-election, which is verboten by the national constitution. Opposition to the amendment stemmed from two objections, once substantive and one procedural. South America’s longest continuous dictatorship ended in Paraguay in 1989, so Paraguayans remain skeptical of any strengthening of executive power. On the procedural side, the amendment (enmienda) emerged from a secret closed-doors session of the Paraguayan Senate, and received support from traditional bitter political rivals from the two largest political parties. These strange bedfellows were seen as cooperating for self-serving political strategy; both parties stand to gain from extended term limits.

However, it appears that backlash to the enmienda triggered some positive changes. Historically, levels of youth engagement in Paraguayan politics have been low. A recent survey by the Centro de Información y Recursos para elDesarrollo showed that thirty-four percent of respondents believe many young people do not vote due to a lack of interest in politics and elections. Yet, a series of growing youth mobilization efforts following the enmienda suggests March 31st marked a turning point of sorts. Ever since, the streets have flooded with massive youth-led non-violent demonstrations to raise awareness for women's rights, LGBT rights, the environment, and other progressive causes. Notably, these events often unite trabajdores, empleadas, universitarios, campesinos and many disparate groups into broad, inclusive coalitions.

Clearly, the enmienda counter-protests spurred increased youth political engagement. However, other parts of civil society were also affected, namely, the media. The mainstream Paraguayan media has long been dominated by a handful of brazenly partisan newspapers, some of the largest of which are owned by the outgoing multibillionaire President Horacio Cartes. As the night´s events unfolded, citizens spurned traditional media outlets and increasingly turned to social media and independent media for crucial real time information. As I huddled with a group of university students, they ignored the talking heads blaring from a nearby car radio, and refreshed Twitter for updates. On the other hand, alternative media outlets were thrust into the spotlight with innovative coverage techniques. These sources racked up tens of thousands of views with Facebook Live streams of Congressional debate, shot on personal cell phones. Online streams of the burning Congress building and bloodied opposition politicians immediately went viral, dramatically increasing the viewership of independent media outlets.

Throughout Latin America, as nations have transitioned from dictatorships to democracies, many have struggled with “flexible” term limits for heads of state. A series of countries including Venezuela, Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have lifted presidential term limits. In Paraguay however, citizen outcry was strong enough that the controversial enmienda was retracted and the executive term limit remains in force. When Paraguayans go to the polls this Sunday to choose their next president, the politically empowered Paraguayan youth and the strengthened independent media will play a critical role. University students are organizing on-campus debates between candidates while new media sources are using YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp memes, and other web platforms to broadcast information about the election directly to voters. While the enmienda project itself failed, one year later its political legacy later remains strong. These two factors, youth involvement and independent media, could play a deciding role in this Sunday’s presidential election and the future of Paraguayan politics.

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Wilbur Ross on Latin America

Voice of America published an interview with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. It's an unsurprisingly disheartening interview because it's so wooden and false.

--When asked about Argentina increasing trade with China because of Donald Trump's trade war, he says:

we are exploring all sorts of things, bilateral things, things that Argentina can sell us, and things that we can sell Argentina.

Things. That clears it all up.

--On Venezuela

Venezuela is abusing its population and that is not a satisfactory thing to happen. 

Strong words!

--And then a real, honest-to-goodness whopper.

So we are going to try to facilitate that, an example is the gesture that the United States made through Vice President Pence. I hope that people understand what it is. We are sharing the hardship with them of the refugees that have come out of Venezuela.

Holy smokes. There are about 600,000 Venezuelan refugees in Colombia alone. There is no sense in Latin America of shared hardship.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ken Godwin

Ken Godwin passed away on Sunday, April 15. Here is our department statement.

The Department of Political Science and Public Administration is sad to announce that Dr. Ken Godwin passed away on Sunday, April 15. From 2001 until he ended phased retirement in 2013, Dr. Godwin was the Marshall A. Rausch Distinguished Professor of Public Policy. He received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1972 and over his career he published 12 books as well as over 70 journal articles and book chapters. He was highly respected both professionally and personally in the department. His funeral will be held Thursday, April 19, at 2:00 p.m. at Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Crisis Assistance Ministry at https://crisisassistance.org/.

This comes as a shock to all of us. Ken was smart, perceptive, blunt, and helpful to everyone. I sought his advice numerous times, especially since he had served as department chair before coming to UNC Charlotte. It's been a somber day here. Hard to say much more than that right now.

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Change in Cuba

The U.S. commentariat on the right tends to argue that change isn't happening in Cuba, generally to justify criticism of President Obama's normalization of relations. This article in Dissent is a leftist view of the actually radical economic changes taking place and how much controversy it is generating among Cubans.

When Raúl Castro succeeded his brother, official policy substantially shifted. Raúl Castro’s government shelved the Battle of Ideas, set in motion large-scale layoffs in the state sector, and encouraged the expansion, within limits, of private businesses. A small number of Cubans were able to take advantage of the more favorable atmosphere to push the boundaries of what was possible, legally and illegally. With money from relatives in Miami, or embezzled from the state, the new rich opened large, garish restaurants, bought properties to operate upscale Airbnbs, ran small and not-so-small import operations. Many flaunted their newfound affluence.

Capitalism and inequality go hand in hand, and Cuba is experiencing that now. Those with access love it, those without lament the betrayal of the revolution. The article shows how the Trump administration's policies are squeezing people once again. The problem, an age old one, is that U.S. policy makers believe that hurting the average Cuban will help bring about political reform. Instead, what it really causes is emigration.

Although Cubans across the board tell me they are disaffected, it is very unlikely they will act collectively, much less take to the streets. Cubans’ traditional form of resistance is to leave. Now leaving is more difficult than it was before President Obama ended the immigration program designed to lure Cubans to the United States, and before President Trump dramatically downsized the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Nevertheless, Cubans continue to plot ways to emigrate. For decades, leaving has been the escape valve that prevented Cuba’s pressure cooker from exploding.

What should we take from all this? Isolating Cuba is proven not to achieve U.S. policy goals. Especially given the historic political transition that will soon take place, the U.S. should be ready to engage. Nothing else has worked. Change is indeed happening and the U.S. should not be punishing Cubans as it occurs.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

The Summit of the Americas and Venezuela

Here is the Venezuelan opposition summary of how Venezuela was treated during the Summit of the Americas. It can easily be taken as weak, with talk of "solving the crisis themselves" and focusing more on humanitarian assistance than on condemning repression and calling for release of political prisoners, allowing candidates to run in the election, etc.

On the other hand, it's rare to see even this much public consensus that the political situation in a Latin American country is dire. Half the countries did sign a declaration condemning the breakdown of constitutional order and although there will be some hardcore opposition, I can see that number gradually increasing if no solution is reached, especially as the emigration problem increases.

In large part because of the history of U.S. policy, Latin America is deeply suspicious of intervention. There is always a lot of hesitance no matter the ideological orientation. Overcoming that is no small feat and is delicate, which also means that given Donald Trump's current tirades against James Comey, his attendance could easily have been counterproductive.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Fading Luster of the Summit of the Americas

The Peruvian newspaper El Comercio notes how many presidents decided not to attend the Summit of the Americas. In addition to the United States, there was Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. Lenín Moreno came briefly and then returned to Ecuador. And of course Nicolás Maduro was not invited. It is worth noting that these countries are not ideologically similar.

The question going forward is whether Trump has helped accelerate a process of disinterest in the summit altogether. Already, the summit's original purpose of free trade has been badly undermine by the United States, to the point that Latin American countries don't have any idea where he stands (rejoin the TPP? Destroy NAFTA? Trade war?).

Remember the first summit in 1994 with its statement about "the Americas are united in pursuing prosperity through open markets, hemispheric integration, and sustainable develoment"? Trump does not believe in any of those three things and has made it clear he is not interested in having the U.S. play a leadership role in the hemisphere. It would be natural for leaders to wonder what the whole point is.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Podcast Episode 51: Political Decentralization in Latin America Can Kill Parties


In Episode 51 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast I talk with Jana Morgan (on Twitter too), who is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Tennessee and a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation. She works on inequality, exclusion and representation. She explores how economic, social and political inequalities affect marginalized groups and undermine democratic processes and outcomes. She recently published an article in Latin American Research Review (click here for the open access full text) on political decentralization and party decay in Latin America, and that’s what we talked about. I couldn’t help bringing the United States into the conversation as well.



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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Review of Levitsky and Ziblatt's How Democracies Die

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt's How Democracies Die (2018) is two political scientists writing a comparative historical analysis of democratic decay in an accessible style. For that alone, this is a good book for a wide audience and you'll learn a lot. They argue that the two cornerstones of democracy in the U.S. are mutual toleration and forbearance, and these have eroded badly. The comparative analysis is really useful for putting all of Donald Trump's actions in their proper context. Like other authoritarian-minded leaders, he breaks democratic norms on a regular basis and they provide ample examples.

But I do have a few analytical quibbles. First is that they never actually define democracy and when we can consider it "dead," or what "dead" really is. This matters so that you're comparing apples to apples across cases. Further, they discuss the problems of gerrymandering, among other things, which happen more in some U.S. states (e.g. North Carolina, which they use as an example) than others. In North Carolina this has ebbed and flowed--is that democracy "dying"? They argue that the civil war "broke" U.S. democracy (p. 122) but is that the same as "killing" it?

Second, they don't mention much about the nature of presidential vs. parliamentary systems. For the United States, this really impacts the way that Donald Trump deals with Congress. When they start to catalog his actions since his election, the institutional relationships matter quite a lot.

Third, their discussion of constitutions mentions how Latin America copied the U.S. model but that didn't stop coups (p. 98). One problem with that argument is that Latin America blended the U.S. model with the Spanish, which allowed considerable leeway for constitutional military intervention. This matters because the erosion of democracy is different in those constitutional contexts than in the U.S.

Their key policy prescriptions are to build a democratic (and multiracial) coalition, to refound the center-right free from extremism (they use Germany as an example), and to decrease economic inequality through universal rather than means-tested policies. Sound suggestions and of course really difficult.

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Thoughts on Trump's Non-Attendance

Some thoughts on Donald Trump's decision not to attend the Summit of the Americas.

1. This isn't shocking. He has made abundantly clear that he has little interest in Latin America and does not like traveling anywhere except to Mar-A-Lago and Trump Tower.

2. I agree that it will be harder to convince Latin America to do something difficult like sanction Venezuela without the POTUS, but Mike Pence is better at delivery than Trump.

3. There is no doubt that many, if not the majority, of Latin Americans attending are relieved. Who wants to deal with stupid tweets and awkward photo ops?

4. I am unconvinced that this is Marco Rubio's moment. Even if he has the president's ear, senators' influence can only go so far.

5. I will be interested to hear Pence's message for Latin America, but it's hard to know how much Trump might change on a dime anyway. It is literally true that what he hears on Fox News can shift his thinking within minutes.

6. Trump is not going to use this time to deal with Syria. Presidents have often balanced international affairs while traveling. Chances he plays golf one of those days is quite high.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My Free Latin American Politics Textbook

I am pleased to announce that my textbook Understanding Latin American Politics is going to be published as an open access ebook. It will be published through the Open Monograph Press platform and will be hosted by UNC Charlotte. It is the exact same version as the originally published one, using the same digital files, and will be free and open to everyone. Hopefully this will be ready by next month. Plans are in the works for a second edition and I will write more once I get that all set because there is some cool news attached to it.


I published two textbooks with Pearson and was really unsatisfied (and at times actively unhappy) with the experience so with this book I asked for and received a reversion of the copyright to me. In particular, I was bothered by the price, which was over $50. A book of this type shouldn't cost that much. So I started exploring non-traditional avenues, wanting to get the book out to as many people as possible. As it turned out, a great answer to my questions came from my own university library, which has some really smart and creative people.

So watch for this. If you want an entirely free textbook, the exact same version as the expensive paper one, for your classes, I will have one ready.

BTW, you can get a sense of the original version from the Amazon box on the left of this screen. I will leave that link there for reference until I get the new link.

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Pushing Panama

Trump Organization lawyers sent a letter (here is an image) to the President of Panama asking him to intervene directly in a dispute about a Trump hotel.


“We categorically reject any assumption or assertion that the letter sought to ‘pressure’ the President of the Republic of Panama,” or other officials, the firm said. It continued: “The authorization of Trump Organization for its delivery was not requested, and nobody at Trump Organization was aware [of] the letter until today.”

This is disingenuous. Panama is heavily dependent on the United States and the lawyers know that full well. The clear intent was to make Juan Carlos Varela nervous even without a stated threat. As you might guess, the Panamanian reaction is not positive. This is viewed as intimidation of a kind that has long plagued U.S.-Latin American relations. We'll see whether Trump can maintain silence or whether he'll make it worse with a tweet.

This is not a good way to go into the Summit of the Americas, which starts in three days, though at this point it's hard for Trump's image to get worse. Already, a widely shared quote from a Latin American diplomat was that most intended to "smile and nod" around Trump, who is viewed as a blowhard.

Update: shortly after posting I saw that Trump has decided not to attend. Chances he plays golf instead are quite high, I think.

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Monday, April 09, 2018

Chile's Trade With China

While Donald Trump was attacking free trade in 2017, China and Chile were updating their free trade agreement, originally signed in 2005. Combined with the Trump Administration's trade war with China, we are seeing the following:

--Greater wine exports to China

--Greater, walnut, prune, and blueberry exports to China

--Greater pork exports to China (a product that does not typically come to mind for Chile)

--Oregon producers are worried about Chile increasing its blackberry exports to their detriment

--Chilean nectarine exports to China are booming

I could go on and on.

It is also worth noting that China is Chile's main trading partner. 28.5% of Chile's exports go to China, whereas the U.S. accounts for 14.1%. Meanwhile, 24.1% of Chile's exports come from China, versus 17.4% from the U.S.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion, which is now approaching conventional wisdom, that this trade war will increase China's presence in Latin America. How well Latin America and other regions make up for China's disrupted trade is unknown. Another unknown is how Latin America responds to U.S. producers trying to push into new markets after being re-routed away from China. I am sure they are scrambling right now to identify those markets.

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Maduro's Self-Defeating Retaliation

I'm quoted in this story about Nicolás Maduro's 90 day retaliatory sanctions against Panama, including banning Copa Airlines from flying to Venezuela. My argument is that this hurts Venezuela more than anyone and will not deter other Latin American countries from imposing their own. They're choosing not to do so for other reasons.

The Copa decision is particularly self-defeating because fewer and fewer airlines are interested in flying to Venezuela, so this is a form of self-isolation. Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela basically said as much.

“Panama is a logistic route,” he told reporters. “Venezuelans rely on Panama to supply medicine and food that they lack.”

In sum, this action hurts Venezuelans. At least Maduro was smart enough not to make the sanctions indefinite.

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Sunday, April 08, 2018

The Petro Savior

I'm basically bookmarking this for future reference. A cryptocurrency news site has a story about Venezuela, focusing on the government's claim that Donald Trump's statements and actions against the Petro have served to double the number of investors. There is no reason to believe this, just as there is no reason to believe any of the government's claims about the amount of investment. Even the Russians are skeptical.

What I found more interesting was this bit of specificity:


“Petro’s impact will be felt within three to six months. We have already advanced fast. As the gringos know that we are going to quickly reorganize our economy, they attack the Bolivarian Government; but they will not stop the economy’s growth, they know it.

There you go: three to six months even with the "attacks." There is no reason to believe this either but it's more specific than the government tends to be.

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Saturday, April 07, 2018

Latin America Links

It's been a while since I've done links. Click to see smart people doing work on Latin American politics in some manner.

--Mike Allison writes in frustration about the U.S. response to Central American migrants.

--Chris Sabatini argues that the Venezuelan opposition should participate in elections.

--Geoff Ramsey on sanctions against Venezuelan officials. This is a few weeks old but has a useful database.

--Boz makes five points about the Costa Rican presidential election. These days it's nice to see tolerance in an election.

--Merike Blofield and Christina Ewig write about reproductive rights in Latin America. Less evidence of tolerance there unfortunately.

--Patricio Navia has a funny take on the Summit of the Americas.

Here are some Twitter feeds you might check out:

--Tim Gill (sociologist and Venezuelanist at UNC Wilmington)

--John Polga-Hecemovich (political scientist at the US Naval Institute)

--Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies (SECOLAS)

--Orlando Pérez (political scientist at Millersville University)

--Christina Wade (political scientist at Washington College)

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Friday, April 06, 2018

Weird Diplomacy With Venezuela

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) went to Venezuela to talk to Nicolás Maduro. This sort of thing happens from time to time, but here's the weird part:

A U.S. official said the private trip was not taxpayer funded and that Sessions had received a letter of invitation from the Venezuelan government and met with Maduro. He said State Department officials played no role in organizing the trip, which ended Tuesday and added that they were not invited to sit in on Sessions’ meetings as they were by Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat, who arrived in Caracas on Wednesday for his own meetings with Maduro and government officials.

You would expect such a visit to be in coordination with the State Department, but Durbin's is and Sessions' isn't. Sessions has a good relationship with Donald Trump so maybe he's going at his behest.

I don't know anything about Sessions, who has been in the House since 2003 and has a 100% rating from the American Conservative Union.  I don't see any previous interest in Venezuela or Latin America in general. So I can't think of why him in particular. Maybe it's just a combination of loyalty to Trump and relative anonymity (for all we know, he's gone other times without notice).

Maduro sent a letter of invitation so wanted Sessions to come. Dialogue, however weird, is better than no dialogue. This seems sloppy and ad hoc, though.

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Thursday, April 05, 2018

U.S. vs. China in Latin America

Reuters has a story about the Trump administration's unhappiness with greater Latin American attention to China. Here's the key quote:

The U.S. is forcing countries in the region to choose between the U.S. and China,” said Margaret Myers, director of the Latin America and the World program at the Inter-American Dialogue. “It’s putting Latin American countries in a very challenging position while at the same time not offering a particularly attractive policy.”

The article itself actually doesn't provide much evidence of this "forcing to choose" hypothesis. That doesn't mean it isn't happening because there is a lot going on privately. But I would need more to be convinced that the Trump administration is putting pressure on Latin America. There is also the problem of greatly reduced leverage. What can Trump threaten a Latin American country with? Central America receives a lot of aid, but the Trump administration has been systematically dismantling U.S. leverage in the region.

The irony here is that U.S. policy toward China is having the direct effect of pushing Latin America and China together. As China slaps retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports like soy, Latin America is right there to fill the gap. The more the United States enacts protectionist policies, the more Latin American countries will seek to trade with China. It's really that simple.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2018

AMLO's Message to Investors

Andrés Manuel López Obrador can smell victory. He's way up in the polls and there are a variety of ways his opponents help him. Now he has written a public letter to investors.


Tengan confianza. No somos rebeldes sin causa y tenemos palabra. Sabemos cumplir nuestros compromisos. No se dejen asustar. 

He says he wants to combat corruption and to responsibly increase the role of the state in the economy without reverting to previous models (i.e. the ISI model). He promised there would be no confiscation of anything and all civil liberties would be respected. He is fine with renegotiating NAFTA but wants it to wait until after his election.

No descartamos la posibilidad de convencer al presidente Donald Trump de su despectiva y equivocada actitud contra los mexicanos. Estamos dispuestos a mantener una relación de amistad y respeto mutuo.

I don't see AMLO convincing Donald Trump of anything but it's worth a try.

He's trying to calm investors generally and Mexican currency markets, which are nervous. Is he Hugo Chávez? Or is he, as Patrick Iber has argued, more like Jimmy Carter? AMLO is in a position where if he can get some public confidence from investors, he can put it over the top if he's not there already.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Mexico Is Loving RT

I hesitate to call this causation, but as Donald Trump has publicly attacked and insulted Mexico since his election, so has RT expanded its audience in Mexico. As Trump creates vacuums, Russia is ready to fill them.

El mayor incremento de audiencia se ha registrado en los países de América Latina. En esta región, la audiencia semanal de RT ha crecido casi 3 veces, alcanzando los 17 millones de telespectadores en 7 países: Venezuela, Ecuador, México, Argentina, Colombia, Chile y Perú. En el estudio del 2017 se sumaron tres países latinoamericanos. Teniendo en cuenta esos países, la audiencia semanal de RT en América Latina alcanzó los 18 millones de espectadores.
 El líder de aumento de audiencia en esta región es México, donde la audiencia semanal de RT se multiplicó por más de 4,5 en 2 años.


Russia, of course, wants AMLO to win so RT is on the job in Mexico. If nothing else, it's plenty of extra positive news coverage for AMLO, packaged for Mexicans who want to consider themselves "alternative."

And, incidentally, more people in the U.S  watch RT than ever before even though it is registered as a "foreign agent." I imagine they consider themselves alternative too.

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Monday, April 02, 2018

Trump Tries to Figure Out Central American Migration

Donald Trump "vented," as the The New York Times put it, about immigration yesterday. What that means is he was watching television, likely Fox News, and then got on Twitter. Yesterday he focused on DACA, showing that he isn't clear on exactly what it is. He believes that DACA is serving as a magnet for migrants moving northward from Central America. This is interesting since he in fact ended DACA. You may recall headlines from September 2017 reading "Trump Ends DACA." Something that does not exist cannot be cited as an attraction. I am in fact curious what Trump thinks DACA is.

There is a broader problem here that goes well beyond Trump and includes the Obama administration. When we hear of Central Americans on the move, we have to think of failed past policies, notably the 2009 coup in Honduras, which worsened political and social conditions there. We have to think of current support for a fraudulent election there. And no politician ever discusses the effects of 1980s policies on El Salvador. It's a bipartisan problem--our policies in Central America are never long-sighted and they keep on biting us.

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Sunday, April 01, 2018

Review of David Maraniss Clemente

I read David Maraniss' Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, which I liked quite a bit. Clemente was larger than life even while alive.

Clemente was peevish and tended toward whiny. But that wasn't without reason because he had suffered segregation and discrimination. He didn't get endorsements the way white players did. He didn't get the same accolades (though in part that's because the Pirates were not a big market team). Even worse, and Maraniss comes back to it numerous times with quotes, the press routinely quoted him in phonetics. English was his second language and it became caricatured ("Eef I can geet better...") and justifiably made him mad.

Maraniss depicts the extreme and disgusting corruption of the Somoza government when it sucked up all the aid it could for profit and let people go hungry after the 1972 earthquake. Clemente was angry and that compelled him even more to take the trip to Nicaragua so that he could force the aid where it needed to go. Roberto Clemente could (and would) stand up to a dictator. He was a real role model, on and off the field. He was an elite player who was idolized by both African American and Latino teammates. He was a fan favorite and a devoted family man.

Maraniss gives substantial attention to the history of the DC-7 that took him into the Caribbean shortly after takeoff. I had no idea about any of it, and I felt impotent and useless anger at the owner, who was both stupid and negligent. Many people knew that plane shouldn't be flown. I don't know about being baseball's "last" heroes but Clemente was one of its greatest.

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Friday, March 30, 2018

Why Education Doesn't Lead to Growth in Mexico

Santiago Levy, an economist who served in several capacities in the Mexican government, has a really interesting post at the Brookings Institution site about education and economic growth in Mexico. We would logically expect a more educated workforce to generate more growth but we don't see that in Mexico (and likely not in other Latin American countries as well).

The answer is informality.


The co-existence of heterogeneous firms in the same narrowly-defined market is one manifestation of widespread resource misallocation in Mexico. If somehow the hundreds of self-employed truck drivers could be grouped in a firm, the productivity of the transportation sector would increase and, critically, so would the demand for more educated workers. 
... 
Many developing countries in Latin America have numerous small low productivity firms and many self-employed workers. In other words, they have large informal sectors and misallocation is a significant issue. While the specific factors that generate misallocation probably differ between countries, in each economy the phenomenon drives two undesirable outcomes: low productivity and depressed demand for more educated workers.

In Mexico there is a huge gap between the most productive and least productive firms. The most productive have educated workers doing accounting, engineering, web design, or whatever. The least productive are just one or a few people doing it on their own on a shoestring. They are not hiring educated workers.

In short, informality is a drag on economic growth, employment, and wages. And it remains widespread.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

U.S. Policy Toward Cuba After Castro

Marguerite Jimenez has an article in Foreign Affairs explaining who Miguel Diaz-Canel is and how the United States should respond to his ascension to power in Cuba. The upshot:

Although no one can predict exactly how Díaz-Canel will respond to these challenges, there is no denying that change is on the horizon. The United States and other outside actors will not determine the nature or the timing of these changes. They can, however, create a climate in which reform is easier. Strategies of U.S. engagement that recognize Cuban sovereignty and resist calling for regime change will reduce the risks to Díaz-Canel of undertaking more significant changes.

This is sensible. Six years ago I published an article in Military Review with Erin Fiorey, who at the time was an M.A. student in Latin American Studies here at UNC Charlotte. We wrote the following:

There is a fine line between caution and passivity, but this line is one the United States must successfully walk. There will be strong resistance to a foreign presence, and the possibility of blowback is very real. The United States can and must play a role in Cuban democratization, but it cannot create it.
 The policy of the United States toward Cuba has been remarkably consistent for decades, but has never achieved its stated goals, namely regime change and democratization. There is no way to predict when a political opening will occur, and it is highly unlikely the United States will be the motor of change, but we have laid out the optimal ways of addressing regime change when it occurs. The most effective responses will be constructive, measured, and multilateral, but active. These are not terms usually associated with U.S. policy toward Cuba, but they are central to a new post-Castro relationship.

The United States government is terrible at learning from past foreign policy mistakes. Our policy toward Cuba has almost always been an abject failure, not only not achieving its goals but actually making us worse off and even harming our own national security. Forgive the cliche, but this is literally an historic moment in Cuban politics and we seem poised to screw it up, perhaps even via tweets.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

21st Century Cuban Communism

The Cuban Communist Party Central Committee Fifth Plenum just met over the course of two days. They focused on the "updating of Cuba's economic and social model." Some highlights of 21st century communism:

--need to accelerate the "self-employment policy" and create a training process of over half a million self-employed workers.

--need to get people to pay their taxes and foster a culture where that is expected.

--get people to solve problems rather than waiting for the government to do so.

--reform the constitution and use other countries as a model.

Market reform is slow, even glacial, but it is happening.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dissident FARC

Via Colombia Reports: Ecuador says it found a dissident FARC camp in its territory near the Colombian border, a few days after Ecuadorian soldiers were attacked.

The FARC dissidents have tried to maintain control over criminal rackets like drug trafficking that were abandoned by their parent organization during the demobilization.
 The groups are believed to be supported by Mexican and Ecuadorean organized crime groups that buy cocaine from the rogue guerrillas.


This is a familiar story, as its already been told in Peru with the Shining Path. Once an actual ideological guerrilla group, after its military defeat and the capture of Abimael Guzmán, in 2015 the U.S. Treasury Department labeled it a "criminal narco-terrorist organization." Notice that the word "Marxist" isn't in there.

Unfortunately, it is extraordinarily difficult to destroy such groups, the same way its hard to destroy Mexican drug trafficking organizations. They are well-funded, well-armed, and the flow of drug money is never-ending. But an increased state presence in Colombia will help if they can pull it off, and greater Colombia-Ecuador cooperation is possible now that Rafael Correa is no longer president. It is a major border problem and cannot be dealt with by just one side.

For more on Colombia's implementation of the peace deal, check out the podcast I recently recorded with Adam Isacson.

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Coordinating on Venezuela

Geoff Ramsey has a nice post up at Venezuelan Politics & Human Rights about U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan officials, including a link to a database on them.

Two issues in particular made me wonder about international coordination, especially in the face of weakening the State Department.

First, the best way to get sanctions to work (which in this case is to free all political prisoners and have free and fair elections) is to make them multilateral. They are least effective if only the United States is imposing them. Yet only six individuals are sanctioned by the United States, Canada, and the European Union. So are there U.S. officials working on this with our allies?

Second, some of the highest Maduro officials are not sanctioned, suggesting that the U.S. is hoping to avoid bonding them permanently to Maduro himself. So are there U.S. officials working on this, especially as Tom Shannon retires?

As you might guess if you are a regular reader, I am not optimistic. But I know how many really smart people there are in the State Department, and maybe some of them are having an impact on the administration.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

RIP Charles Andrain

I just learned that Charles Andrain has died at 81. He was Professor Emeritus of Political Science at San Diego State University. While I was doing my M.A. there (1992-1994) he was Graduate Coordinator/mentor and I spent a lot of time talking to him. Just a genuinely good guy. An email from SDSU hits the nail on the head:


Throughout his career at SDSU, and even after his retirement in 1998, Andrain dedicated himself to research and writing, seeking out living spaces close to libraries and spending his days happily surrounded by books. As a long-time faculty member at SDSU, he eagerly shared his encyclopedic memory on a broad range of issues with his students who remember him as a compassionate mentor who ultimately became their lifelong friend. Under his care and supervision, the MA program in Political Science thrived and he was instrumental in encouraging students to pursue graduate level research and degrees.

I talked to him about Ph.D. schools as I went through the nerve-wracking application process. He read a ton and published a ton. After I became a professor myself, he periodically sent me letters (always letters) with clippings, discussions of how he used my work, and examples of his own. He is the only person in many years to whom I sent a hand written letter.

I will raise my glass to him.

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How John Bolton Sees Latin America

I feel obliged to comment on Donald Trump naming John Bolton as National Security Advisor. My main feeling is frustration and resignation to counterproductive policies. His every fiber wants to use force as much as possible in Latin America (and, really, elsewhere as well).

Here is where he as come up on my blog before:

--Heraldo Muñoz criticized him in 2008 for failing to understand Chile's position vis-a-vis the Iraq invasion.

--in 2006 I noted how he must be loving Venezuela's inability to take the rotating seat on the UN Security Council.

--also in 2006 I criticized him for wanting to punish countries that did not give ICC waivers to the United States.

What does he think of Latin America now? Easy enough: just read what he wrote himself in January. I will just give you the highlights. Or lowlights, if that is such a thing.

--Obama unfroze relations with Cuba because of ideology (meaning socialism, I guess, who knows).

--the Monroe Doctrine is a good thing and Obama should have kept it alive.

--Obama ignored all threats in Latin America, like Middle Eastern terrorists and Chinese investment.

--he cannot spell Colombia. Yes, he uses Columbia.

John Bolton is a hawk among hawks. He joins a Secretary of State who is hawkier than hawky hawks. Unless a miracle intercedes, in Latin America we will see more use of force, more belligerent statements, more Latin American moves to embrace China and Europe, and approval of the U.S. government will drop to somewhere around James Polk levels.

Unintended but foreseeable and avoidable consequences, here we come.

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Review of Neruda

I saw the movie Neruda last night. I was asked to give some introductory remarks as part of an international film festival on campus. I talked briefly about Chilean politics mid-century and how political Pablo Neruda was.

The film, in fact, is about how he went into hiding and then exile after the Law for Permanent Defense of Democracy outlawed the Communist Party and led to his arrest warrant. Director Pablo Larraín does not bother with a straight biography, but instead has Neruda leading an introspective police inspector on a wild goose chase, leaving copies of crime novels for him to find, which taunt the inspector since he knows he just missed him. I thought it was great. We see Neruda as an ardent communist who is viewed suspiciously by rank-and-file communists, who don't have access to the movie, women, wine, and influence that he has. But they still respect him for giving them an international voice through poetry. We see Chile struggling with political polarization (there is even a cameo by Augusto Pinochet at a prison camp) and the curious mix within Neruda of political fervor, love of luxury, and creativity. Many scenes bent reality (e.g. urinals inside the Senate chambers where everyone was eating, drinking, and debating?) but it all came together nicely.

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

China's Interest in Venezuela

China showing another sign that its patience with Venezuela is waning.

China is likely to extend an agreement providing crisis-stricken Venezuela with favorable loans repayment terms but will not lend fresh funds to President Nicolas Maduro’s government, according to sources in Caracas and Beijing familiar with the situation.

This should remind us of two key issues with regard to Latin America-China relations.

First, China's interest in Latin America is material, not ideological. I've been making this argument for a long time and have not seen anything to really challenge it. China has nothing to gain politically and a lot to lose financially from Venezuela, so its strategy appears to be avoiding outright collapse in order to facilitate loan repayment. Even then, I think the Chinese leadership figures it can work with the opposition just fine if it comes to that. If Maduro falls, then for the Chinese it is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Second, China is still wary of becoming too politically involved in Latin America. For all the talk of challenging U.S. hegemony, there are few signs that China is going beyond its own narrow interests such as maintaining access to primary products and countering Taiwanese influence.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Podcast Episode 50: Implementing Peace in Colombia

In Episode 50 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast I talk with Adam Isacson, who is Director of the Defense Oversight Program for the Washington Office on Latin America. He has been studying Colombia and its conflicts for many years, and recently traveled there to evaluate a USAID project to bring government services to post-conflict areas of the country. We talked first back in Episode 3 in September 2016 about the then upcoming plebiscite and uncertainty, so we discuss what's been accomplished (or not) from a firsthand perspective, what the outlook is, and what the Colombia-Venezuela border looks like.


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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review of King's An Excess Male

Maggie Shen King's novel An Excess Male (2017) is unique and engrossing. It shifts from human interest story to thriller and back, with Chinese authoritarian politics infusing everything. The setting is Beijing in the not-too-distant future, where the one-child policy has led to such an imbalance of men and women that men find it difficult to marry wives. One answer has been to allow for women to be married to more than one man. Wei-guo is single and in his 40s, and a matchmaker (hired by his two fathers) finds a possible wife who already has two husbands. The idiosyncrasies of that family frame the novel because they are brothers. One is homosexual and one appears to be high functioning autistic (he prefers to be called XX). The government punishes the former and is wary of the latter. Finally, Wei-guo plays a military-style real-life simulation intended for single men in which he is part of a mini-rebellion that angers government officials.

The female character, May-ling, loves her husbands but does not connect fully with either one. Part of the story is the evolution of her feelings toward Wei-guo, who falls almost immediately in love with her. He also connects with their rather difficult young child. The novel is really about what family means, and the human cost of government repression and control, which creates a lot of unnecessary misery.

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Thoughts on the Petro Sanctions

Donald Trump issued an executive order prohibiting U.S. citizens from making transactions in the Petro (the Venezuelan government's new cryptocurrency). Here's the wording:


Section 1.  (a)  All transactions related to, provision of financing for, and other dealings in, by a United States person or within the United States, any digital currency, digital coin, or digital token, that was issued by, for, or on behalf of the Government of Venezuela on or after January 9, 2018, are prohibited as of the effective date of this order.

The Petro was a last gasp effort by the Venezuelan government to have some sort of functioning currency while also providing more means of evading sanctions. So this closes out some options. Some thoughts:

First, I wonder how many speculators were going to want to make transactions of any scale when the government is so well known as incompetent. In other words, how many transactions will this actually prevent? I love this quote from Russ Dallen:

“Since most cryptocurrencies are not actually backed by anything real, cryptocurrency speculation is based on the greater fool theory -- I can buy this at $100 because there is someone who is a bigger idiot who is going to buy it at $200. When you take the U.S. out of that equation, you reduce the interest and potential for that speculation.”

Speculation would be based no how many other people you think are stupid. Perhaps that's almost infinite.

Second, this particular action shows the two-track strategy, which combines targeting Venezuelan government officials (which the Obama administration also did) but also U.S. citizens (which to the best of my recollection Obama did not do). It is a considerable one-two punch.

Third, the Trump administration has been going after government officials but does not appear to be thinking of any exit ramp for them. Right now there is no permanent Secretary of State and Tom Shannon's (who was experienced at good cop/bad cop) tenure is running out. If Mike Pompeo is confirmed, then U.S. policy will likely become more punitive. My worry is that this increases the amount of violence we will see as the Venezuelan government feels more cornered.

Fourth, I and others have long made the case that sanctions can be counterproductive because the Venezuelan government can use them as a foil. I feel like some line of incompetence has been crossed where this no longer holds. It would be great to operationalize this somehow, but at some point the government is so obviously dysfunctional that only the devout will buy the argument, and they don't need you to provide a foil anyway. The devout are those 20ish% or so of Venezuelans who support the government no matter what.

Fifth, I think it is irresponsible at this point to talk about "self-determination" in Venezuela, as Lula just did. Self-determination means that the people of Venezuela are able to make their own decisions. That does not currently hold there because the government will not allow it.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Podcast Episode 49: Latin America and Autonomy

In Episode 49 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast I talk about my new book project on Latin American autonomy in the context of U.S.-Latin American relations. I presented a first draft of the first chapter at the SECOLAS meeting a little over a week ago in Nashville. One part of this project is to give the Latin American IR literature more attention, which unfortunately often doesn't happen enough in the U.S.-based literature.


I will definitely be writing and talking more about this as time goes on.

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Latin America Responds to US Trade Policy

Interesting article in the NYT about how the Trump Administration's trade policies are pushing Latin American countries to a) pare back their own protectionist policies; and b) forge more trade relationships with each other.

Certain ideas that started among academics and political pundits are also reaching the status of conventional wisdom, where Latin American presidents say them aloud:

“I think that with this attitude the United States is leaving a void, and that void may be filled by China,” President Sebastián Piñera of Chile said in a recent interview, adding that he was startled by the messages that the Chinese and American leaders presented at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
 “The president of the United States was defending protectionism, and the president of China was defending free trade,” Mr. Piñera said. “It felt a little like the world upside down.”


I've said this many times, and will repeat it ad infinitum I imagine, but this sequence of events is detrimental to U.S. interests and a boon to China. I should also hasten to point out that this is a conservative president saying this. Piñera should be a natural ideological ally, same as Mauricio Macri, but the administration is explicitly slapping them.

The upshot: the U.S. no longer can identify a clear ally in the region--it labels all of them a problem in some manner. And Latin American presidents are responding accordingly.

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Race 3: Shamrock 4 Miler

Race 3 this year was today's Shamrock 4 Miler. I ran a 7:51 pace, which is the fastest I've run in a really long time. It is the first in a Run For Your Life 6 pack my wife and I are doing. One great things about these races is that they all have NoDa Brewing Company beer afterward. Today it was CAVU Blonde Ale.

It is the sort of course I like, with gentle up and downhills, so unlike some parts of Charlotte you're not doing any real climbing. I slowed with each mile but I was trying to go fast so this has less to do with hills and more with my declining energy.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Support for Military Rule in Brazil

For quite a while, the Latin American Public Opinion Project has documented the weak support for democracy in Latin America, which is troubling.

A recent poll shows 43% support in Brazil for a provisional return to military rule. Younger people support it more than older, which makes sense because of course older people remember what it was like. From The Washington Post:


“This sentiment is in the air and is being exploited. The intervention in Rio is an attempt by the president to explore that feeling — the nostalgia, the feeling that the military is an anti-political, tough, external body,” said Pablo Ortellado, a public policy professor at the University of Sao Paulo. “Depending on how the intervention goes, if it succeeds in even appearing to reduce crime, it could generate a dangerous wave of militarism.”

This is all so familiar. When I was in graduate school in the 1990s, I was immersed in the literature on civil-military relations, which discussed anti-political thought (here is a great example), popular support for the military, the military's belief in its role as savior, and the disintegration of presidential systems under the weight of political polarization. Fortunately, we no longer have the Cold War as a backdrop, but we are talking about the same things again.

Most Latin American militaries are back in the barracks, or at least mostly so. We need to keep them there. At this point, my hunch is that the Brazilian military has no interest in intervention, and nothing good will come from trying to change that.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Peru is Tough on Presidents

Peruvian journalist Simeon Tegel has an article at Americas Quarterly about how Peruvian presidents have the political deck stacked against them. I've written numerous times about how unpopular Peruvian presidents always seem to be.

Tegel points to institutional design. In particular, Peru has a hybrid presidential/parliamentary system with a dual executive, which he argues "serves both to institutionalize conflict and prevent fresh voices with public backing from entering the political arena." Congress has outsized power that has consistently crippled the president. That system is also why PPK pardoned Alberto Fujimori.

Further, Peru has a unicameral legislature, which when combined with high threshold for parties to even register, has fostered legislative dominance in many ways. Thinking again of PPK, it meant that Congress could use impeachment as extortion. And good luck getting electoral reform through that body.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Quick Thoughts on Mike Pompeo and Latin America

Franco Ordoñez writes that Latin America might look favorably upon Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. What the "favorable" really boils down to is the idea that Latin American leaders don't want to be ignored almost completely, as has been the case up to this point. But Pompeo is hawkish even for hawks and I expect initial shared interest in pushing Venezuela to sour. I expect the specter of Middle Eastern terrorists going crazy in Latin America and getting ready to invade the U.S. to reach the highest heights we've seen yet. I expect Cuba policy to deteriorate further just at a moment of opportunity with change of leadership. And I expect all that to start chafing before too long.

I do hope I am wrong. 

It seemed like Rex Tillerson would be moderate, and that was true. It would not surprise me if Pompeo's reputation for hawkishness holds up as well.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Refugee Guidelines for Venezuelans

Emigration from Venezuela has reached the point where the United Nations' High Commissioer for Refugees issued guidance about how to deal with it. Although the statement takes pains not to be political, the last sentence in this quote really says it all.

There has been a 2,000% increase in the number of Venezuelan nationals seeking asylum worldwide since 2014, principally in the Americas during the last year. Although over 94,000 Venezuelans have been able to access refugee procedures in other countries in 2017, many more of those in need of protection opt for other legal stay arrangements, that may be faster to obtain and provide the right to work, access to health and education. Yet, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans remain without any documentation or permission to stay legally in asylum countries. This makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking, violence, sexual abuse, discrimination and xenophobia.
 Within this context, UNHCR’s guidelines encourage States to ensure Venezuelans have access to territory and refugee procedures. In addition, UNHCR welcomes and calls on governments to adopt pragmatic protection-oriented responses for the Venezuelan people, such as alternative legal stay arrangements, including visas or temporary residence permits, as well as other regularization programmes, which guarantee access to the basic rights of health care, education, family unity, freedom of movement, shelter and the right to work. UNHCR applauds countries in Latin America that have introduced such arrangements, and hopes that costs and requirements are eased, where necessary to ensure accessibility.
 In view of the situation in Venezuela, it is crucial that people are not deported or forcibly returned there.


By contrast, Nicolás Maduro argued yesterday that he's helped create a "productive revolution" proving that the "capitalist model" was the wrong path.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Venezuela and Teapot Dome

Remember the Teapot Dome scandal? Maybe not--it was in the early 1920s during the Harding Administration. But it was a huge deal then, as the Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall got bribes from private oil companies in exchange for access to oil fields the department controlled. Fall was convicted and spent a year in prison.

Fast forward to 2018.

The president’s oldest son and Texas hedge fund manager Gentry Beach have been involved in business deals together dating back to the mid-2000s and recently formed a company, Future Venture LLC, despite past claims by both men that they were just friends, according to previously unreported court records and other documents obtained by AP.
..
Last February, just as Trump Sr. was settling into office, Beach and an Iraqi-American businessman met with top officials at the National Security Council to present their plan for lightening U.S. sanctions in Venezuela in exchange for opening business opportunities for U.S. companies, according to a former U.S. official with direct knowledge of the proposal.
Career foreign policy experts were instructed to take the meetings, first reported last April by the website Mic.com, at the direction of the West Wing because Beach and the businessman were friends of Trump Jr., the official said. 

Pay money for better access to Venezuelan oil. The fact that the president didn't bite doesn't make it any less corrupt.

The irony here is that first Hugo Chávez and now Nicolás Maduro have always said the U.S. is being aggressive because it wants to take Venezuelan oil. This is actually an example of the exact opposite.

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Bolivia's Message to Cuba

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro García Linera says Bolivia and other Latin American countries need to help Cuba more.


"Today, the great task of our country and progressive governments in Latin America is to quickly initiate the political brotherhood of our leaders and our governments channeling it into an economic and productive brotherhood. We must take a qualitative leap that will change our position in a time of continental combat," Garcia said. 
"We are advancing in meetings, understanding the positions of social organizations, but in the case of the economy, we are moving very slowly; it is the very expensive, but it is also necessary," he said, noting that the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) ought to step up, leading the movement towards continental integration and economic stability.

The Bolivian political leadership is always a curious mix. All this talk of the economy is vague, I imagine deliberately so. Bolivia's own economic model is moderate and praised by the International Monetary Fund. Therefore it is best poised to help Cuba by serving as a model for dismantling the current Cuban economy. Obviously that's not what García Linera is intimating but rhetoric and practice have been two widely different things.

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

You Should Go to SECOLAS Next Year in Oaxaca

From March 28-31 in 2019 the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies will hold its annual conference in Oaxaca, Mexico. It's going to be awesome.


I just got back from this year's conference, which was in Nashville on the Vanderbilt campus. I presented the first chapter from a book I am working on (which I will be podcasting about soon) and got some useful feedback. This is always a great conference--we had an opening reception and a networking event with free food and drinks, which is especially good for graduate students, and we also do a graduate student session on basic things like publishing for the first time, cover letter, and the like. It is small but not tiny (I am guessing the 150 range) and I've actually often received higher quality feedback there than at huge conferences.

If you're reading this and are in academia, you should come.

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Thursday, March 08, 2018

Constitution Problems in Latin America

Niall Ferguson and Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez have a working paper on "disposable" constitutions in Latin America. I always make this case in my Latin American Politics class. Constitutions come and go frequently in the region and often get tied to individual leaders. That undermines long-term stability.

They conclude by arguing that Chile is better off amending the 1980 constitution rather than writing a new one, which Michelle Bachelet is pushing right now and which has been on the agenda for years. It has Pinochet roots. I wrote about this in my first book, with ultraconservative Jaime Guzmán on the commission as intellectual godfather. Put simply, the status quo argument is that despite warts, the country is stable. The change argument is that democracy has been held back because of it. In fact, that constitution was intentionally authoritarian, intended to limit democracy in many ways, so it's easy to make the case that it should reflect the democratic times. The critical issue is not necessarily a new constitution per se, but making sure a new one does not reflect an individual. You want a new one, built with consensus, that lasts. The 1980 constitution was not built on consensus.

But I digress. To be less disposable, constitutions should be de-personalized, set aside from the political projects of specific people. Make the process broad and consensual to the extent possible rather than personalized.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Failed US Meddling in Latin American Elections

Tim Gill has an article in today's Washington Post about U.S. meddling in Latin American elections. He notes U.S. officials participating in some manner in Venezuelan, Bolivian, and Nicaraguan elections, pointing out that supporting the military is not the only, or even main, avenue. There are strategy meetings, funding, etc. for opposition parties.

The interesting thing is that the U.S. failed in all three cases.

The failed efforts in these three countries against different popularly elected candidates show that the United States hasn’t stopped trying to undermine leftist Latin American leaders. But even failed efforts undoubtedly generate conditions more conducive to a pendulum shift to the right. And indeed, we have recently witnessed leftist governments displaced in Argentina, Brazil and Honduras.

Now, at least part of the conditions for the pendulum shift are also corruption and economic decline, but it would be fascinating to think about how to isolate the effect of meddling itself. It would be tough.

I wonder whether, even when looking at the U.S. for comparison, that a broader effect is decreased support for democracy itself. Faced with a flood of negative stories, rumors of manipulation, etc. voters simply see elections themselves as less legitimate.

We could also hypothesize that it prompts the targeted leaders to be more authoritarian. We make fun of Nicolás Maduro for paranoia, but he does have reason to be paranoid. As Tim shows, there is ample public evidence of meddling and we do not know what is also being done covertly.

His concluding point, though, is important whether or not the meddling succeeds. We are outraged at Russian interference, yet casual about interfering elsewhere. Why? Because we're exceptional and always do things for the right reasons. And that's a big part of the problem.

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