Thursday, July 19, 2018

How Will AMLO Deal With NAFTA?

Brian Palmer-Rubin has a post at The Monkey Cage blog about clues to AMLO's response to NAFTA. He argues that Mexico's long-standing clientelist structures meant that labor and peasant unions never really pursued substantive change. That's what AMLO might change.

If López Obrador plans to follow through on this promise, we should see representatives of organized labor, small business and peasant associations at the NAFTA bargaining table. Provisions for foreign investment would be geared to not only factories that employ low-paying manual labor — jobs that are increasingly under threat by automation — but also technology and service-sector firms that promise to train and employ high-skilled workers. And negotiators would pursue agricultural terms that favor Mexican exports of high-value crops such as avocados, coffee and tomatoes. These trade provisions would be accompanied by domestic policies that enable small businesses and small-scale farmers to obtain the financing they need to reach more lucrative markets.
That's a tall order, but would be fascinating to watch if it happened. It would drastically shift the tenor of the discussions.

Most accounts offer a more standard outlook, i.e. AMLO has consciously tried to calm down business and there will be a lot of continuity. That is rather different than having peasant associations at the bargaining table.


Russia-Nicaragua Security Nexus?

There is a new senate bill that would impose sanctions on Nicaraguan officials responsible for human right abuses (see the text here). It also calls for credible negotiations and early elections. Pretty standard stuff, and a continuation of the sanctions already in place.

However, Ted Cruz takes it one step further by adding something not mentioned in the bill.

“There is a coalescing nexus of security cooperation between Nicaragua, Russia, and Venezuela that poses a direct risk to American national security. Targeting the assets of sanctioned Nicaraguan leaders, as required under this bill, will help reveal the network of financial institutions being utilized for illicit activity.”
This strains credulity more. Russia is certainly involved in both Nicaragua and Venezuela, but how much illicit activity is occurring that would rise to the level of a national security threat? These are most often overblown. He has made the pitch before. Fine, go ahead and target the assets and see what they show you. My guess is that it will be minimal.

I've mentioned this exaggerated Nicaragua-Russia "nexus" back in 2016 as well.


The Wrong Way to Address the Venezuelan Emigration Crisis

Latin American diplomats say that given its immigration policy, the U.S. has no moral authority to call for Latin America to do more with regard to Venezuelan migrants. Fair enough. But they take it one troubling step further.

Mimicking the Trump administration, some countries have already taken steps to tighten their border controls as the public has begun complaining to elected officials about extra competition for jobs.
Fernando Carrera, the foreign minister of Guatemala in 2013 and 2014, understands the diplomatic complaints, but said it will not change the reality that governments must deal with incoming Venezuelan migrants. 
“Even if in diplomatic circles, leaders say to Washington we will not accept more people if you don’t accept more of our nationals or you don’t have the moral conviction to tell us we should accept more people while you’re not accepting,” Carrera said. “The practicality is the flow of Venezuelans to Brazil, Peru and Colombia will continue.”
In other words, if you don't do anything, we won't either. That's simply awful.

Further, Latin America wants the U.S. to coordinate a response. This reflects a persistent theme that tends not to get sufficient attention, which is that in times of crisis Latin America looks to the U.S. Despite all the rhetoric about unity (of which there is little) and autonomy, or even freedom from the empire, Latin America does not come together effectively in times of crisis. This was painfully obvious during the Honduran coup crisis in 2009, when even Hugo Chávez was publicly asking Barack Obama to do something.

And in all things, mimicking the Trump administration is a bad idea. Don't do it.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Reintegrating Former Salvadoran Gang Members

The topic of reintegrating ex-gang members in Latin America is very much understudied. It gets some--though certainly not enough--attention in the United States, but in Latin America there are many people getting out of gangs who don't know what to do next and suffer discrimination. That's the topic Jonathan Rosen and Josá Miguel Cruz tackle in an article just published in International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology (sorry, gated). The abstract:

This article is an effort to better understand the discrimination mechanisms that ex-gang members perceive upon leaving the gang and seeking to reinsert themselves into a society marked by high levels of violence and inequality, as in Central America. Based on 24 in-depth interviews with former members of MS-13, the 18th Street gang, and other street gangs in El Salvador, this article analyzes the different mechanisms of discrimination perceived by respondents as a result of the stigma of past gang membership. This article also documents how these perceptions of discrimination can affect individuals who are searching for employment opportunities and seeking to reinsert themselves into society.
Governments try to get people to leave gangs but do much less to help them reintegrate. They often turn to the church, but churches don't have the necessary resources. If you can't find a job, then you can guess what will happen.


The Disaster of Zero Tolerance

Go read this report on the Trump administration's zero tolerance immigration policy co-authored by Adam Isacson, Maureen Meyer, and Adeline Hite at the Washington Office on Latin America. It details the disasters the policy has created. Beyond the humanitarian problems, there is no infrastructure for doing what the administration wants. Plus, they explain how the deterrence claimed by the administration is based on poor logic that empirical evidence shows is wrong.

The report also gets into the country of origin of migrants in different parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, and the conditions they are fleeing (not surprisingly, MS-13 is not a big factor). This is all complicated by the fact that organized crime has consolidated control over smuggler routes, thus dictating what part of the border people cross.

The report ends with recommendations, which are mostly just common sense. That means they are unlikely to be implemented. This report is the first installment of several.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Electoral Systems and Padres Uniforms

I listened to Padres owner Ron Fowler's interview with Jesse Agler on his Beyond the Booth podcast. Toward the end, Jesse asked him about uniforms. If you are not a Padres fan or at least a baseball fan, you may not know that the Padres had brown in their uniforms through 1990, and diehard fans have been calling for their return ever since. The current uniforms are blue and so the Padres are just some bland copy of the Brewers. Fowler said they did focus group research. To get a sense of how this worked, see Kevin Acee's article.

There were four uniforms: current, 1998 version, and two different brown uniforms.* OK, so we have four options going head to head. He continues to say that the "largest minority" likes brown. I assume he means one or the other brown option. We have to pause here to point out that the more accurate way to say "largest minority" is "plurality." In other words, the most but not a majority. In many elections, including most in the United States, plurality wins. Referring to plurality as minority is essentially pejorative. He says that the "second largest minority" is the current uniform. In plurality voting, another way to say "second largest minority" is "loser."

But we're not done yet. Many countries--and most Latin American presidential elections--use runoff elections to determine the winner when no one receives a majority. Runoffs are only between the two candidates who received the most votes. In our case, the top two are "some kind of brown" and "current uniforms." The 1998 version is clearly eliminated. Fowler confirms that he believes brown would win in "side by side" (meaning head to head) as opposed to four options and that they might actually be used starting in 2020. (According to Acee, you need to finalize uniforms with MLB in the spring for the following year.) Jesse interjects accurately that this sounds like a presidential campaign poll. In short, brown won.

But we're still not done. Fowler concludes by saying that "as the evening progressed" (was there beer involved here? That was my immediate thought) blue became more preferred than brown. It's hard to comment much on this without knowing their polling techniques, but I couldn't help wonder if they kept changing the questions, hoping for more blue support. Fowler started by saying that brown was the plurality, then ended by saying it wasn't. FWIW, people in the focus groups signed NDAs but talked privately and according to the Gwynntelligence podcast the sentiment was overwhelmingly pro-brown.

In sum, in plurality systems brown would win. In systems with runoffs, brown would also win. Brown won.

* He notes that these are not "baby poop" uniforms. He's used this phrase before and it refers to the 1970s look, I think meaning a lot of yellow. I remember vividly that a friend of mine who had a baby before me mentioned that infant poop is like wiping up Gray Poupon and I found that to be true. Fowler has now attributed the phrase "baby poop" to Tony Gwynn but I can't find any mention of him ever saying that (he said he loved brown and particularly the 1985 version). This is all confusing because Acee's article specifically says people did not like orange and brown and loved yellow and brown. Maybe I am missing something.


Monday, July 16, 2018

How Does Trump Choose His Latin American Foes?

Michael Shifter and David Toppelberg ask why Donald Trump is hard on Venezuela and Cuba whereas he likes dictatorships almost everywhere else. This is an interesting question. Their answer is "political ideology and his combative instincts." I'm not sure I agree. Trump does not fit well on the left/right spectrum (and why not North Korea?) and his combativeness is selective. I would emphasize two factors.

First, domestic politics. They mention this but only in passing. Trump visited Bay of Pigs veterans during the campaign and sees this as important for his support in Florida. Venezuela is an adopted cause for hardline Cuban Americans as well. Trump won Florida in 2016 and I doubt any of this was decisive but he'll stick with it.

Second, doing the opposite of Obama. The Obama administration opened up to Cuba and was less vocal about Venezuela than George W. Bush was. Trump is doing the opposite. The same is true of Iran, whereas Obama was tough with Russia and North Korea. In Latin America, this also helps explain Trump's hardline position on Colombia, which is an ally. One problem with this argument is that Obama was ramping up his rhetoric a bit, so Trump's policy is not really a full rejection. But clearly Obama was more interested in dialogue with Venezuela.


How Trump Helps Russia in Latin America

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted to ask Donald Trump to push Vladimir Putin about his support for the Venezuelan government, though for some reason he did not actually tag Trump.

This is how weird U.S.-Latin American relations currently are. The only allies Russia has in Latin America are governments the Trump administration has identified as threats, specifically Cuba and Venezuela. Trump's vocal and constant positive portrayal of Russia is a huge boost to those governments because Putin feels no pressure to reduce his support.

Now we have the Colombian president pleading for Trump to do something. The funny thing here is that Santos is a rock solid U.S. ally but Trump has decided he is somewhat less than worthy. For his own reasons, Trump is desperate to remain on good terms with Putin so will likely ignore Santos entirely.

That's bad news for the Venezuelan opposition, which Trump claims to support. And what it boils down to is that Trump's need for Putin's approval places everything else in the backseat. This is just not how power relations have worked in the past.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

EPN Gets Blunt

Enrique Peña Nieto was blunt in his meeting with Mike Pompeo:

Durante la reunión, el Titular del Ejecutivo Federal expresó su preocupación por la política de separación de familias migrantes instrumentada por el Gobierno estadunidense. El Presidente solicitó al Secretario de Estado la rápida reunificación de las familias separadas en la frontera y destacó la necesidad de encontrar una alternativa permanente que dé prioridad al bienestar y derechos de los menores. 
En este sentido, el Presidente también expresó su preocupación por sucesos como el ataque que recientemente sufrió en California el señor Rodolfo Rodríguez, ciudadano mexicano de 92 años con residencia legal en Estados Unidos, señalando que estos incidentes alimentan un clima de odio y racismo que debemos evitar.
Here is the story of Rodolfo Rodríguez, who was viciously attacked in Los Angeles because he was Mexican.

This comes further in the context of President Trump saying that immigration was destroying Europe by "changing its culture." This is a common white supremacist argument. EPN is dancing around the obvious point that the attack on the Mexican man is not really the issue, but rather Trump's constant diatribes against immigrants, which racists see as a green light to attack non-whites. So the "reset" the trip was intended to generate is already a failure.

For EPN, it's too late. He caved early on Trump and hasn't really recovered. AMLO has tried to be civil but finds himself in a position where Mexico and Mexicans are demonized constantly.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Trump Wants Latin America to Do More With Nothing

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met with officials from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico. There were seven main commitments made during the meeting. None of them mention figuring how to increase prosperity, which is being put off for future meetings (and perhaps forever). Mostly it is a demand that Mexico and Central America do more.

--So, for example, the United States wants to accept fewer asylum cases while Latin America should take more. Obviously they have plenty of resources to deal with that.

--These countries also need to do a better PR job. Tell migrants not to come, and of course they will listen.

--Y'all need to give your police more weapons. Don't worry, you can trust them!

Who will pay for all this? Well, you of course. That's what we call "collaborative momentum." We push and you start rolling.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Corruption Cycle in Latin America

Christine Wade has an article in World Politics Review about corruption in El Salvador.

Some question whether pursuing crimes of the past is a good use of scarce resources, given current levels of corruption and crime in El Salvador. But the legacy of impunity directly influences contemporary attitudes about crime and corruption. The failure to punish past crimes has led high-ranking public officials, like Funes, Saca and Flores, to believe they are above the law. Criminals, elected and otherwise, commit crimes knowing that they will likely never be prosecuted, much less convicted.
This is all happening at the exact same time that the Trump administration is intentionally weakening CICIG in Guatemala in return for Jimmy Morales' support for the Jerusalem embassy, which for Morales was a planned quid pro quo. In other words, national institutions in Central America are horrifically weak, and Donald Trump stands ready to make sure that no international body can help out either.

The bigger question she poses is about the build up of corruption. If you don't prosecute the old ones, no one will feel accountable. It is now almost a cliché: Latin American candidate campaigns on an anti-corruption platform, then later is found to be corrupt. Help from the United Nations (i.e. like CICIG) is no cure-all, but I can't think of any other way of kick starting the process. If we undermine that, then we're stuck.

And, incidentally, if the U.S. undermines efforts to deal with corruption, then the U.S. is directly contributing to the continued erosion of the rule of law, which in turn is contributing to emigration. But that's a whole other story.


Who's To Blame in Nicaragua?

The Havana Times reprinted an interview originally published in El Faro with Jacinto Suárez, a high level Sandinista and long-time comrade of Daniel Ortega. In it he describes his view of the current crisis, with good pushback from the reporter. Buckle up.

The situation is being directed by the United States, the oligarchy, and narcotraffickers. Now, you might ask, what changed this year since both the oligarchy and the United States were not particularly concerned about the status quo?

The oligarchy is angry because it can no longer sell cattle to Venezuela. "That's the key to understand this." I am not making that up.

The United States is angry because..."it's the empire's decision." That's it.

The narcos want to disrupt the positive relationship between the police and the people. Right now the people love the police and the narcos don't like that.

His answer? Dialogue. Dialogue about what is unclear when it is founded on this.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Why AMLO Could be Cause For Optimism

Ioan Grillo wrote a much-needed op-ed for the New York Times about why AMLO's election is cause for optimism. Despite violence, Mexico had an election, the winner won (no small thing), and the losers graciously accepted the results. That's a big deal and is not definitely not the case in a number of Latin American countries, including some of our allies.

One thing I would add is that you don't hear accusations that he will try to abolish term limits or otherwise push past the six years in office. That is also not the case in everywhere.

At this point, the speculation about how AMLO will govern is already getting old. We know he's not Donald Trump (despite the constant punditry pushing that and even Trump himself) but we won't know how it will go until he's actually there. At least until then, it's worth looking on the bright side.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

AMLO and Venezuela

The landslide victory of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico's presidential election is likely to provide some relief to another leftist firebrand: Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro.
Lopez Obrador campaigned on a promise to return to Mexico's traditional foreign policy of nonintervention, putting him at odds with his predecessor's efforts to build a regional alliance to bring pressure against Maduro's socialist government for taking Venezuela down an increasingly authoritarian path.

Since AMLO has emphasized non-intervention, and incoming Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard has said that Mexico would not "intervene" in Nicaragua or Venezuela, this makes some sense. But I feel like we need to be careful not to take it too far.

First, I put "intervene" in quotes to point out that it is not synonymous with "doing nothing." AMLO has no interest in coercion but that doesn't mean he isn't open to prodding Maduro in his own way. I have no idea whether that will happen but I can at least easily imagine something like it. AMLO has been very careful not to embrace Maduro and indeed to keep a distance. They are not ideological soulmates. Mexico actually has a long history of trying to resolve conflicts even under the banner of non-intervention.

Second, let's not overstate the progress being made in terms of regional response to Venezuela. The Mexican government joined in sponsoring the June 2018 OAS resolution on Venezuela, which among other things declared the electoral process illegitimate and called for member states and the OAS itself to start considering appropriate measures. So maybe the baby steps get a little bit babier. But Latin American governments don't want to do much and likely never will. There is just too much bad history, led by the United States.


Monday, July 09, 2018

Baby Formula and Bad Diplomacy

Back in 2003, the Bush administration bullied Chile and Mexico, both on the rotating seats in the UN Security Council, to vote for the use of force in Iraq. I've used that in class to spark discussion of how and when the United States tries to force Latin American governments to do something.

Fast forward to today, and the Trump administration is doing the same thing for...formula companies? The administration disliked a UN resolution praising the benefits of breast feeding.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.
When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs. 
The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced. 
The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States. 
Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.
From a strictly policy perspective, this is squandering influence, generating ill will for an issue that has nothing to do with U.S. security. In fact, you can say that wanting more babies to use formula is detrimental to security, since breast milk is healthier. But here's the real clincher:

In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.
So what the U.S. did was make Vladimir Putin into the hero of the developing world! This whole affair was mindbogglingly stupid.

Further, in Ecuador you have made Lenín Moreno look bad, and he is a center-left president who has shown interest in working with the U.S. He will face fire at home because of you.

From a normative perspective, you have staked out a position that clearly privileges profit over established science. That is not just unethical but also clear as day to a world already suspicious of your motives.

I don't think there is any silver lining.


Friday, July 06, 2018

Foreign Direct Investment in Latin America

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean just released a report on FDI in Latin America, which has fallen for the third straight year. Some quick thoughts:

1. Same old story. It dropped because global prices for commodities dropped. And this is why Chile's decrease was so sharp ($12.3 billion to $6.4 billion).

2. European countries account for 65% of investment in renewable energy. The U.S. has no excuses for not being higher in such a key industry.

3. Data isn't even collected for Venezuela anymore.

4. Central America and the Caribbean did not drop. That highlights a problem the United States has as well. At the macro level, you can see good signs. But the investment and growth is not translating into higher wages and more secure jobs.

5. China appears here and there (especially in Ecuador) but it is not a major player in FDI at this point. The field is dominated by the U.S. and Europe.


Thursday, July 05, 2018

Trump Sanctions Nicaraguan Officials

On the heels of Vice President Mike Pence's Latin America trip, the Treasury Department has sanctioned three Nicaraguan officials, including the National Police Commissioner, since the police have been deeply involved in repression.

So the roving eye of the administration has finally fully reached Nicaragua. I can't think of any reason that the outcome won't be like Venezuela, where the individual sanctions have symbolic but not much practical impact. It has been over three years since President Obama first rolled them out. Venezuela is hit much harder by financial sanctions, though at this point it is impossible to know how much those sanctions have changed any calculus within the armed forces.

I also can't think of any reason why the Trump administration wouldn't just treat Nicaragua in the same way. If individual sanctions do not yield the desired result, as they won't, then broaden them to more people. If that doesn't work, then go after financial transactions of whatever sort. That will certainly hurt the regime more, but we don't know whether that will yield the desired result either.

Now, what are those desired results? That's not so clear, actually. Here is what one Trump administration official said in May:

“We’re watching this with laser focus because we need to ensure that, the people have called for dialogue, the government participates; the people have called for investigations, the government does that; the military has said we’re staying out of that, they continue to do so,” a senior administration official told McClatchy.
But the official said the United States is ready to act if the Ortega government doesn’t cooperate with the independent investigation, fails to stem the violence or uses the dialog as a stalling tactic. 
“We have to let part of that process play out because we demanded this process,” the administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

That is pretty vague. There is no way to measure whether dialogue is a ploy. I mean, it almost certainly is a ploy, but at what point do you make that determination? Same with investigations--they can reasonably take a really long time, but how long is too long? The last point about the military is easier because in fact the army doesn't want to be involved. The violence has been perpetrated largely by police and armed gangs.


Russia Likes Trump's Latin America Policy

I'm quoted in this story about Russia's interest in Cuba and how Trump's reversal of normalization plays into Moscow's hands. I made the point earlier this year that Russia was clearly a suspect in the Cuba sonic attack affair, and in April I wrote more broadly that "As Trump creates vacuums, Russia is ready to fill them."

In Cuba this matters more because the Russians have enjoyed uncontested influence there for decades. Last year on my podcast I talked to Mervyn Bain, who studies Russian-Cuban relations. There is even nostalgia in Russia for Cuba and strong cultural/nationalist resistance to losing Russia's position there. In other words, the stakes are higher than we in the U.S. perhaps appreciate.

And it's a zero sum game, at least in Russian eyes. If the United States and Cuba improve relations, then Russia loses. Its privileged position is based entirely on U.S. hostility. The more hostile Trump gets, the happier the Russians are.


Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Race 6: American 4 Miler

As part of my year of running (see my initial post here) I ran the American 4 Miler. It was a new course this year and was rolling hills. The course is all just south of downtown Charlotte. This was the second of a six race series put together by Run For Your Life, a running store that has one of their stores not far from my house. One nice feature is that they all have NoDa beer at the end.

And here are the hills.

It was warm and quite humid, but even with the hills I felt pretty good, and beat last year's time by about four minutes.

Next up: the Balboa Park 8 Miler in August.


Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Mexico's Party System Problems

Political scientist Eric Magar has a blog post lamenting the potential end to the Mexican party system, showing how drastically the share of vote for PRD, PRI, and PAN has fallen.

Un sistema de partidos robusto dota al proceso democrático de una buena dosis de estabilidad y predictibilidad. Esto puede apreciarse en el continente americano, cuyos partidos varían mucho. Los países andinos, y entre ellos Ecuador particularmente, han sido célebres por la debilidad endémica de sus sistemas de partidos. En su monografía sobre los sistemas de partidos de Latinoamérica, Mainwaring y Scully se refieren al ecuatoriano como "rudimentario", caracterizado por el multipartidismo, la ausencia de vínculos sólidos con el electorado y su permanente mutabilidad.1 En contraste, los autores ubicaron al mexicano entre los sistemas de partidos más "institucionalizados". Atribuyen nuestro relativo éxito para cambiar el modelo económico a esta diferencia.
Three things come to mind.

First, strong parties with organic ties to their constituents do matter. I don't want to downplay that too much.

Second, it is tricky to use the Andean countries as an example of things falling apart. Bolivia and Ecuador actually stabilized dramatically under Evo Morales and Rafael Correa. Correa even stepped down voluntarily rather than give in to temptation (which of course Morales could not resist). Starting in 2006, when both Correa and Felipe Calderón were elected, Ecuador has become more stable than Mexico. In a 2016-2017 LAPOP survey, 20% in Ecuador trusted political parties compared to 13.8% in Mexico (Bolivia is also higher at 16.3%).

Third, the Mainwaring and Scully analysis is 1995 so cannot account for the drug war and associated organized crime, which connects to immigration as well. Mexicans are unhappy with corruption and violence, not the economic system per se. Incidentally, Bolivia suffered under the U.S. drug war too, and has been doing much better after turning to the Brazilians rather than the United States.

I don't have a firm conclusion here, except maybe that Mexico's current shake up isn't necessarily the end of the world. It's tough to compare to the Andean region because the history of parties there is so different, but they've been doing pretty well. Mexico, with its strong parties, has not.


Monday, July 02, 2018

My Open Access Latin American Politics Textbook is Now Available

My textbook Understanding Latin American Politics, which was originally published by Pearson, is now available in its full form as Open Access, free and available to absolutely anyone. Go take a look. I will be working on a second edition over the course of the year, which will also be Open Access. Here is the new cover:

For some background, see my earlier post.


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Panadería y Restaurante Salvadoreña

My latest installment in the periodic Latin American restaurants in Charlotte series, which has picked up recently because it's summer so my schedule is much more relaxed. It's my small effort to highlight good food along with the importance of immigrants and their hard work. They are not invaders and they are not bad people, no matter what the President says. Today was the Panadería y Restaurante Salvadoreña on WT Harris, where I went with my 13 year old daughter.

We had cheese pupusas and tamales de elote, which are corn tamales with a cheese dip. It was a lot of food because the pupusas were big (and a plate comes with three). They come with a big bowl of curtido--a tasty Salvarodan slaw--and salsa. We enjoyed it all and were really full. Well, one of us decided she had some room, since the front has a bakery and my daughter stopped to get a cookie.

Note: for reasons unknown to me at least, this place is famous for being slow. And it is. Everyone was really friendly*, but lunch took a while. Since I knew that ahead of time, it was no big deal. But it might not be the best choice if you're in a hurry.

* FYI, I ordered in Spanish, but my impression is that you could get it figured out in English. Definitely give it a try.

My last review was just a few days ago, actually. Funny thing is, at that time we planned to go here, but it was closed on a Tuesday.


Friday, June 29, 2018

Failed Coup Attempt in Venezuela

Bloomberg has the scoop of a failed coup attempt in Venezuela. High level military officials were involved in the plot, which was discovered and squashed.

The plot, code-named Operation Constitution, involved scores of captains, colonels, and generals from all four branches of Venezuela’s armed forces. The goal was straightforward and seismic—to capture President Nicolás Maduro and put him on trial. The plotters, wearing blue armbands marked OC, were supposed to storm the presidential palace and main military base and stop the May 20 presidential election. Some of the planning took place in Bogotá, but Colombian and U.S. officials, who allegedly knew about the plot and winked from the sidelines, declined to provide active support. 
Then something went wrong. In mid-May, several dozen servicemen, including one woman, as well as a couple of civilians, were secretly arrested—some have been accused of treason—and imprisoned by a military court. Many say they’ve been tortured.
From the outside, this is hard to evaluate. It could mean Maduro has strengthened his hold on the military. On the other hand, there was an abortive coup in June 1973 in Chile before the one that worked. We just have no way of knowing what lessons other potential coup plotters have taken from this situation.

But this is where the future lies. In both Nicaragua and Venezuela, unpopular governments are facing intense pressures that they can withstand because they have the military as a backbone. Once that is gone, so are they.


Mike Pence Condescends to Central America

I told myself I wouldn't comment more on Mike Pence but he is leaving a trail of absurdity that I am having a difficult time ignoring. He lectured Central American presidents on immigration.

"This exodus must end," Pence said. "It is a threat to the security to the United States, and just as we respect your borders and your sovereignty, we insist that you respect ours."


"Tell your people that coming to the United States illegally will only result in a hard journey and a harder life," Pence said.
WTF? Everyone knows the damned trip is hard. Do you think prospective migrants don't know that? Everyone talks about it. Organized crime is involved. That's no secret either.

And does anyone actually believe that potential migrants will change their decision because their president asks them to please refrain so that U.S. feelings are not hurt?  Either they feel in danger or they don't. If they do, they're leaving no matter what any president or vice president says.

And finally, the United States respects the sovereignty of Central American countries only when it's in its interests to do so. It violates that sovereignty with some regularity.

This whole exercise is both futile and insulting, a condescending lecture that has countless before it in the sordid history of U.S.-Latin American relations.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Mike Pence's False Immigration Distinction

Mike Pence visited Venezuelan refugees in Brazil, offering them rhetorical support, along with a small amount of aid for countries receiving them. That's tricky because he is also attacking refugees coming to the United States. Check out how he distinguishes between them:

"Back in our country we face a crisis on our southern border as many seek to come into America for a better life," Pence said. "The families that Karen and I met today who have fled from Venezuela came here to Brazil not to seek a better life; they came here to live, to survive. And the families we spoke to today told us again and again how you desire to return to Venezuela and restore freedom in your land."
Somehow, immigrants in the United States are not trying to "live" or "survive." 

"So I think there is a clear distinction between people in Central America who make an often dangerous journey attempting to enter our country and the people who are literally fleeing from Venezuela to survive," he said.
We know very well that thousands of Latin American migrants are fleeing to survive. The United Nations has documented it. Human Right Watch has documented it. Amnesty International has documented it. (Sarah Bermeo also has a nice blog post on the non-economic reasons for emigration from Central America).

There is no distinction to make. The conditions in Venezuela and, say, Honduras are not exactly the same. But in both cases, individuals and families are making the wrenching decision that they are no longer safe in their country. Jobs are scarce and violence is high. They are all trying to live and survive, and feel they cannot do so at home.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

El Pulgarcito de America

The latest in an occasional food installment I started recently, really intended to highlight Latin American restaurants in Charlotte, which incidentally are small American businesses owned and operated by the same immigrants that the President of the United States demonizes as animals, invaders, and rapists.

My 13 year old daughter and I went for dinner at El Pulgarcito de America, a Salvadoran restaurant on Central Avenue (though the menu also has Honduran and Mexican options). I had a combination of tamales and pupusa, which was great. My daughter got seafood soup, which turned out to be an enormous bowl overflowing with all kinds of seafood, including crab on top (with a crab cracker on the side of the plate) and rice on the side. She loved it (and for the first time in her life, ate a small squid) while I happily ate what she couldn't finish.

The last place I went was Arepas Grill and I already want to get back there.


Public Shaming of Officials is a Dubious Idea

Omar Encarnación has a thought provoking article in Foreign Policy about the escrache, an Argentine term that is a form of Latin American political theater intended to shame public officials. It tends to happen when people feel those officials are not being held accountable. He uses examples from Latin America to show how it can prompt positive political change.

Still, there ought to be a place, in the repertoire of strategies to defend liberal democracy, for shaming and shunning those who implement illiberal policies. This is the point being made by those on the left, such as Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, when defending the right of ordinary Americans to shame their public officials, especially when the policies being implemented are egregiously immoral and when the person atop of the government has so little concern for human rights. After all, the Trump administration’s retreat from the policy on separating immigrant families late last week came only after broad disapproval from the public, condemnation by the media of the policy as cruel and inhumane, and comparisons by historians with some of the ugliest episodes in U.S. history, such as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. For an administration that hates to lose, this retreat was a rare concession to decency and human rights, and it’s the loudest protesters who deserve the greatest credit.
There are several things to untangle here.

First, we cannot be certain about the causality of the actions. In the most prominent case, it was used in Argentina in the 1990s to protest immunity for the dictatorship. That didn't get changed for many years and it's hard to make a case that the shaming played a significant role (others will know more about this and so feel free to point out any error here).

I don't think Sarah Sanders' treatment at a restaurant is going to move the needle. (BTW, for an interesting take on public shaming of controversial administration officials, see this story about the decision not to shame H.R. Haldeman when in 1974 he took his daughter to Chez Panisse, a famous restaurant in Berkeley). There are other, and in fact more effective, ways to fight back against human rights abuses rather than being abusive yourself.

Second, I wonder about the coarsening of public discourse more generally. My gut reaction is always against the "they do it, so should we" argument. Donald Trump uses disgusting and hateful language, but that doesn't mean I should. I am not at all sure it pushes us closer to our goals, one of which now is to protect the rights of immigrants. There's a little too much schadenfreude here for my taste as well--we may not be achieving our goals, but it sure feels good just to go off on someone. As Michelle Obama said, those who disagree with Trump should go high: "when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don't stoop to their level."


Monday, June 25, 2018

On the Radio to Talk Immigration

This morning was on WFAE's Charlotte talks to discuss immigration at a national level (you can listen here). Thanks to Michael Bitzer at Catawba College for doing a good job guest hosting. It's always hard to get at details when you have less than an hour, but I think we did a pretty good job of providing the context and even historical background you need to understand the current situation. If we can bust the soundbite beliefs people have even a little bit, we're doing our jobs.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Central American Immigration and Falsehoods

It is a difficult time to be even somewhat knowledgeable about Latin American immigration to the United States. The number of myths and falsehoods is exponentially greater than at any time I can remember. I feel most frustrated when the national conversation is driven in large part by beliefs that immigration can be understood in episodic rather than structural terms.

I co-authored a book in 2010 on the importance of demography for understanding how Latin American immigration works. I won't rehash that (and of course demography has continued its eternal evolution since then) but it's a reminder that structural forces matter a lot.

History matters a lot too. In the book, we did not spend much time on the history of US-Latin American relations, for example. Joseph Nevins, a geographer at Vassar who has published a lot on immigration, has a post about the impact of decades of U.S. policy toward Honduras. The U.S. response to the 2009 coup had a powerful impact on emigration, which sped up as a result of the chaos the coup and aftermath unleashed, both politically and economically. These are push factors, which were present for many years but the Obama administration made them worse, though not through immigration policy per se. The same is true of the Reagan administration's funding of war in El Salvador. Both of those policies were based on ideology.

Thus, the arguments now about why Hondurans (or indeed other Central Americans) are coming are almost all false. They are not coming because they want to exploit loopholes. DACA didn't make them come. Attacking families will not serve as a deterrent. And certainly their stories of sadness and grief are not fake.

But when the President of the United States and other top officials repeat false claims on a daily basis, people who see themselves as rational and reasonable start believing them too.


Saturday, June 23, 2018

Leonardo Padura's Havana Gold

Leonardo Padura's Havana Gold is part of the "Havana Quartet," four novels about Police Lt. Mario Conde. As mysteries go, it's not particularly intricate or surprising, but he's a compelling character, lonely and introspective. The story is about the murder of a young teacher, who taught at the school he attended, which then brings up additional memories and regrets.

Beyond the imagery of Havana and his own musings, I liked the indirect but clear political references. It was written in 1989, the same year Fidel Castro executed a high level military officer and hero, General Arnaldo Ochoa, who stood accused of drug trafficking. In the novel, the young woman's body is found at an apartment with remnants of marijuana, the presence of which surprised and vexed everyone. The vexation stemmed from the fact that whoever dealt drugs had ties to (unnamed) higher ups. Such things could not be done without them knowing.


The Family Separation Contradiction

President Trump's executive order says not to separate families. He also refuses to hire more judges, but the big problem is that there are not enough resources to house people and to hear all the adult cases in anything remotely like a timely manner, and certainly not quickly enough before the children must be released. There is already a court case on the books saying children cannot be held indefinitely.

Those two things are mutually exclusive.

Customs and Border Protection officials forcefully argued that agents who are apprehending migrant families at the border cannot refer all of the adults for prosecution because the Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to process each case. 
In particular, the border officials expressed concern about the number of prosecutors and judges needed to handle the proceedings, and the lack of space available to detain families while the cases go forward. 
As a result, the officials from Customs and Border Protection told White House and Justice Department officials that they have had to issue fewer prosecution referrals of adults with children despite the president’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.
Either you hire a crapton (to quote my teenage daughter) of judges or you let the families go. That's why CBP is saying it's not possible. Backlog has been a serious problem for many years and arresting more people means it is getting exponentially worse.

Back in 2010 I wrote about how horrible the backlog was at 261,000 cases. Now it is 714,000. The system literally cannot handle the enforcement.


Friday, June 22, 2018

Chronology of the Family Separation Crisis

The family separation crisis has been confusing, mostly because the Trump administration contradicted itself on a daily basis. Here is a quick and dirty chronology.

--Clinton administration on separating families: no explicit policy. Signed the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which did not mention the issue. It was not common for families to arrive together at that time. It did open the door for more deportations, and thus deportations of parents.

However, every so often separation did happen. Starting in 1993 there was a court case, Reno vs. Flores, where the Supreme Court ruled that children immigrants should be released to family as quickly as possible because of the treatment of a 15 year old Salvadoran girl.

--Bush administration on separating families: created Operation Streamline in 2005 with the phrase "zero tolerance." The idea was to criminalize border crossers. Over time, the federal immigration system could not handle the numbers, and people were often released. As with the Clinton years, parents with children was not common.

--Obama administration on separating families: continued Operation Streamline. When the surge of children occurred in 2014, many of them were unaccompanied, but when there were families they were locked up together. The number of families increased. as did the number of people released. Few families were separated and none were separated as a matter of policy. But the idea of family imprisonment became a real and troubling thing.

--Trump daily during campaign: I hate immigrants and I like leading chants for people who hate immigrants.

--Trump in August 2016 speech: my immigration policy will be zero tolerance.

--Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April 2018: we will separate families.

--Stephen Miller in June 2018: We have a zero tolerance policy. No one is "immune."

--Trump: Family separation is a policy created by Democrats and they have to change that law for the policy to change.

--Attorney General Jeff Sessions says it is the administration's policy and the Bible supports it.

--Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says there is no policy of family separation.

--Nielsen says she will not apologize for the policy, which she had just said was not a policy.

--Trump says the issue cannot be resolved through an executive order.

--Trump then issues an executive order saying that families should be imprisoned together, even indefinitely.

--Congress: we would pass a law of some sort if we were capable, but it's unclear whether we are.

--Border Patrol official: we're not going to prosecute parents who cross the border with children until there are more resources. Department of Justice says that is not true.

--Trump to Congress: stop trying to pass immigration legislation.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Venezuelan Inflation

You want to know what hyperinflation looks like? In Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro raised the minimum wage by two million bolívars. It was one million and now it is three million. Food vouchers went up from 1,555,500 to 2,196,000. Pensions went up 3,000,000. If you are wondering, 3,000,000 bolívars is $1.14 at the black market rate.

The National Assembly, of course made up of the opposition, believes the inflation rate to be 24,600%. This crazily high number seems reasonable when a president is throwing around millions of the currency in an effort to keep up with the increases in prices. Tarek El Aissami has decided that another way is to send the army to check prices. Soldiers with rifles stand at the markets.

Remember five years ago when it was 49.4%? That seemed pretty damned bad. Now it is literally more profitable to make purses out of money than to use the money itself.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Podcast on Colombian Presidential Election

Go check out Steven Hyland interviewing Steven Taylor on SECOLAS' Historias podcast. Among many other things, he talks about the Colombian left and offers a less optimistic view than I did. And there's the question of how independent Iván Duque will be from Alvaro Uribe. And of course there's Venezuela.


Dialogue Fail in Nicaragua

Late last week there was at least some hope that dialogue in Nicaragua could show some progress. In particular, the two sides were talking about finding international mediators. The opposition wants the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the European Union. They thought they had agreement, but when they asked the government to show the invitations, there weren't any. The Foreign Minister said there were "bureaucratic" reasons they weren't sent.

After reneging, Rosario Murillo said she wanted peace and reconciliation. She also said there were "malignant spirits" in Nicaragua and everyone needed to believe in Jesus Christ. She made clear that she wants everyone's spirits to be "full of light."

Apparently international mediators are not full of light because they aren't being allowed in. This story is starting to sound familiar. Fraudulent elections, opposition protests, splintered opposition, attempt at dialogue, failure at dialogue. I assume U.S. sanctions are not fall behind. Increasingly in Nicaragua, just as in Venezuela, the big question is how long the government can keep the army on its side.

However, I think one difference is how much more intense the anti-government actions are. Protesters are blocking large chunks of Managua, though elsewhere as well. It's at the point where you can go online for updated maps on where the tranques are. My sense is that there is more intense domestic pressure on Daniel Ortega than on Nicolás Maduro. At the same time, there have been periods of such pressure in Venezuela and the opposition could not keep it up as the government simply dug in and waited them out.

If you haven't already, listen to the podcast I did with Christine Wade last Friday on the crisis.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Venezuela's Refugee Crisis

The UN High Commissioner on Refugees just published a "situational update" on Venezuela. This is a catastrophe of frightening magnitude and it is affecting every country in the entire hemisphere. 1.5 million people and the majority are undocumented.

More than 340.000 Venezuelans have entered Ecuador since the beginning of 2018 (compared to 287,000 arrivals registered for the whole 2017). 
In Brazil, 527 Venezuelan nationals had been relocated from border regions to Brazilian cities in the country (Cuiabá, Manaus and São Paulo). 
The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum has risen yearly. Between 2014 and 2018, some 185,783 asylum claims have been lodged. 
More than 1.5 million Venezuelans have moved into neighbouring countries. While some of them have obtained documentation which allows them to stay legally, the majority of Venezuelans who have left their country have no regular status, and are therefore more vulnerable to any form of exploitation, abuse, violence, trafficking and discrimination.
Here is the breakdown of asylum requests:

 Just remember too. If you squeeze the country with sanctions, you are directly contributing to this crisis.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Duque and Latin American Politics

Iván Duque defeated Gustavo Petro in the Colombian runoff election yesterday, 54%-42%. Boz has some good points about the outcome, including the importance of centrists. Adam Isacson also has a post worth your time on how this affects the peace agreement.

I'd like to chime in on the broader view. It will be tempting to view this as part of an overall conservative wave in Latin America, and I fully expect that kind of assertion to spread, especially since this was a clear cut contest between candidates who self-identified as left and right. It has already started, really.

But that is misleading and does not pay sufficient attention to the specific Colombian context. The FARC effectively prevented any real political left from developing in Colombia. It was too hard for the left to convince people it wasn't going to be soft on the FARC, or even tied to it. Look back at 2010, when Antanas Mockus ran and won only 27.5% in a runoff after being clobbered in the first round. It was just too easy to tie the left to the FARC, to Hugo Chávez, to Fidel Castro. Etc.

Petro was openly struggling against this. And the fact that he got 42% of the vote means he succeeded far more than anyone else in the past. Not enough to win, obviously, but enough to breath life into the aspirations of the left. It's fair to say that it won't be long before a leftist can win the presidency, and that's something that just has not been true before.


Immigrant Children as Hostages

The Trump administration is separating children from their parents when they are apprehended, a practice considered too harsh and horrible by previous administrations. There has been considerable public response and the administration's stance is indicative of dysfunction and deceit.

President Trump blames congressional Democrats. His logic is the same as hostage taking. Kidnap someone and demand ransom. If the ransom is not paid, you hurt the hostage and blame the side that would not give you money. The real answer is that the hostage never should have been taken in the first place. You do not need a law or any reform to end it. He can do so right this second.

But it gets worse. Attorney General Jess Sessions contradicted Trump by taking full ownership over separating families and saying the Bible defends the practice. White House advisor Stephen Miller also contradicted Trump and took ownership, saying it was a "simple decision." They happily label it as deterrence--treat people so inhumanely that word will get out and people will stop emigrating. As Steve Bannon says, it is a conscious zero tolerance policy that needs no justification. For xenophobes, it is simply common sense--hurting brown-skinned foreigners is good.

Melania Trump weighed in, saying through a spokesperson that she "hates" the practice and calling immigration reform, echoing the inaccurate assertion that you need a new law to end it.

But one of the truly craziest responses was Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who said it's not a policy at all. High level administration officials have already said it is a policy and the increase of the practice has been very public.

And that's where we are in 2018.

Update: the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics labeled it as "child abuse."

New Update: Not long after I posted this, President Trump and other administration officials changed the story a bit, saying that the parents were fake and were in fact criminals posing as parents.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Podcast Episode 54: The Nicaraguan Crisis

In Episode 54 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Christine Wadewho is Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Washington College. She studies Central America and recently published Captured Peace: Elites and Peacebuilding in El Salvador and also the ninth edition of Latin American Politics and Development. We discuss the Nicaraguan crisis. FYI, she mentions an article that just came out at NACLA that she recommended: here is the link. Among other things, we talk about the diffuse nature of the opposition, what's up with security forces, and how much this is all affecting the average Nicaraguan.


NAFTA and North Carolina

Patrick Duddy has an op-ed in the Raleigh News & Observer about the impact of NAFTA on North Carolina. It just fell flat for me. He argues that NAFTA benefits the state, but he also bends over backward to praise the Trump administration. For example:

In the last quarter century all three economies have evolved in important ways. Hence, the Trump administration’s determination to force improvements on our partners is not unreasonable. The Trump administration’s goal is a better deal for U.S. workers and industry.

Trump is not necessarily wrong when he asserts that much of the world has ridden our coattails to an era of greater prosperity. We would be wrong, however, to ignore the corollary to that assertion: the U.S. has – in the aggregate – become more prosperous as well. The aim of the current negotiations should be to create a better trading regime, one that eliminates distortions without sacrificing benefits.
"Forcing improvements on our partners" means a trade war. It's not clear to me how we can consider that reasonable. And the whole "ridden our coattails" thing is simplistic and implies unreasonably that we are "owed." The United States has benefited massively from the post-World War II economic order. There's no way around that.

The piece seems aimed at the NC congressional delegation but the combined praise of NAFTA and Trump makes it difficult to see precisely what he's advocating.


The Latin Americanist and UNC Press

I am excited to announce that starting January 1, 2019 The Latin Americanist will be published by the University of North Carolina Press. It's a perfect fit, especially since the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies, which owns the journal, is a southern-oriented organization. And it's great to be working with an academic press. If you have a manuscript, you should consider us!


Thursday, June 14, 2018

LASA Resolution on Nicaragua

I know, I know, organization resolutions don't "matter" in a policy way. But I still like having the key organization for Latin American Studies get things right. For a long time it was a muddled morass.

Here is its statement on Nicaragua. For example:

As academics who have spent our careers researching Central America and working with the people of Nicaragua, we want to express our profound concern for the extreme violations of basic human rights that have occurred in Nicaragua. No government should violently repress its own citizens for expressing their opinions, nor should it try to prevent the press from covering such protests.

Nice, clear, declarative. In the past, condemnations of government wrongdoing got all tangled with ideology--you can't really criticize Venezuela because of the 2002 coup, blah blah blah. This statement includes the proper caveat about U.S. policy.

We hasten to add that these measures should be carried out at the initiative of the Nicaraguan people and their constituted representatives. Given the long and tragic history of US imperialism in Central America, and the many regional problems that have their roots in foreign interventions, we are well aware of the need to respect Nicaragua’s sovereignty. That, however, does not preclude criticism of government-condoned violence against unarmed protesters.

Good. U.S. policy has done terrible damage to Nicaragua in its history but that should not give its governments a pass when they're killing their own citizens. And no one wants to give the impression they're asking for U.S. meddling.

Here's one of the worse resolutions, from five years ago.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Venezuela Election Apologists

You see periodic efforts to defend the integrity of elections in Venezuela. John Polga-Hecimovich takes aim at one and breathes fire at it.

Mr. Kovalik professes to support Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution for helping the poor. But 82% of the country is now below the poverty line, which indicates it’s more important for him to blindly follow an ideology than update his priors and criticize a “revolutionary” government.
He delicately concludes:

Venezuela is a dictatorship whose economic problems are the result of irresponsible policymaking. The more Mr. Kovalik and others see conspiracies where there are none, the more they allow themselves to become apologists for a dictator.

I assume his essay will be dismissed as the work of an imperialist pawn.

BTW, see Geoff Ramsey's post just prior to the election as well. Defenders of the election tend to skirt past most of the substance.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Maduro Looks Longingly at the Trump-Kim Summit

I was talking to someone about why Nicolás Maduro was letting political prisoners out and especially Joshua Holt. My basic and not particularly original answer was that he trying to make some sort of gesture to ease pressure and open the door to dialogue (of whatever sort, if only to gain time).

But after seeing the spectacle of Donald Trump meeting Kim Jong-un, I realized I was missing what was in front of my eyes all along. Trump's foreign policy consists in large part of alienating allies and embracing--even bromancing--adversaries. He famously loves Vladimir Putin and now he loves Kim too (he loves his country!). With them, he openly gives concessions without getting anything concrete in return. This summit was pure gold for an isolated Kim.

So Maduro, who also feels isolated, much wonder: how do I get Trump's love? And indeed, why shouldn't he think that way? Kim sets the standard for being a horrible human being who terrorizes his own population, and Trump loves him. Trump excoriates Maduro and calls him a threat. How is that fair?

So maybe Maduro is thinking that if he gives a little with some releases, just like Kim did, he can be bros with Trump too. Maybe even be invited to the White House. Kim has Dennis Rodman as celebrity go-between, and Maduro can use Danny Glover.

I am authoritarian, I am screwing up my country, and my government is responsible serious human rights abuses, so why don't you love me too?


Monday, June 11, 2018

Arepas Grill

In my very occasional reviews of Latin American restaurants in Charlotte, today I had lunch at Arepas Grill, which bills itself as the only place in the city to get Venezuelan arepas*. I was there with my wife and kids, so between us we got several different kinds, including the Pelua (shredded beef), the La del Gato (plantains and avocado), the traditional Queso de Mano, and the Revoltillo (screambled eggs and beef). All of us were in universal agreement that they were delicious, just crispy on the outside, hot and stuffed with food inside. They have a guasacaca sauce that is hot and tasty to add if you want.

Incidentally, it is directly across the street from the Woodlawn train station, perfect if you are on light rail.

* This should not be too surprising because the population is still relatively small. According to Census Bureau estimates, there are about 17,778 people in Mecklenburg County who were born in South America (I don't know offhand how many are Venezuelan but we have quite a few migrants also from Colombia and Ecuador in particular). That constitutes just 11% of all foreign born people in the county and 23.4% of the Latin America-born population. Those numbers have been increasing in recent years and I have to wonder how much the Venezuelan crisis is contributing.

Before, I went to Tamales la Pasadita.


Venezuela's OPEC Problem

OPEC meets on June 22. The Venezuelan government is asking that it denounce sanctions:

“I kindly request solidarity and support from our fellow members,” Venezuelan Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo wrote in a copy of the letter seen by Bloomberg News. OPEC should discuss “the constraining effects of unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States of America, which represent an extraordinary aggression, financially and economically, for our national oil industry’s operations and the stability of the market.”
In particular, Venezuela naturally does not want prices to decrease. Meanwhile, the United States is asking Saudi Arabia to increase production precisely to keep prices down while it sanctions Iran.

But, Saudi Arabia and Russia probably can’t simply allot themselves more production allowances without risking a full-blown revolt from the rest of the group. So, they will likely need to allocate more production to everyone, but even the act of deciding on a formula will also be highly contentious. Still, it will be somewhat of a formality for most members since they can’t increase production anyway.
Nonetheless, Russian output is already increasing. In part, Russia just wants lower prices but it also does not want OPEC's share of output to decrease, which would happen if OPEC went down just as U.S. production continued to increase.

This is pressing for Nicolás Maduro for existential reasons. It is pressing for Donald Trump for political reasons, particularly the midterm elections. This is not new--two years Barack Obama pushed OPEC in the same way, and it ticked Maduro off.

Oil markets think production will indeed increase. This would be bad news for the Venezuelan government, which needs prices to stay as high as possible since output is declining due to incompetence (oh sorry, I meant because of the empire).


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tim Wendel's Summer of '68

Reading Tim Wendel's Summer of '68: The Season That Changed Baseball, and America, Forever is a reminder that our current era has parallels for awfulness. The book is the story of a year, but it tends to focus a lot on the Tigers and on the World Series they played (and won) against the Cardinals. Wendel doesn't really come to any particular conclusions--he weaves some different sports in though they don't form part of a broader narrative.

The Tigers are an appropriate subject because their run for the championship helped unite the city to an extent, which has experienced riots the year prior. Baseball didn't fix or heal racial divides, but even the players themselves--black or white--felt like they were truly playing for their city. They were misfits, not smooth and athletic like the Cardinals.

If there is any theme, it's that the "real world" touches on and draws from baseball whether the players know it or not. Politicians from both parties wanted to comment on or attend games. Martin Luther King Jr. was not a sports fan per se but of course understood how race relations in major sports impacted public policy. Football was only just taking off at that point, and it's interested how it has overtaken baseball in terms of political importance. Donald Trump is whining about the NFL and to an extent the NBA, but not MLB.


Saturday, June 09, 2018

John Belohlavek's Patriots, Prostitutes, and Spies

I read and reviewed John Belohlavek's Patriots, Prostitutes, and Spies: Women and theMexican-American War for The Americas (2017). Here is my concluding paragraph:

An important contribution of the book is that for the first time it highlights the countless ways women on both sides of the conflict were central to it. For better or worse, the war could not have been waged without them. Women were taking care of business at home, traveling with armies, opening businesses, and working in factories (especially textiles). They were also writing stories, plays, and music. War changed gender roles, though Belohlavek is careful to explain that such transformations were not drastic. Yet the war represented “an incremental step toward advancing greater gender awareness and promoting female involvement within the Mexican and American societies” (243). He succeeded in that effort. Historical studies of U.S.-Latin American relations would benefit from more of this understanding.

If you like histories of U.S.-Latin American relations, you might want to check it out. Women don't tend to have much of a role in those histories so it's a refreshing look.


Friday, June 08, 2018

The Boston Group in Venezuela

David Smilde and Hugo Pérez-Hernáiz look at some of the important issues in post-election Venezuela. One merits special attention because of how much we can generalize it. It's the sometimes hidden importance of informal diplomatic relationships.

However, the Joshua Holt release shows the potential of cross-national, back-channel networks among politicians (see a stellar series of articles by AP’s Josh Goodman who reported on this development in March, and as the Holt release evolved here and here). 
All parties agree that the key player in the Holt release was Senator Bob Corker’s chief of staff Caleb McCarry. McCarry was a member of the Boston Group, a network of US and Venezuelan legislators who engaged each other back during the 2002-04 period. This group included Maduro, then a legislator, his wife Cilia Flores, as well as then politician and now businessman Pedro Díaz Blum. Díaz Blum brought Lacava into the network which brokered Holt’s release. Senator Orin Hatch of Holt’s home state of Utah was also involved in the dialogue and described his experiences in Time Magazine. 
The entire experience shows the power this type of cross-national back channels can have to broker deals. More broadly, the Boston Group and other efforts to open networks with members of the Maduro government could become fundamental conduits for channeling pressure into a transition back to democracy.
This is why the dismantling of diplomacy these days is so devastating. The Boston Group was a legislative initiative intended to promote dialogue and had bipartisan support from the U.S. Congress and the Venezuelan government. It involved difficult discussions and was careful not to do anything that might jeopardize its existence. From a leaked cable:

In response to a request from Ortega, McCarry explained the mechanics of NED project funding, emphasizing the organization's bipartisan support within the U.S. After debating the topic, the group members agreed to refrain from making any public statements about GOV accusations that the USG is spending millions of dollars to assist opposition groups since it might affect the Boston Group's own existence. In response to McCarry's outline of the proposed Boston Group television project, Rangel promised support and resources.

These below-the-surface interactions, which really need support from the involved governments to work, can pay enormous dividends. I hope the Trump administration is open to such arrangements in the future, but the treatment of the State Department does not currently offer optimism.

In an interview, former Ambassador Patrick Duddy talks about how the Boston Group's connections persisted well after its members ceased meeting.

Shortly after the April 14 election and Maduro’s investiture as president, the foreign ministry announced that former Chavista legislator Calixto Ortega would be heading to Washington to become Venezuela’s new chargé d’affaires. Ortega had been a part of what was once known as “The Boston Group” which was founded in 2000 to try to promote improved understanding between Venezuelan legislators and their U.S. congressional counterparts. 
So this was formed during the Clinton administration and those relationships resolved a problem 18 years later. Are we building anything now to help solve crises in the future?


Thursday, June 07, 2018

Somoza and Ortega: Brothers in Arms

Nicaragua's La Prensa has an interesting story paralleling the end of Anastasio Somoza's regime with Daniel Ortega's current situation.

Los asesinatos de miles de nicaragüenses en manos de la sanguinaria Guardia Nacional eran el pan de cada día. Nicaragua estaba harta. La formación de una junta con intelectuales y empresarios, la llegada de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, un intento de diálogo con el gobierno de Somoza Debayle, la presión de los Frentes guerrilleros en los departamentos del país. Esto se vivió en los últimos años, meses y días de la dictadura somocista.

But there are major differences. The most important is that the Sandinistas were a well-organized fighting force, whereas the current opposition is not. Right now Nicaragua has protests rather than a guerrilla insurgency. Then the assassination of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro threw gasoline on the fire and got the OAS involved.

I think it's more useful to compare Nicaragua today to more recent examples than to its own history. Bolivia in 2003 comes to mind, when Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada resigned after government violence and months of protests. But there is also the Venezuela example, where Nicolás Maduro has weathered protests up to this point and remains in power. Overall, this is about internal regime cohesion (esp. the army) as opposed to losing a civil war.

Nonetheless, Nicaraguans do have their own history in mind, a most ironic one given Ortega's role back then and the way he compares to Somoza now.


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