Sunday, December 16, 2018

Victor Sebestyen's Lenin

Victor Sebestyen's Lenin: The Man, The Dictator, and the Master of Terror (2017) is a highly readable and entertaining biography of Vladimir Lenin. The subtitle is a bit sensationalist but is in fact accurate.

You get a sense of him as a person, especially his relationships with his mother, wife, and mistress. He did not really develop close relationships with men, but he was very tender with those women and they were dedicated to him. He was exiled for many years and spent much of that time in libraries, writing books and cranking out countless articles (later he would write decrees specifying exactly how libraries should be run). Some derided him as a mere journalist rather than a revolutionary. If there is one thing missing, it is how he managed to generate so much support since at times Sebestyen notes how small and weak a group the Bolsheviks were prior to the revolution and how far he was from the action. But that is perhaps part of the mystery--how did this otherwise unremarkable though highly intelligent man create something so huge and destructive?

Then the dictator and the master of terror, two roles that go together. Lenin had no regard for human life and believed killing was part of the process, even in large numbers. The regime commonly used the word "terror" to describe what they were doing--it was not hidden. He openly disliked peasants and favored policies of intimidation and murder. He had no interest in democracy, and launched the October Revolution before the awaited constituent assembly could meet. A lot of people saw him for who he was, and there were assassination attempts, including a very serious one where he was shot in the neck. He responded with an "orgy of revenge violence throughout the major cities and towns of Russia" (417). Lenin never actually committed violence himself but he ordered it constantly and forcefully.

One point that Sebestyen repeats is that Lenin survived for many years in exile and then got back into Russia because rich people supported him and his cause financially. It's amazing. One could argue that Lenin never would have gotten anywhere without the rich people he hated. Meanwhile, the Germans intentionally let him back into Russia to sow chaos, not knowing they were creating a monster.


Friday, December 14, 2018

Ecuador Goes More Into Debt With China

For many years, the United States and then U.S. banks were deep in the loan business in Latin America. It's a great setup. You loan money to less developed countries and they often have a difficult time repaying on time. To ensure repayment, you loan them more money. As long as you keep friendly governments in power, you make a ton of money even if their economy falls apart. 

Now it's China. Rafael Correa borrowed about $6.5 billion from China between 2007 and 2017. Just as Mexico felt the pinch in the early 1980s, the fall of oil prices has made repayment more painful over time. So now Lenín Moreno felt obligated to go to China and get $900 million at the "lowest interest rate in history."

Rafael Correa, who is responsible for getting all this going, actually once said he thought Ecuador was being "ill treated" by China. Well, yes, countries that were heavily in debt to the U.S. or U.S. banks were ill treated too. What that means is that you are controlled and you have no leverage. When you owe huge sums of money, the loaning country is free to do as it wants.

Correa went that direction in large part to proclaim his independence from the United States. This was the same path Cuba took after the Bay of Pigs. All it means is shifting economic dependence from one great power to another. It does not lead to independence.

Moreno and Correa do not agree on much but apparently they agree that heavy indebtedness to China is the way.


Will Bolsonaro Invade Venezuela?

Far right Venezuelan exiles see hope in Jair Bolsonaro and the possibility that he will either invade Venezuela or provide diplomatic cover for a U.S. invasion.
It is unclear how much support Rumbo Libertad enjoys in Venezuela. Henrique Capriles, one of the key leaders of its mainstream opposition, recently dismissed it as part of “a small extremist sect” that was intent on replacing Venezuela’s red dictatorship with one of another hue. Such groups were noisy on social media but did little to help feed starving Venezuelans, Capriles complained. 
But Navarro does appear to have the ear of Brazil’s next president and his influential son, Eduardo, a 34-year-old politician who is positioning himself as Brazil’s answer to Jared Kushner – and recently travelled to the US to meet with Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Steve Bannon.
A few thoughts. First, this is the worst possible solution. It will lead to deaths, suffering, and perhaps even some sort of new dictatorship. I shudder to think of what such a group would do if it actually held power. It would need to use a lot of force to overcome its illegitimacy.

Second, it is highly unlikely Bolsonaro will invade. Yes, he is currently popular but invading other countries is a good way to sour that. Brazil faces a lot of challenges and cannot afford military adventurism. It would be very unpopular in the region to boot and ruin any chance of Bolsonaro being a regional leader. Finally, in the article Harold Trinkunas points out the major military challenges:

“If they imagine that somehow the Brazilian armed forces under the direction of President Bolsonaro are going to change the government in Caracas, it reveals a complete lack of understanding of the military challenges that would present,” he said, pointing to the vast areas of jungle and savanna between Brazil’s northern border and Venezuela’s capital.

Third, it is highly unlikely Trump will invade, for many of the same reasons. It is cliche to invade other countries as a way to distract from domestic problems, and an invasion would immediately be viewed that way. When push comes to shove, Trump dislikes actual conflict--he likes to talk big and then back down, despite John Bolton's "troika of tyranny" stuff.

Could it possibly happen? Well, yes. There are far more reasons not to invade than to do it, but if you combine zealots and policy makers who lack common sense, it is a combustible mix.


Thursday, December 13, 2018

I've Got Big Walls

The Department of Homeland Security issued a press release today about the border wall.

Direct quote: "DHS is committed to building wall and building wall quickly. We are not replacing short, outdated and ineffective wall with similar wall." Odd use of the English language, to say the least.

This tweet came right around the same time.

It's not clear who is saving in the deal. To pay for the wall, the money would need to be coming to the federal government. But free trade deals don't direct money to governments--they facilitate the movement of goods and services. I guess maybe you could claim increase tax revenue would be the source if American companies make more money.

The point here, I suppose, is to claim that new walls are being built (which is not happening--all walls the link mentions are just work on existing ones) to generate some popular pressure on Democrats to accept allocating $5 billion for even more wall construction. The deadline for getting a spending deal done is December 21.


Rejecting Immigration in Latin America

The right in Latin America is diverse but one commonality is suspicion of migration. Sebastián Piñera joined Jair Bolsonaro in refusing to sign the United Nations pact on migration. From the Interior Ministry:

"Our position is clear," he said. "We have said that migration is not a human right. Countries have a right to determine the entry requirements for foreign citizens."
This is disingenuous because the pact (full text here) explicitly stipulates that states have that right. And it is non-binding.
The Global Compact reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy and their prerogative to govern migration within their jurisdiction, in conformity with international law. Within their sovereign jurisdiction, States may distinguish between regular and irregular migration status, including as they determine their legislative and policy measures for the implementation of the Global Compact, taking into account different national realities, policies, priorities and requirements for entry, residence and work, in accordance with international law;
In other words, arguing that the pact erodes sovereignty is a lie. It is simply not true. Bolsonaro's incoming Foreign Minister added to the absurdity:
“Immigration shouldn’t be treated as a global issue, but rather in accordance with the reality of each country.”
Not a global issue? Where do you think the migrants are coming from, genius? And again, the pact explicitly allows each country to sort out its own reality while recognizing that by definition it is a global problem.

Not all presidents of the right rejected the pact but we've already seen Mauricio Macri targeting Bolivian immigrants. This is where the right leans on the topic and it is starting to worsen.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Baseball and Politics in Venezuela

I am an avid listener of baseball podcasts, which I listen to while exercising and while in the car. A great one is Effectively Wild, which focuses on baseball analytics. For the very first time, a recent episode actually touched both on Latin American politics and U.S.-Latin American relations. It is about the tragedy of Venezuela, focusing on deaths of MLB baseball players (huge stars in Venezuela) José Castillo and Luis Valbuena, who were just killed in a car crash because of an attack on a Venezuelan highway.

The hosts Jeff Sullivan and Ben Lindbergh talk to Octavio Hernández, a Venezuelan journalist and baseball executive who fled the country and now works for a baseball team in Mexico (you can go to 38:38 in the podcast for just his part, though the discussion about Harold Baines in the Hall of Fame is well worth your time!). He gives a passionate and emotional account of how far Venezuela has fallen. These attacks are just what happens. The normalcy framing is heartbreaking. When asked if there was hope for change, Hernández just said no. As I've written so many times, there are few options as long as the opposition remains divided and unpopular, and the military remains loyal.

The part that caught my attention the most was his mention of sanctions. He wondered whether the U.S. government might prohibit MLB from functioning anymore in Venezuela--sending players, scouts, or otherwise participating in Venezuelan baseball. I had never thought of this but in fact it would be perversely effective. There is a lot of money in baseball, even in Venezuela. Players keep going, as Hernández says, in part because of habit but also because they're paid well and they live in a bubble (though more and more are too afraid to return). Castillo and Valbuena got out of the bubble by driving their own car rather than the team bus. Cut off some the MLB money and the MLB players and you reduce revenue more, while embarrassing the government. Up to this point, the U.S. government has focused on financial transactions and individuals in the Venezuelan government. This would be a new angle.


Russia's Bombers in Venezuela

Russia sent two bombers to Venezuela, which prompted a public (i.e. Twitter) rebuke from Mike Pompeo and then counter-rebukes. As with Cuba in the early Cold War, Venezuela is just a convenient place for Russia and the U.S. to push at each other.

As always, Russia wants to show that it can mess around in the United States' "backyard," which constitutes a warning to stay out of Russia's.

It can also serve as a warning not to invade Venezuela. Russia has a lot of money tied up in the country, and if the U.S. installs a new government, it might well push those new leaders to stiff Russia as part of an economic overhaul.

And Venezuela's role in this? It does not have one. Vladimir Putin is uninterested in Nicolás Maduro's views on anything.

This sort of thing has been happening for a long time. Almost a decade ago I wrote about all the false talk of Russia building military bases, rumors started by the Russians. This is what they do. The U.S. huffs and puffs, then it subsides, only to spring up again sometime in the future.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

New Documents on the 1965 Dominican Republic Invasion

The State Department just published a new Foreign Relations of the United States volume: Public Diplomacy, 1964-1968. Another word for "public diplomacy" is actually "propaganda." So, for example, in May 1965 the Director of the United States Information Agency wrote a memo to LBJ about the invasion of the Dominican Republic. He noted how difficult it was to get support in the region. We need to convince non-Communist governments of our good intentions.

If we are to succeed in making other Latin American nations believe that our actions are vital to their safety and freedom, it is of utmost importance that we get some members of the OAS, and perhaps non-OAS neighbors of the Dominican Republic like Jamaica, to speak out about the Communist involvement in the Dominican Republic, and to offer troops or other support to our efforts to end the bloodshed.

That did not work out too well. The OAS did eventually send people, including some troops, but this was not an OAS operation (Dominican President Danilo Medina did ask for an OAS apology two years ago). LBJ was pretty openly contemptuous of the OAS, and of Latin Americans: "We’ve just been kind of a holding operation until the Latin could in his own slow way finally move."

This is exactly the theme of Lars Schoultz's new book In Their Own Best Interest, which I reviewed in October. We invade because we care. Behind the scenes are public relations officials who try to find ways of framing the actions in terms of the good we're doing. Making them believe we are making them safer.


Senate Hearing on Immigration Enforcement

The Senate Committe on the Judiciary is meeting to discuss oversight of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Washington Post reporter Nick Miroff tweeted the following:

Grassley opens Judiciary hearing referring to "ongoing conflict" at the Mexico border, as if describing a war zone, and falsely claims "hundreds of people" were "throwing Molotov cocktails"
This sort of misinformation is disheartening, though of course not surprising. So I clicked through to read through the testimony of the single witness, Kevin McAleenan, who is the Commission of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It was much better than I had expected, reasoned and calm. Professional.
With regard to the recent Central American caravan, we have worked closely with the
Government of Mexico and our Central American partners to address the challenges of these large groups. CBP very much appreciates the efforts of the Government of Mexico to address this challenging situation in accordance with the highest principles of protection of human rights and respect for migrants, while upholding the integrity of the Mexican border and Mexican immigration law. 
That contrasts sharply with Grassley. McAleenan is no angel, having of course overseen a policy of family separation (which he does not mention). What I wish, however, is that we could hear more of the reasonable part come from the mouths of the policy makers in charge of directing and overseeing agencies like CBP. Instead he gives his measured testimony about working with Mexico and many senators will simply respond with something like, "Oh yeah, Mexico is screwing us."


Monday, December 10, 2018

Turnout Was Low in Venezuelan Municipal Elections. Why?

There was low turnout for the Venezuelan municipal election. Why?

Al Jazeera: "record low turnout, citing mistrust in the electoral process, the banning of opposition parties and widespread exhaustion amid the ongoing socioeconomic crisis."

Reuters: "Venezuelans said they preferred to use the day to shop for scarce food and medicine."

Associated Press: "not wishing to legitimize what they consider a corrupt process."

Deutsche Welle: "widespread apathy."

El Nacional: "la desconfianza en el voto, la inhabilitación de partidos opositores y el hartagazo ante la crisis soscioeconómica."

Or if you would like an alternative view:

Venezuelan government: ""Ganamos todos, gana el pueblo de Venezuela, es una democracia que se fortalece con cada proceso electoral."


Saturday, December 08, 2018

Race 14: Kiawah Island Marathon

For the 14th and final race of this year (here is my first post about my running year) today I did the Kiawah Island Marathon. I have not seen the official results but it looks like I was about 8-10 minutes faster than the Charleston Marathon, which was my first race this year back in January. Kiawah Island is not big so the course loops and twists around.

The course is known for being flat, and that helps a lot. The weather was good--about 50 degrees and dry. A bit of a breeze at times but not too bad. The main down side was that there were cars and bikes weaving around runners, which is distracting, especially when you're getting tired and weaving is a chore. The upside is that was Palmetto Brewing (a good South Carolina brewery) Amber Ale at the end, which hit the spot.

Marathons are a lot of work, both to train for and to run. Somewhere around mile 22, I start questioning my intelligence but finishing feels great and before too long I will probably think about what else to run (the beer probably contributes to this).


Thursday, December 06, 2018

The Decline of Academic Blogging

Matt Reed, a community college vice president and long-time blogger, asks where all the bloggers are.

why don’t my administrative colleagues elsewhere do something similar. After all these years, where is everybody?
He argues that in part people are concerned about having so many of their ideas and opinions public, a paper trail that could count against you.

Physicist Chad Orvel also discusses the issue and notes:
In the end, though, I think the biggest factor is that it takes a certain type of personality to make it as a blogger. You have to enjoy communicating through the written word in a way that isn’t all that common. Even in academia, where people’s careers are built on the production of text, you don’t see many people who are actually good at the sort of communication needed for blogging. 
This all resonates with me. I think one of the biggest reasons people don't blog is because they dislike it. These days academic journals often ask their authors to write blog posts summarizing their article and making it more accessible. More than one such author has talked to me about how difficult and time consuming they found the process. A number of people have talked to me and then launched blogs, only to stop quickly because they felt it took too much time and became a chore to do regularly.

Just clicking on the "Blogs" subject on the front page of my blog and seeing old posts reminded me of how many blogs are no longer updated, while new ones rarely appear. Next year will be an entire decade since I organized a panel on blogging for the Latin American Studies Association. There was a wave, albeit a small one, but it crashed and receded.

And that's fine. There are many other ways to communicate to a wider audience and blogging is just one of many. I feel like it is a good fit for academia but I am in a small minority. As I've written numerous times, I will blog until I don't find it fun. Somehow after almost 13 years, I still haven't reached that point.


Capitalism In Cuba

From Granma:

Over the last eight years, self-employment in Cuba has continued to expand, from approximately 157,000 workers in 2010 to 589,000 in 2018, currently representing 13% of the country’s workforce.  
Minister of Labor and Social Security Margarita González Fernández, in a statement to Granma, commented that, as projected, this modality of employment has generated jobs, expanded options for the population, and freed the state from the responsibility of managing small scale activities that do not play an essential role in the national economy.
Quite a statement. No libertarian could put it any better. As the Cuban state says, workers are happier and the state is happier. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Cuban socialism.

The obvious next question is if it is working so well in "small scale activities" then would some injection also benefit large industries? That is a question we are debating in earnest in the United States and it is a normal one for capitalist countries.

And Cuba is also broadening internet access, though it is expensive and slow. But these measures build up over time. And what is the U.S. doing?
In 2015, President Obama allowed U.S. businesses to invest in Cuba's telecom sector. Shortly after that move, the Communist government opened hot spots to the public; previously only tourists and government officials could use the Internet, as NPR's Carrie Kahn reported.
The U.S. should be engaged with Cuba but of course it is not.


Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The Problem With Putting Venezuela on Terrorism List

For ten years Jason Blazakis managed the State Sponsors of Terrorism list at the State Department and he has some useful insights into the entire process, especially with regard to Venezuela. They are critical.

Labeling countries terrorist-supporting pariahs is an act of desperation — a “Hail Mary,” in football terms. Unless the international community shares the same sentiment, the country sanctioned will find ample opportunities to work around the SST tag.

And on Venezuela specifically:

The United States’ inconsistent application of the SST tag makes it harder for governments to accept U.S. arguments for strong action against countries it sees as threats. That’s why even if Venezuela is added to the list, it would not have the desired result — to convince the Maduro government to change its ways. Those ways though have little to do with terrorism. There is scant evidence to suggest that President Nicolas Maduro’s administration is providing material support to terrorist groups.

It is already hard to get Latin America to speak with one voice on anything, much less Venezuela. Doing this just throws a wrench into that because it generates distrust. Do this to Venezuela and everyone will immediately point to Saudi Arabia and Russia to ask, "Why not them"?

The answer is obvious. The list has been, is, and always will be based on constantly changing ideas of who we would like to label an enemy at any given time (we came to accept Libya and North Korea without any substantive change in what they were doing). Cuba was on for the longest time, which had no impact on its behavior, but which rolled eyes in Latin America. If there was evidence that it changed behavior, that's one thing. But there isn't any.

I wrote more about the implications of putting Venezuela on the list in November.


AMLO's New Model of Austerity

A week ago I wrote about AMLO is currently a bit of everything for everyone. This won't last, of course, but it shows considerable political acumen on his part. Enough detail to offer hope and not too much to box himself in.

As I have been reading accounts of his first few days in office, it also occurred to me that he has successfully owned the word "austerity." That word has always been pejorative for the left, which views it as a euphemism for cutting jobs, wage, and services for the poor. It is a word of the right, the Washington Consensus, the neoliberals, the Chicago Boys. AMLO is now showered with headlines about his austerity measures, which in fact thus far are aimed solely at higher level government officials and bureaucrats.

In his inaugural speech, he listed a wide range of things he would spend more money on, most notably education. It was not a typical austerity speech. This new austerity is inverted. You get rid of the presidential plane, spend more on education, and chop high level salaries.

Appropriating the word austerity is a PR win for AMLO. But like being something for everyone, the PR part can only last so long. The question is whether it translates into economic growth, jobs, and wages. I don't have an answer for that, but he is carving out a solid honeymoon period to get it going.


Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Implications of Not Recognizing Maduro

Boz notes the implications of governments refusing to recognize Nicolás Maduro as President of Venezuela after January 10, when he is being inaugurated for the fraudulent May 2018 election. He compares the situation to Honduras in 2009, when Roberto Micheletti proclaimed himself president but was never accepted as such.

It remains to be seen whether the hemisphere and allies in Europe can coordinate to treat Maduro as the same as Micheletti. If that strategy succeeds, Venezuela won’t have anyone as its leader unless the National Assembly names a new interim president. Maduro would lose access to Venezuela’s economic and diplomatic capabilities in many key locations abroad. The actions would further isolate Maduro and make it hard to run the country and the economy. More powerfully, after 10 January, many countries would not recognize Maduro’s arrest or removal from power as a coup because he is not recognized as the president.

His points are well taken, but there are two major differences in that Honduras is deeply dependent on the United States, whereas currently Venezuela relies largely on Russia and China, both of which will continue to recognize Maduro (he is actually going to see Vladimir Putin right now!). The second is that the coup government in Honduras had an expiration date. The coup was in June and there was a presidential election in November, so there was a strong sense that there would soon be an acceptable leader everyone could recognize (at which point, of course, everyone stopped even pretending to care about the violence and corruption at all). That is absent in Venezuela.

In general, I tend to think the economic pressure will be the greatest problem for Maduro. As Boz points out, there is already the threat of not getting Venezuela's gold out of England, and after January 10 it could just be even harder to get Venezuela's resources that happen to be abroad. How much will Russia and China be willing to fill that gap? Trade will continue, as not even the U.S. has taken the plunge into an oil embargo. If Maduro keeps the military loyal and has access to funds through PDVSA, he can last a while. But each one of these measures makes his situation more precarious and reliant on Russia and China.


Monday, December 03, 2018

Popular Participation in Cuba's Constitution

Cuba's state newspaper Granma announced that the drafting commission for the new constitution met to hear the results of popular feedback. The idea is to show how every single Cuban had a say somehow in this document, not unlike how 99.9% of Cubans voted for Fidel.

The Commission was informed of results from the recently concluded popular consultation, during which 133,681 meetings were held, with 8,945,521 persons attending.
That is a lot of people. Let's just say they aren't double counting. That is 80.5% of the entire population. Since 1.8 million Cubans are 14 years old or younger, they government is claiming that pretty much 100% of all Cubans aged 15 and older participated. Take that as you will.

In these meetings, 1,706,872 citizens spoke, making 783,174 proposals, (666,995 modifications, 32,149 additions, 45,548 eliminations, and 38,482 requests for clarification).
I am not sure what to make of this. The idea of too many chefs spoiling the soup hardly seems to fit. What if you have hundreds of thousands, even millions, of chefs?

Since Raúl Castro is the head of this committee, common sense and Occam's razor alike would suggest that there is in fact one chef, with a tiny handful of sous-chefs. But the image of popular input sure is pretty.


Sunday, December 02, 2018

Trump & Macri Show The Current State of US-Latin American Relations

Is there any better visual image of current U.S.-Latin American relations than this? Donald Trump and Mauricio Macri walk out on stage at the G20, in Macri's own country, then Trump marches off (even apparently saying, "Get me out of here") while Macri raises his arms in a universal "WTH?" motion and then is left lonely on the stage.

I don't know if it is prompted by confusion or what, but I don't think it is intended as a snub.  But in diplomacy you have to be careful because not bothering to know what you're doing in a high-level event is easily seen as snub.

Latin America reaches out, Trump has his own agenda and has no interest. Latin America looks around, wondering what the problem is. By then Trump has already forgotten about them. Showing that you don't care has a major impact even if you do not mean it to.

BTW, Trump has often wandered. Go to YouTube and simply do a "Trump wanders" search to see examples.


Saturday, December 01, 2018

Joshua Davis' Spare Parts

Joshua Davis' Spare Parts is a book about four undocumented teenagers at a low-income high school in Arizona who were led by an incredible science teacher who inspired them to participate (and then win) a national underwater robotics competition that included college teams (even MIT). It is a feel-good book but the ending lays bare how horrible our immigration system is.

They do not have much money so they have to borrow and find innovative ways to make parts work. They even note how this in no small part comes from watching family members fix cars, lay piping, and other things that they did not have much money for. But they were committed, even when constantly faced with their immigration status and poverty.

Davis shows how their country didn't care. One teen, Oscar, was in the ROTC and wanted to give back to his country by joining the military. He didn't realize he wasn't allowed to. The kids wanted to go to college, but Arizona changed its laws to make sure they had to pay out of state tuition they couldn't afford. Some were simply unable and had to struggle to make a living after graduating. We always say those are the people we want, those are the skills we want, but we place barrier after barrier in front of them.


Friday, November 30, 2018

AMLO Is A Bit of Everything For Everyone

I don't tend to pay much attention to who attends presidential inaugurations, but it feels like AMLO's is about a diverse as you can get. And that's something he's making a big deal of. His choice as Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard, keeps tweeting as he gets confirmations.

You have Mike Pence, Nicolás Maduro, Ivanka Trump, Daniel Ortega, (or someone close to him), Evo Morales, Miguel Díaz-Canel, Michelle Bachelet, governors, mayors, and former mayors of U.S. cities, there is Palestinian representation, Iván Duque, Jeremy Corbyn, and the list goes on.

At this particular moment, AMLO is a bit of all things to all people outside the country. He is the leftist who can influence Venezuela, he is the non-interventionist with regard to Venezuela, he is the pragmatist who can handle Donald Trump, he is the leftist who will help the poor, he is the pragmatist who won't radicalize economic reforms, he is center-left like Lula.

It will be very hard to be all these things and we know you can never tell until the person has been inaugurated. A lot of Latin American presidents have acted very differently from what was expected at the time of their election, which in some cases created serious rifts or even crises (e.g. Juan Manuel Santos and Lenín Moreno recently, with Carlos Menem and Alberto Fujimori in the past).

It is a positive sign, however, that he begins his term in office with a sense of universal goodwill from abroad. He will need it because so many of his challenges have international connections of some sort.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Podcast Episode 60: Foreign Policy in Latin America

In Episode 60 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Luis Schenoni, who is a Ph.D. student in Political Science at Notre Dame University. His research focuses on the interaction of domestic and international politics in Latin America. They discuss his work on Latin American foreign policy change and U.S.-Latin American relations, and how he uses different methods to analyze them.

If you subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or elsewhere it will be showing up soon.

As a reminder, check out my Open Access textbook Understanding Latin American Politics.


U.S. Priorities in Latin America

Chris Sabatini has an op-ed in The New York Times on U.S. policy toward Latin America. I agree with his argument that the U.S. is focusing so much on authoritarian governments that it is completely ignoring the democracies. The U.S. can walk and chew gum at the same time, and it should.

What this means is paying attention to what Latin American themselves want. Not what we want or what we think they should want (which has been a consistent problem in U.S.-Latin American relations).

Public opinion surveys show that Latin Americans care primarily about economic opportunity, corruption, security and immigration — none issues addressed by Mr. Bolton. Ignoring citizens’ concerns will mean derailing the chance for long-term partnerships between Washington and countries in the region, and sacrificing potential support for human rights and democracy.
Chris notes the importance of addressing corruption in particular. This is the ideal focus because you can simultaneously focus on dictatorships and the pent-up disgust in democracies. Nail money launderers from Venezuela and Guatemala alike.

Immigration is, of course, a lost cause. Trade is too. So there aren't even many potential avenues of engagement anymore.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Latin America Links: Lots of Bad News

Bad news abounds and there is commentary on it.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Maduro Invites Bachelet

Nicolás Maduro issued a formal invitation to Michelle Bachelet to visit Venezuela in her capacity as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

La misiva, firmada por el presidente Nicolás Maduro, convida a la exmandataria a observar y conocer en detalle “las repercusiones negativas que las medidas coercitivas unilaterales impuestas por factores adversos a Venezuela, han tenido contra los Derechos Humanos del pueblo venezolano”. 

She said she would visit all parties involved. Maduro had said before that she was welcome to visit Venezuela. She puts him in an interesting spot. She has leftist credentials, which makes it quite a bit harder for him to stiff arm her. By the same token, he might figure she is the most likely to give him a sympathetic report. If she writes a report that suggests equal blame for everyone, it would be a big PR win. I don't think she would do this, but I imagine he is clinging to that hope because if she assigns primary blame to the government, it hurts him.


DoD's Take on Latin America

Here is an interesting contrast. Secretary of Defense James Mattis talking at SOUTHCOM:

“To some who look around the globe, the last two years might have seemed like bad ones for democracy. But not so when I look at our hemisphere,” Mattis said. “From Ottawa to Buenos Aires to Santiago, we increasingly find an island of hemispheric opportunity and democratic stability, amidst a churning and ever-changing global sea.”
And then outgoing commander Admiral Kurt Tidd, who prefaced it by saying he would be more candid:
"Gang violence is rampant and growing across Central America, and is spreading from major South American cities into transnational groupings. Illegal armed groups and transnational organized crime are carving out tacit control of swaths of territory, pushing out state and local governments,” Adm. Tidd said. “This produced wide swaths of under-governed or semi-governed spaces, which have become centers of corruption, of economic hopelessness, of illegitimate power centers that have already eaten away at the fabric of many societies, co-opting ruling elites and businessmen.”
Mattis' take is not what you would call a common one. But I have also noted in the past how Tidd overemphasized Middle Eastern terrorism and Russia's threat in Latin America. What he says is certainly true in some places, but it's not everywhere. For Tidd, the glass is not half empty, it is totally empty and smashed on the ground.


Monday, November 26, 2018

Russians Want Their Money From Venezuela

The head of a major Russian oil company, Rosneft, went to Venezuela to let Nicolás Maduro know he was not happy about delayed oil shipments that were repaying loans. Reuters estimates Rosneft loans to equal about $17 billion since 2006. The added twist is that he complained further that Venezuela was paying China on time, but not Russia. The Russian government also recently made it clear it would not loan any more money to Venezuela given the current situation.

The point here is one I have made before about both Russia and China, but it bears repeating. You need to look beyond the simple "They are in our backyard to cause mischief and threaten us." The fact of the matter is that they want their money back. They are doing this in large to make a profit and fuel their own economies. The more Venezuela collapses, the more concerned they get. There is every reason to believe that if the government falls, a new one will try to get debt relief. So they need to balance the urgency of getting money back with trying to keep the government just afloat. This becomes just as much a matter of money as it is politics.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle Book 6

I read the sixth and final book of Karl Ove Knausgaard's autobiographical My Struggle, which was far longer and less cohesive than its predecessors.

The first part of the book is meta, and not necessarily in a good way. The previous books were about his life, but now he has caught up and his life is centered on the reception of the books. So you end up in a loop as people you've already read about now themselves read the same for the first time and respond to Knausgaard. His uncle is apoplectic, which worries him. That got old for me fairly quickly, though Knausgaard is just so good at capturing emotion that I was still drawn to it.

Since the book came out so long ago in Norwegian, I knew there was a long middle part about Hitler. Knausgaard was trying to figure out whether he, in the midst of his own struggle with life, could have ended up the same way as Hitler if placed in the same context. So he reads Mein Kampf (it's a bit of "I read Mein Kampf so you don't have to"). Hitler as a youth was into art and did not stand out in any particular way, then as he matured figured out how to give a "we" to people that he could manipulate. I actually found this part interesting mostly because of our current political situation than as a connection to Knausgaard. Since it was written so long ago, it is totally unrelated to the fascism (or proto-fascism) that we face today but it's still relevant. People search for meaning and fascism gives it to them, with ready made enemies.

As he tries to explain his feelings about his own place in the world, and how he wants to relate to it, he tends to fall back on what to my untrained eye feels like literary theory jargon, citing novels, poems, and paintings (sometimes densely packed together in a string) and using words like "intertextuality" in sentences that seem never-ending. Here, in the middle, the book slowed to a crawl for me.

"Explanation is anathema in these texts, all meaning must be extracted from the events portrayed, which are not relative, only unfathomable" (p. 682).

That gets old. Hundreds of sometimes overwrought pages bring us to his conclusion that we find "we" in being human. "I am you" (p. 830). It took me weeks to get through it. The "I" vs. "we" permeates his life after the first volume of My Struggle was published, because writing alone about your life is "I" but as soon as it is published, the "I" becomes "we" since so many other real people are portrayed and, more importantly, hurt. That is where all the angst comes in.

After the Hitler digression, Knausgaard returns to his life, but again it is primarily about being the author of a biographical novel. Unlike all the other books, I can't connect to this. The previous books all had universal qualities (at least, I hasten to add, to a cisgender middle aged white male who grew up in the 80s), parts of growing up that I could see in myself. That was not so often the case with this book. But he is still such evocative writer that I enjoyed it, albeit less on a personal level. The same goes with his discussion of his wife Linda, with whom he seems perpetually annoyed and who he seems not to be in love with at all. He describes her manic episodes, both high and low, in detail that must be awful to her. He loves his children but not her so much. It is sad to read and clear that they will not be married much longer (they are divorced now).

I'm glad in a way. With the five previous books, I wanted to read the next one immediately. Now the narrative is done and that feels right.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Race 13: University City Turkey Trot 5K

In my year of running I did the University City Turkey Trot 5K (here is my first post about running this year). We've done this or some other run for many years, as a way to get some exercise before spending the rest of the day cooking and eating. It is a simple, relatively flat there-and-back course not too far from where I live.

It was a perfect morning for running, clear, sunny and probably high 30s at the start. It was the biggest ever, with over 800 runners. That is quite a thing for a basic suburban race, but there were a lot of kids, a lot of walkers, and just a lot of people interested in getting out early on the big day.

Next up: the Kiawah Island Marathon in just two (gulp) weeks.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

How Mexico's Militarized Drug War Screws Up Everything

Gustavo Flores-Macías, "The Consequences of Militarizing Anti-Drug Efforts for State Capacity in Latin America: Evidence From Mexico," Comparative Politics 51, 1 (October 2018): 1-20.

Abstract (ungated, at least right now).

In response to the threat posed by drug-trafficking organizations, developing countries are increasingly relying on the armed forces for their counter-drug strategies. Drawing on the literature on violence and state capacity, this article studies how the militarization of anti-drug efforts affects state capacity along two dimensions: public safety and fiscal extraction. It advances theoretical expectations for this relationship and evaluates them in the context of Mexico. Based on subnational-level analyses, it shows that the militarization of anti-drug efforts has decreased the state's capacity to provide public order and extract fiscal resources: homicide and kidnapping rates have increased while tax collection has decreased. Given the wide-ranging consequences of diminished state capacity, the findings have implications not only for Latin America but also across the developing world.
Really interesting qualitative analysis. The first point is intuitive--as the state focuses on militarization, it actually ratchets up violence. Homicides increase as Drug Trafficking Organization generate greater firepower in response. Meanwhile, the military itself was also responsible for deaths.

The second point, about tax collection, is something that has not occurred to me before. All the increased violence increases a general sense of dissatisfaction with the government.

In addition to dissatisfaction, the prevalence of extortion in the context of deteriorated public safety has also affected fiscal extraction. As media reports have shown, extortion payments often prevent people from fulfilling their tax obligations, since people’s resources are limited and the threat to their physical integrity is imminent if they do not pay extortionists. For example, mining companies are forced to pay high protection fees to ship minerals through certain parts of Durango. In Michoacan, mining companies pay DTOs 7 USD per ton of iron ore extracted. In Veracruz, media reports point to the choice small businesses face of meeting their tax obligations or paying extortion fees in order to stay afloat.
People are mad, businesses are being shook down like never before, and so tax revenue also goes down. Lose-lose-lose.


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Impact of Making Venezuela A State Sponsor of Terrorism

The Trump administration is considering putting Venezuela on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, which currently only has North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Sudan. There are variety of angles here, such as criteria (which Boz discusses), purpose, and utility. I want to focus on something else, which is human impact. The notion of putting Venezuela on the list has been around a long time, but the difference now is that there is a humanitarian disaster in Venezuela.

If Venezuela is put on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, the administration will have hoops to jump if it wants to provide humanitarian assistance. From Section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act:

PROHIBITION.—The United States shall not provide any assistance under this Act, the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954, the Peace Corps Act, or the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945 to any country if the Secretary of State determines that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.
The President can, however, call for a waiver:

(1) the President determines that national security interests or humanitarian reasons justify a waiver of subsection (a), except that humanitarian reasons may not be used to justify assistance under part II of this Act (including chapter 4, chapter 6, and chapter 8), or the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945; and (2) at least 15 days before the waiver takes effect, the President consults with the Committee on Foreign Affairs 951 of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate regarding the proposed waiver and submits a report to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate containing— (A) the name of the recipient country; (B) a description of the national security interests or humanitarian reasons which require the waiver; (C) the type and amount of and the justification for the assistance to be provided pursuant to the waiver; and (D) the period of time during which such waiver will be effective.  
The waiver authority granted in this subsection may not be used to provide any assistance under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which is also prohibited by section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act. 
A legitimate question to ask here is whether the administration would ever bother sending aid to Venezuela in the first place. Aid is aimed at neighboring countries dealing with refugees, since any aid sent to Venezuela would certainly disappear.

But there is also the question of oil. In 2018, the United States has imported anywhere from roughly 13,000 to 20,000 barrels per month from Venezuela. That has been on a decline over the years, given that when Hugo Chávez took office it was more like 50,000. But still, this is not an insignificant amount and cutting it off (i.e. embargo) would have a major negative impact on the Venezuelan economy and by extension on the average Venezuelan.

Section 620J of the Export Administration Act lays out the hoops:

(j) COUNTRIES SUPPORTING INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM.—(1) A validated license shall be required for the export of goods or technology to a country if the Secretary of State has made the following determinations: 
(A) The government of such country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. (B) The export of such goods or technology could make a significant contribution to the military potential of such country, including its military logistics capability, or could enhance
the ability of such country to support acts of international terrorism.
(2) The Secretary and the Secretary of State shall notify the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate at least 30 days before issuing any validated license required by paragraph (1).
In short, potential humanitarian assistance and oil exports would be affected, but there are ways around the restrictions. I might write some other time about why the U.S. should bother doing this to Venezuela.


Trump and Colombia

Lara Seligman has a curious article in Foreign Policy about U.S. policy toward Latin America. The U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff was in Colombia, which was "part of a broader administration effort to reinforce alliances across Latin America."

All the U.S. did, though, was to complain. Is this what we call "reinforce" now? We're upset you're working with China. We're upset you're not buying our weapons systems. We're upset about the Russians. The article mentions "new alliances" but the U.S. does not appear to be pursuing any.

It boils down to the core idea that the U.S. is desperately holding onto existing military-military relationships so that they don't slip away entirely. The Colombian example is especially illustrative in this regard because it should be the simplest--the two countries and their militaries have been working closely together for many years. And yet even that one is more challenging these days.

Why is it so hard nowadays? Well, you know.

Donald Trump just recently cancelled a scheduled trip to Colombia, which is his second cancellation in a presidency less than two years old. Just a year ago he threatened to decertify Colombia for narcotics, which was a clear insult. Two months ago he mentioned the need for Colombia to combat the scourge of cocoa.

Diplomats, the military, and everyone else is fighting an uphill battle when the President of the United States has made abundantly clear that he does not particularly value the bilateral relationship. Perhaps the main goal for the moment is to maintain those personal relationships developed over years of such visits until someone else occupies the Oval House.


Monday, November 19, 2018

Maduro's Off Ramp, Or Is it?

Patrick Duddy, a former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela who is now at Duke, wrote a blog post for the Council on Foreign Relations about creating an "off ramp" for Nicolás Maduro. He hopes AMLO will play an important role.

While some ex-presidents from around the region have expressed their alarm over what they see as AMLO breaking ranks with those countries advocating for the restoration of democracy, it is possible AMLO’s independent streak may position him to play a decisive part in bringing this agonizing chapter of Venezuelan history to an end. Because he has played no role in recent regional efforts to force change in Venezuela, he may be the one leader acceptable to both the opposition and the Venezuelan government, and thus able to convince the Maduro administration to leave office.
This makes sense to me, but two points need more attention.

First, there is a huge difference between Maduro and "the Maduro administration." The former is an individual and the latter is a large, tightly bound web of corruption that includes the military. I feel like the two get conflated in the post. It is one thing to ease out Maduro, but doing more requires the military, which is not mentioned. AMLO could be up to the former task, but the latter is so much bigger. Anyhow, simply replacing Maduro with another regime figure does not necessarily entail much substantive change.

Second, Duddy writes something I've seen elsewhere: "This situation is not indefinitely sustainable." Well, define "indefinitely." No, it is not sustainable until the end of time, but it is definitely sustainable for quite a long time. Like Fidel Castro's, the regime's demise has been predicted for many years. This brings us back to the military. Robert Mugabe was ousted when the army finally decided it was time. The whole thing might collapse tomorrow but it is not inevitable.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review of When They Call You a Terrorist

Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele's When They Call You A Terrorist is a powerful memoir by the woman who started Black Lives Matter. BLM is so demonized by the right that many people likely know nothing about it but form negative opinions anyway. The book is so eloquent because it just describes a family, whose lives the state has really decided don't matter. Her brother has schozaffective disorder, but is arrested and then tortured (in ways that rival Abu Ghraib) in prison because no one is interested that his episodes can be effectively treated. In general, prisons are there to make money and the lives within them literally do not matter. Black lives in particular simply do not matter--men are automatically guilty and women have to pick up the pieces with inadequate resources. Children suffer all the consequences and too many live without hope.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors dedicated her life to organizing against discrimination and hate, in the face of all kinds of structural obstacles, all the more challenging as a queer woman. She gains and then loses her biological father, gains and loses the other father who had been in her life at times. She deals with the prison system in ways most of us with comfortable (and white) lives simply cannot imagine.

The media generally treats BLM as radical, but the only radical idea here is that people should literally be treated equally. You don't see rancor in this memoir. There's far more worry and longing, with hope sprinkled in. You should read it.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Evangelicals and Democracy in Brazil

Amy Erica Smith writes in Americas Quarterly about evangelicalism and politics in Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro uses it to justify violence, but there are other issues. Evangelicals in Brazil, like the U.S., see their values as threatened, which increases the chances of pushing to pass laws related to things and people they deem immoral. Democracy in the abstract, restriction of democracy in practice.

Evangelicalism has been on the rise for quite a while in Latin America and as its adherents gain the presidency or even perhaps congressional majorities (or at least pluralities) that tension will only become more common.

Across the region, evangelicals are increasingly mobilizing for conservative candidates and causes. In Colombia, for instance, they helped defeat the 2016 peace referendum. And in Costa Rica and Chile in recent years, evangelicals suddenly sprang from quiescence into action when faced with the imminent threat of the legalization of gay marriage and abortion rights. In Brazil, a fear of what has been called “gender ideology” fired up the religious vote that in turn contributed to Bolsonaro’s victory on Oct. 28.
And although the U.S. is not the cause of this development, it can give it inspiration and perhaps even a model.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Chileans Want Out of Venezuela

The Chilean government is sending an Air Force plane to get hundreds of Chileans in Venezuela who want out. They've already rescued Haitians from there. The idea is to get people who do not have the means to leave themselves, though it's unclear how that is defined or checked. I can't get the iconic image of the last people trying to leave Vietnam on a helicopter off the top of a building out of my mind.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government is retrieving Venezuelans in Chile, who initially fled but then could not find work or for whatever reason do not want to stay in Chile. We do need to put that in context, because around 177,000 Venezuelans arrived in Chile last year alone and only about 200 want to go back. So that's more of a PR thing (the capitalists lied to you!) than reality. The Venezuelan government has been doing this on and off all year.

If you take a step back, it's just madness. Way back in 1979, sociologist Saskia Sassen, who has published a ton on migration, wrote the following about Venezuela in International Migration Review:

Since 1973 there has been a pronounced increase in the numbers of permanent residents, registered entries of foreigners, naturalizations, and legalizations of undocumented workers. By October 1977, the total number of foreigners in Venezuela with residence permits had reached almost 1.2 million in a total population of 13 million. This figure is quite high considering that, in 1961, after a decade of massive immigration, there were only about half a million such foreigners and that by 1971 their number was only slightly higher. Although the 1960s saw the addition of almost 80,000 foreigners, there was also a loss of 57,800 persons with permanent residence permits. With the exception of 1969, each year of the 1960s recorded a loss of permanent residents. The reversal of this trend toward large increases in the number of permanent and temporary residence permits granted occurred over a rather short period of time, doubling the resident population between 1971 and 1977.
Venezuela was always known as a haven for those being persecuted by dictatorships. But it was also a magnet for immigrants because of economic growth and labor scarcity. For a long time, it was the most desirable location for Latin America. Everything now is literally the exact opposite.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Podcast Episode 59: Using the Venezuelan Crisis in the U.S.

In Episode 59 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I go solo and take a look at an issue that has bugged me, which is the use of the Venezuelan crisis in the United States. That revolves around the argument that Democrats will turn the U.S. into Venezuela. As you might guess, this is an argument without merit but it raises interesting questions about how Venezuela got to where it is today.

If you subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or elsewhere it will be showing up soon.

As a reminder, check out my Open Access textbook Understanding Latin American Politics.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

What US Aid Does in Guatemala

Great story by Sandra Cuffe at The Intercept on U.S. military aid to Guatemala. Ostensibly it's just about jeeps, but that reveals a deeper problem. And not really new. The U.S. pours money into small, less developed countries, and ends up making things worse, in no small part because the aid ends up helping authoritarian forces.

Roughly two hours after the jeeps were first spotted outside the offices of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala — CICIG, by its Spanish acronym — Morales stood inside the National Palace flanked by military and police officials and announced that he would not renew CICIG’s mandate, sparking legal challenges, protests, and an ongoing political crisis. The deployment of the jeeps deepened concerns among many Guatemalans about Morales  — all the more so when the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala revealed that the vehicles had been donated by the United States for use in border regions, not the capital. Morales and his backers have been courting the support of the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers against CICIG, and there are signs that the U.S. government’s longstanding support for the commission is weakening.
Jeeps alone are not the point. It's more about what green lights the U.S. government, meaning the Trump administration, is giving. These days the message is that you can use our aid to fight against democracy. We don't mind. In fact, we do not particularly like fighting corruption anymore.

Jimmy Morales is a sycophant to Trump and so this and other incidences will go unremarked by the administration. Guatemalan democracy--already in tatters--will suffer as a result.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Moving Away from Anti-Relations in Latin America

Chris Sabatini has a rundown of the possible impact of the midterm elections on U.S. policy toward Latin America. One thing that really strikes me is that there is no agenda at all for engagement. Trump is anti-trade, anti-immigrant, anti-leftist, anti-CICIG etc. whereas some of the more prominent members of the new House majority are anti-trade but also anti-anti immigrant, anti-Bolsonaro, anti-Venezuela, and so on.

What are we for?

Chris mentions accountability for foreign aid, which is fine, but it's oversight more than policy itself. When John Bolton gave his speech, it was all anti. Here is what we really dislike. Is there anything in the hemisphere that we like? Even with Democrats in the House: beyond trying to treat immigrants with humanity, what are their positive priorities in the region beyond platitudes about democracy?

What about the Colombian peace deal? What about CICIG? What about trade? What about climate change?

Update (11/11/18): Pushing for TPS is certainly one good example.


Friday, November 09, 2018

Bolsonaro's International Priorities Do Not Include Argentina

Jair Bolsonaro announced his first trips as president: he will be going to Chile, Washington, and Israel. Dilma Rousseff's first trip was to Argentina, which makes sense given the historical importance of the bilateral relationship, and it's a common choice for either Brazilian or Argentine presidents. But Bolsonaro is not particularly interested in Argentina or Mercosur.

All three are highly ideological choices. There is an obvious affinity between Bolsonaro and Trump, even though their ideologies sometimes take them in diametrically opposed directions. Both are nationalist, which puts up an automatic barrier to trade discussions even as they agree on many other things. Israel (and where embassies are located) is just part of the same ideological track. Chile is more pragmatic--Sebastián Piñera is not an ideological soulmate, but Bolsonaro's Economic Minister is a fan of the Chicago Boys and in fact Bolsonaro once praised Augusto Pinochet and said he should have killed more people.

For the moment, this leaves Argentina behind. Mauricio Macri is conservative but the economy is not doing well and Bolsonaro does not want to be tied to it. Interestingly, the Argentine and Brazilian militaries show signs of wanting to deepen relations, which can occur regardless of the presidents' priorities, just as U.S. military to military relations continue no matter what's going on at higher political levels.


Thursday, November 08, 2018

Venezuela and MTurk

Economic crisis generates unexpected consequences. A group of political scientists write in The Monkey Cage blog about Mechanical Turk (MTurk), which is an online survey program hosted by Amazon. You can put a survey out there and users who fit your requirements can fill it out. You get data and they get a bit of Amazon credit, like a nickel or a dime at a time (you can go check it out here). It is widely used, both by marketers and researchers. Political scientists use it extensively.

This actually connects to Venezuela. Economic deprivation has led people to use VPN to get into MTurk and take tons of surveys they aren't qualified to take, and in fact the user may not even speak English. They then can build up credits, buy something, and then resell it for cash.

Some researchers suggest that the fraudulent respondents were based in India. We looked at the number of international respondents who apparently forgot to turn on their VPSs, allowing us to see from where they were connecting with the Internet. While a number of connections were from India, making up about 12 percent of the international IPs, even more — almost 18 percent — came from Venezuela. 
We also combed online forums for MTurk users and found several Venezuelan Turkers who bragged about subverting the restrictions on international users. One detailed how he would acquire credit from MTurk, use that credit to purchase cellphones, and then have a friend in Miami ship him the cellphones.
All of this suggests that the MTurk crisis may have a surprising root. Venezuela’s economic crisis, with inflation heading toward 1 million percent. Some desperate Venezuelans are using online games to win virtual goods that they can sell for real money. Something similar seems to be happening on MTurk.

Shoot, if I were in Venezuela I would probably do the same.


Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Immigration and the Midterms

Some thoughts on the midterm elections, where Democrats took the House while Republicans strengthened their Senate majority by a bit.

In our book Irresistible Forces, which came out 8 years ago, my dad and I discussed public opinion, which is hard to pin down on on immigration because there are so many different angles. The snapshot we gave was basically 2006-2010, and one point was that despite all the rhetoric, voters deemed undocumented immigration be to be the 4th or 5th most pressing problem. We added:

As the demographic fit concludes over the next several years, however, these numbers may well become more negative (p. 106).
That seems to have played out. Xenophobia was definitely a problem back then, but not on the scale that we see now, so the negativity has not just grown, it has become more virulent and openly racist.

Preliminary exit polls suggested that health care was by far the most pressing issue, while immigration was pretty close to tied with the economy. What has changed most noticeably is the partisan divide. Immigration is big (negatively, of course) with Republicans but not for Democrats, who are focused much more on health care. How much those issues affected any specific race is up for debate and likely will never be known for sure.

And the Latino vote? I have not seen any numbers yet. Instead, we have the same message we've heard for at least a decade, with lots of talk of promise and expectations. Empirically, this has usually translated into incremental increases in vote totals that have yet to become a decisive factor in many races. But let's wait and see once we get some more concrete numbers.


Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Foreign Policy Change in Latin America

Merke, Federico, Diego Reynoso, and Luis L.Schenoni (2020) "Foreign Policy Change in Latin America: Exploring a Middle-Range Concept." Latin American Research Review, forthcoming, pp. 1-33.

Abstract (full text here):

In this article, we examine patterns of change and continuity in Latin American foreign  policies. We do so by asking two interrelated questions: How can we conceptually and empirically account for foreign policy change? And why do states change their foreign  policies in Latin America? To answer these questions, we used the results of a new expert survey on foreign policy preferences in the region between 1980 and 2014. The results we obtained using both linear and non-parametric specifications are very clear and consistent: presidential ideology is what matters the most. Simply put, a change in the ideology of the president produces a change in foreign policy that is almost equivalent in magnitude, all other theoretically relevant factors set to their means.
Using a survey of experts, this article confirms what has often been argued, that Latin American presidents drive foreign policy. Therefore it can change dramatically according to ideology.  The authors note that presidents can be limited by state bureaucracies (i.e. the infamous "deep state") but their whims matter. The international system matters but again, presidents have a lot of leeway.

From a theoretical perspective, this raises the structure/agency issue (though it is not their specific goal). On the one hand, presidents can make a lot of changes. On the other, they face structural restraints at the international level. Peripheral realists (a theory developed in Latin America) have made the argument that presidents can and should make decisions for the good of their own citizens, and the international system does not necessarily make that impossible. However, they have to be cognizant of what decisions might generate backlash (i.e. from a hegemon) and be wary of making them.


The U.S. is Losing to China in Latin America

China imposed a 25% tariff on U.S. soybeans in response to President Trump's launch of a trade war.  China's strategy is to wean itself off U.S. soy. A major part of this effort is to pay closer attention to Latin America, which I mentioned two months ago in a sort of "wait and see" kind of way. Now we are seeing. Here are some results this year:

  • Chinese business has developed a strong soy export sector in Paraguay.

  • China wants to import soy from Bolivia but this year announced there was something wrong with it, so was going only with quinoa and coffee. Stay tuned, I guess.
The implications here are obvious. The trade war has deepened and accelerated China's economic relationships with South America, which had already been growing rapidly in the last decade or two. Once those kinds of ties are forged, they do not disappear quickly. If Trump insists on dragging out the trade, U.S. soy farmers will eventually have to fight for re-entrance in a market they lost.


Monday, November 05, 2018

Cuba's Economy Slows

The Cuban government reduced its 2018 growth projection from 2% to 1% (here is a longer article in Granma about the Council of Ministers meeting, where the low projection is buried among a load of other things). The Minister of the Economy and Planning did not elaborate beyond saying the state was not receiving as much with regard to the harvest (zafra), tourism, and minerals. But hurricanes have hurt the economy, not to mention Hurricane Trump.

I assume many will take this as vindication of rolling back some of the changes made during the Obama administration. This depends on your goals. If you want simply to punish Cubans, this can be seen as successful. If you want regime change, this does not seem like such a good thing, especially when viewed in historical perspective. To put it mildly, there is no evidence that U.S. sanctions encourage state actors in Cuba to do anything you want them to.

I am not saying anything new here but there is no harm in repeating it. Clubbing Cuba over the head has not worked before.


Sunday, November 04, 2018

Lempira Restaurant

The latest in my periodic look at Latin American restaurants in Charlotte, businesses run by the same immigrant community being vilified for the midterm elections. These are U.S. businesses contributing to the economy and to the diversity of the community. I went to Lempira, a Salvadoran-Honduran-Mexican restaurant (this trio is not uncommon here). Lempira, incidentally, is also the name of the Honduran currency. There are actually four locations around Charlotte. We went to the one on South Boulevard. It was clearly a popular place for families on a Sunday afternoon.

Among us, we tried pupusas with beans and rice on the side, the tacos dorados Aztecas (my 10 year old daughter, who was looking for something familiar), and baleada, a Honduran dish, of which there are several options for fillings (in this case it was eggs, cheese, and avocado). Everything was delicious and there was a lot of food. The service was wonderful.

The last place I wrote about was Panadería y Restaurante Salvadoreña.


Saturday, November 03, 2018

Venezuela's Economic Helpers

I imagine Nicolás Maduro first turned to the Cubans to come up with an economic stabilization plan. Since the Cubans are serious debtors who don't know much about economic prosperity beyond finding patrons, they were not the best advisers. They're quite good at dictatorship, though, and have been helpful in that regard.

So now he is asking the Russians for advisers. That is according to the Russians, who also make clear that since Venezuela has also not been so good with debt, they will be receiving only advice, not money. In fact, Vladimir Putin has not even decided yet whether he wants to provide such an adviser. I can't imagine why he wouldn't, as it seems a low-risk way of maintaining and even increasing Russian influence.

The Russians think Maduro may have also asked the Chinese government for an adviser. The Chinese are similarly wary of giving more money but they also like influence.

I wonder, though, whether they can advise much beyond just saying, "You're totally screwed."


Friday, November 02, 2018

John Bolton's Troika of Tyranny Speech (With Text)

I finally had a chance to read the text of John Bolton's speech yesterday about U.S. policy toward Latin America, though really mostly aimed at Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba. The "troika of tyranny" phrase is just so...Russian.

The timing of the speech is aimed at the midterm election to get out the South Florida vote, and it is a pretty standard "get tough" thing, without much content. And there is also no mention of the dicey problem of how without the 14th amendment, many Cuban-Americans in the audience would now be Cubans (like, for example, Marco Rubio).

It is well known that the first half of the George W. Bush administration was a disaster in Latin America, with lots of insult hurling ("You're Hitler!" "No, YOU'RE Hitler!") that Hugo Chávez used to his advantage. Especially after Tom Shannon took over as a top Latin America advisor, that toned down and more actual work got done. Well, we're back to where we started. Shannon is out and Bolton is back in. How else to explain inane comments like these?

These tyrants fancy themselves strongmen and revolutionaries, icons and luminaries. In reality, they are clownish, pitiful figures more akin to Larry, Curly, and Moe. The three stooges of socialism are true believers, but they worship a false God.
Diplomacy becomes the equivalent of primates throwing poop around and waiting expectantly for some to be thrown back.

The text of the speech, as given to the press, is below.

Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor Ambassador John R. Bolton Delivers
Remarks on the Trump Administration’s Policies in Latin America at Miami Dade College

Miami, FL
Thursday, November 1, 2018
Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Representative Ros-Lehtinen, for your kind introduction. I also want to thank Dr. Rodicio
for the invitation to speak with all of you today in such a beautiful setting.

It is an honor to be in Miami to address so many friends on a subject of utmost importance to the
President, to me, and to this entire administration: U.S. policy toward Latin America.

Across our administration, we are working hard to strengthen bonds and deepen ties with several
responsible governments throughout the region.

The United States is thrilled to be partnering with nations such as Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and many others to advance the rule of law and increase security and prosperity for our people.

The recent elections of likeminded leaders in key countries, including Ivan Duque in Colombia, and last weekend Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, are positive signs for the future of the region, and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent, and accountable

Yet today, in this Hemisphere, we are also confronted once again with the destructive forces of
oppression, socialism, and totalitarianism.

In Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, we see the perils of poisonous ideologies left unchecked, and the
dangers of domination and suppression.

This afternoon, I am here to deliver a clear message from the President of the United States on our
policy toward these three regimes.

Under this administration, we will no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores in this

We will not reward firing squads, torturers, and murderers.

We will champion the independence and liberty of our neighbors.

And this President, and his entire administration, will stand with the freedom fighters.

The Troika of Tyranny in this Hemisphere—Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua—has finally met its

There is no better place to deliver this message than right here in Miami, at the Freedom Tower.
Miami is home to countless Americans, who fled the prisons and death squads of the Castro regime in Cuba, the murderous dictatorships of Chavez and Maduro in Venezuela, and the horrific violence of the 1980s and the brutal reign of Ortega in Nicaragua.

In every corner of Miami, you will find someone who has endured years in Castro’s infamous
Combinado del Este political prison, or has been tortured in Maduro’s Helicoide prison, or has a loved one still languishing in Ortega’s El Chipote prison.

Others who call Miami home have escaped anti-Semitism and prejudice that has unfortunately existed in the region.

Anti-Semitism has no place in the United States, or anywhere in the world. We all have a responsibility to confront this heinous hatred, whether it occurs in Pittsburgh, Caracas, or in any other city.

Many of you in the audience today have personally suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of the
regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, only to survive, fight back, conquer, and overcome.

You breathe the free air of this beautiful city. Your children have experienced the possibilities of liberty.

And your grandchildren will never know the firsthand heartache of repression.

Your descendants can be anything, and achieve anything. They can attend this great institution, Miami Dade College, or even stand one day alongside the President.

And as they grow and flourish in America, they will carry with them your history, your sacrifice, and the memories of your incredible triumph. Their success will be your enduring legacy.

In the United States, we frequently hear the stories of Americans who came to our country for a better
life, and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, through hard work and sacrifice.

Today, I would ask that when you think of the American Dream, and this iconic imagery, you also
envision something else.

Generations of Americans have been inspired to thrive in liberty and freedom not only because of the
rewards of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice, but also because of the inalienable rights bestowed on every American and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

These fundamental liberties are represented forever by the red, white, and blue of our Old Glory, and
defended from harm by the greatest military on the face of the earth.

The American Dream depends on hard work and self-sufficiency, yes, but even more so on the
knowledge of what freedom makes possible: the awareness that you can chart your own destiny, the
cognizance that you are free to speak, to think, to write, to pray, to live.

Everyone here today understands this fundamental truth. There is no glamor in gulags and labor camps, in death squads and propaganda machines, in mass executions and in the sound of terrorizing screams from the depths of the world’s most notorious prisons.

These are the true consequences of socialism and communism. This is the price of freedom’s
extinguished flame.

As the President has said, the problems we see in Latin America today have not emerged because
socialism has been implemented poorly. On the contrary, the Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan
people suffer in misery because socialism has been implemented effectively.

In Cuba, a brutal dictatorship under the façade of a new figurehead continues to undermine democratic institutions, and jail and torture opponents.

In Venezuela and Nicaragua, desperate autocratic leaders, hell-bent on maintaining their grip on power, have joined their Cuban counterparts in the same oppressive behavior of unjust imprisonment, torture, and murder.

This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the
cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a
sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere.

Under President Trump, the United States is taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty, and basic human decency in our region.

As the President has repeatedly made clear, America’s security and prosperity benefits when freedom
thrives near our shores.

In Cuba, we continue to stand firmly with the Cuban people, and we share their aspirations for real,
democratic change.

Members of this administration will never take a picture in front of Che Guevara, plastered over the
Cuban ministry that runs the National Revolutionary Police.

As you know, this organization is responsible for oppressing dissidents and suppressing every kind of
freedom known to man.

We will not glamorize Marxist guerillas to promote a delusion of our own glory.

Our concern is with sanctions, not selfies.

Under this administration, there will no longer be secret channels between Cuba and the United States. Our policy is transparent for the American people and the world to see.

It is encapsulated in National Security Presidential Memorandum-5, “Strengthening the Policy of the
United States Toward Cuba.” And, in June of last year, President Trump came right here to Miami to outline this administration’s new policy and to announce the cancellation of the last administration’s one-sided and misguided deal with the Cuban regime.

As he said then, the United States will not prop up a military monopoly that abuses the citizens of Cuba. Under our approach, detailed in NSPM-5, the United States is enforcing U.S. law to maintain sanctions until, among other things, all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized, and free and internationally supervised elections are scheduled.

Importantly, our policy includes concrete actions to prevent American dollars from reaching the Cuban military, security, and intelligence services.

Today, I want to emphasize that NSPM-5 was just the beginning of our efforts to pressure the Cuban
regime. Since NSPM-5’s release, we have been tightening sanctions against the Cuban military and intelligence services, including their holding companies, and closing loopholes in our sanctions regulations.

Further, today, the State Department added over two dozen additional entities owned or controlled by
the Cuban military and intelligence services to the restricted list of entities with which financial
transactions by U.S. persons are prohibited.

The Cuban military and intelligence agencies must not disproportionately profit from the United States, its people, its travelers, or its businesses. In response to the vicious attacks on Embassy Havana, we have also scaled back our embassy personnel in Cuba. This President will not allow our diplomats to be targeted with impunity. And we will not excuse those who harm our highest representatives abroad by falsely invoking videos, or concocting some other absurd pretext for their suffering.

The United States will stand up for our citizens, our allies, and our friends, whether they frequent our
new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, chant for reform in Tehran, or fight for freedom in the streets of

We will only engage with a Cuban government that is willing to undertake necessary and tangible
reforms—a government that respects the interests of the Cuban people.

In Venezuela, the United States is acting against the dictator Maduro, who uses the same oppressive
tactics that have been employed in Cuba for decades.

He has installed an illegitimate Constituent Assembly, debased currency for political gain, and forced
his people to sign up for a corrupt food distribution service or face certain starvation.

These actions have created damaging ripple effects throughout the region. The crisis in Venezuela has
led to a massive humanitarian disaster and the largest mass migration in the Hemisphere. More than 2
million desperate Venezuelans have fled Maduro’s oppressive rule since 2015.

Sadly, this human tragedy was entirely preventable. Maduro and his cronies are the singular cause of all of this suffering.

The Venezuelan regime’s repression is of course enabled by the Cuban dictatorship. The United States calls on all nations in the region to face this obvious truth, and let the Cuban regime know that it will be held responsible for continued oppression in Venezuela.

In the United States, our demands are simple and straightforward. We call for the immediate release of all Venezuelan political prisoners; acceptance of international humanitarian assistance; free, fair, and credible elections; and legitimate steps to restore democratic institutions and the rule of law in

Since taking office, this President has signed four Executive Orders targeting corruption and the looting of the Venezuelan economy. This administration has sanctioned over 70 Venezuelan individuals and entities, including the President and his wife, along with senior members of his regime. And, we have levied a Kingpin drug-trafficking designation on a member of Maduro’s inner circle.

We have also condemned the regime’s involvement in the death earlier this month of a Venezuelan
opposition councilman in the custody of the intelligence services, and we have likewise spoken out
against the apparent-August torture of yet another opposition councilman.

Today, I am also proud to share that President Trump has signed an Executive Order to impose tough,
new sanctions against Venezuela.

The new sanctions will target networks operating within corrupt Venezuelan economic sectors and deny them access to stolen wealth. Most immediately, the new sanctions will prevent U.S. persons from engaging with actors and networks complicit in corrupt or deceptive transactions in the Venezuelan gold sector, which the regime has used as a bastion to finance illicit activities, to fill its coffers, and to support criminal groups.

The United States will not tolerate Maduro’s undermining of democratic institutions and ruthless
violence against innocent civilians.

Finally, in Nicaragua, the United States continues to condemn the Ortega regime’s violence and
repression against its citizens and opposition members. Ortega and his allies have completely eroded
democratic institutions, stifled free speech, and imposed a policy of jail, exile, or death for political

The government continues to illegally detain protestors and manipulate laws to target innocent civilians. Earlier this month, a student protestor was detained unlawfully, and to this day, his whereabouts remain unknown to his family.

This behavior is unacceptable anywhere, and especially in the Western Hemisphere. Free, fair, and early elections must be held in Nicaragua, and democracy must be restored to the Nicaraguan people.

Until then, the Nicaraguan regime, like Venezuela and Cuba, will feel the full weight of America’s
robust sanctions regime.

The Troika of Tyranny in this Hemisphere will not endure forever. Like all oppressive regimes and
ideologies, it too will meet its demise. The people of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua are fearsome
opponents, and if I were Diaz-Canel, Maduro, or Ortega, I would fear their virtuous power.

These tyrants fancy themselves strongmen and revolutionaries, icons and luminaries. In reality, they are clownish, pitiful figures more akin to Larry, Curly, and Moe. The three stooges of socialism are true believers, but they worship a false God.

We know their day of reckoning awaits. We see its origins in the brave Ladies in White, who
courageously take to the streets to defend their families and all of Cuba. We feel its shiver in the crowd around the flag-draped coffin of fifteen-year-old Orlando Cordoba, killed in a peaceful protest in Nicaragua. We hear its echo in the piercing chants outside of a Venezuelan military base: “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”

The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the triangle fall: in Havana, in Caracas, in Managua.

While we await that fateful day, the people of the region can be assured that the United States stand
with them against the forces of oppression, totalitarianism, and domination.

Look to the North; look to our flag; look to your own. The Troika will crumble. The people will
triumph. And, the righteous flame of freedom will burn brightly again in this Hemisphere.
Thank you very much.


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