Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Unemployment in Latin America

The International Labour Organization estimates that unemployment across Latin America fell from 8.1% to 7.8% from 2017 to 2018. Given the error involved in making these estimations, that does not really constitute a change at all. Further, regional rates are tough to draw conclusions from. They see some general trends, like high youth unemployment (19.6%) which is indeed a problem. But the real meat is the data on individual countries. The report has tons of that. Below is one of the better snapshots.

You will likely notice almost immediately that Venezuela is missing. From a regional standpoint this is actually preferably because Venezuela always skews things given what an outlier it is. The Venezuelan government stopped reporting unemployment over two years ago, just as it did with inflation, because it just makes the government look so bad.

Another problem is Guatemala, which is at 2.8%, not to mention Mexico at 3.3%. To be fair, the report does discuss the informal economy in some detail (it hovers around 50%), but unfortunately what the media picks up is the supposed drop in unemployment, which is misleading.

What we can conclude is that the region is mostly the same as last year, Brazil is worse off than most, and Venezuela is a total disaster. Further, governments have barely made a dent in the informal economy. In other words, there are jobs but they don't pay well and they don't allow enough for basic living, much less saving.


Who Is To Blame For The Cuban Economy?

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel reported on the sluggish economy in ways that you don't typically hear.

Commenting on deficiencies noted in execution of the 2018 Plan, he acknowledged that many are due to the complex economic situation we face, which is related to problems accumulated on the structural order, of operations, as well as those of our own making that we must resolve. Nor can the impact of the blockade be underestimated, he said, which has worsened under the Trump administration, especially financial persecution internationally. 
The embargo is secondary, which I don't believe I've ever heard before. Here is Raúl Castro in a 2015 speech at the UN.
However, the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba persists bringing damages and hardships on the Cuban people, and standing as the main obstacle to our country’s economic development, while affecting other nations due to its extraterritorial scope, and hurting the interests of American citizens and companies. 
That is a long-standing line.

So for Díaz-Canel, what or who is to blame if not the embargo? Bureaucrats!
The 2019 Plan, he said, is realistic, "but it's the least we can do. And if we implement it well, we have the potential to do more. But if there are bureaucrats, if there are people who delay making decisions, to export, to collect; if there are people who do not have the sensibility that the circumstances demand, then the plan is paralyzed.”
This is interesting because Díaz-Canel himself was, well, a bureaucrat. His career is serving on Communist Party committees. It also echoes what Fidel Castro himself believed. This is from 1965:
"Bureaucracy is a vice which threatens socialist revolutions as well as it threatens capitalists. But the socialist revolutions must know how to take measures to prevent this evil from becoming enthroned and causing all the damage it is capable of."
The embargo obviously hurts the Cuban economy badly. There can be no argument there. But this is a big step away from leaning on the embargo as a crutch to avoid self-reflection, which Raúl was doing to a degree with all his efforts at economic reform.


Monday, December 17, 2018

Joe Biden's Take on Latin America

Joe Biden has an op-ed in Americas Quarterly about the erosion of U.S. leadership in Latin America. I can quibble with his argument (e.g. excessive focus on the "geopolitical rivals" thing and how virtuous we are is not the best way to think about China and Russia) but there are a lot of good points. Terrible immigration policy is a problem. Antagonizing allies makes no sense. Undermining CICIG is a major policy failure. I also agree with this assessment about Venezuela:

Yet, even sensible efforts by this administration to exert pressure on Maduro and Ortega have been undermined by politicization, faulty execution and clunky sloganeering. Stronger diplomatic efforts and intensified sanctions on Venezuela have been clouded by saber-rattling and misguided efforts to engage with coup plotters. Similar responses to the civil unrest and state repression earlier this year in Nicaragua produced little in the way of results as that country settles into an intolerable “new normal.” This administration has demonstrated its willingness to capitalize politically on crises, but actions like its continued deportation of Venezuelans and the attempted revocation of “temporary protected status” for Nicaraguans demonstrate little concern for the Venezuelan or Nicaraguan people.
The Trump administration has been committing lots of own goals that were all preventable. Regional "leadership" is a vague term but at a minimum it should mean genuine desire to make people's lives better. The U.S. has not always been good at this, or at least its vision has been twisted. But with the Trump administration it seems absent.

Incidentally, it appears to be a coincidence but Biden published this op-ed on the same day four years ago that the Obama administration announced its major changes in Cuba policy. So much has changed since then.

Boz also took a look at it.


US Wants Latin America to Prioritize Middle Eastern Terrorism

Last week the State Department hosted a ministerial on counterterrorism in the Western Hemisphere. Thirteen countries attended, though two (Brazil and Mexico) were just observers. It was all about Middle Eastern terrorists, the subject that the U.S. government periodically tries to get Latin America interested in. I won't belabor how tired that subject is--something else caught my attention.

The U.S. government's verbiage is that Latin America "joined" and "committed." In other words, they played active roles. Voice of America obediently and vaguely reported "with some analysts suggesting member countries are stepping up efforts" while interviewing one analyst who does not study Latin America and one analyst who writes alarmist stuff on Iran.

In the Latin America press, the verb used over and over to describe the same event was "pedir," which means "to ask" or "to request." Pidió colaboración (Peru) or pide ayuda (Paraguay). There's even a "solicit" (solicitó cooperación from Argentina).

The difference is subtle but noteworthy. South American governments in particular are paying attention, especially to money laundering. But unlike the Trump administration (and the Bush administration before it) they are not putting Middle Eastern terrorism front and center. I could see Jair Bolsonaro doing so just to curry favor but in general there is wide skepticism about U.S. priorities.


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.


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