Monday, May 13, 2019

Guaido Asks for US Military Help

Juan Guaidó's ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, tweeted that at Guaidó's request, he had written a letter to U.S. Southern Command asking for assistance. Here is the letter:

He wants "strategic and operational planning." This means publicly crossing over a sovereignty line and asking for the United States government to take military action. Does that necessarily mean U.S. troops? Maybe not, though it's hard to imagine how else it would work. The U.S. trained Cuban exiles and former Nicaraguan National Guardsmen and those didn't work out so well.

I've written plenty about why Trump might invade and why it's a bad idea, so I won't rehash that. But a core part of Trump's Venezuela policy is aimed at a domestic audience. Can he maintain that domestic audience, which is already getting restless, if Guaidó asks for military action and Trump doesn't give it?

Guaidó is actually now pushing the administration in a direction it currently seems unwilling to go. But Trump has painted himself into a corner with Florida politics and the question is whether he can withstand the pressure.

Read more...

Friday, May 10, 2019

News Coverage of Latin America

Kathleen Searles and Kevin K. Banda, "But her emails! How journalistic preferences shaped election coverage in 2016." forthcoming in Journalism.

Abstract:

While existing work explains how journalists use news values to select some stories over others, we know little about how stories that meet newsworthiness criteria are prioritized. Once stories are deemed newsworthy, how do journalists calculate their relative utility? Such an ordering of preferences is important as higher ranked stories receive more media attention. To better understand how stories are ordered once they are selected, we propose a model for rational journalistic preferences which describes how journalists rank stories by making cost-benefit analyses. When faced with competing newsworthy stories, such as in an election context, the model can generate expectations regarding news coverage patterns. To illustrate model utility, we draw on a unique case – the US 2016 presidential election – to explain how reporters order newsworthy stories (e.g. scandal and the horse race) by observing changes in the volume. Our content data captures coverage featuring Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump on major broadcast and cable networks over 31  weeks. We find that the rational journalistic preference model explains the imbalance of scandal coverage between the two candidates and the dominance of horse race coverage. In 2016, such preferences may have inadvertently contributed to a balance of news stories that favored Trump.
The authors posit a straightforward argument about what stories journalists choose. Here are some underlying assumptions:
Journalists are motivated to maximize professional and economic benefits like attention for their work and minimize the associated costs like time. Even though journalists may be influenced by nonmaterial benefits, like influencing public discourse, their decision-making is still self-interested (Zaller, 1999). We assume that this ordering of preferences affects the rational journalists’ actions (Riker and Ordeshook, 1968), which allows us to explain aggregate patterns of news coverage as the product of journalists making strategic decisions, motivated by costs and benefits, regarding their story preferences.
They go on to discuss how in the U.S., trailing candidates get attention but not for their scandals, while leading candidates have their scandals scrutinized.

In the context of news stories on Latin America, we could generate plenty of testable hypotheses. Here are a few:

1. Stories that emphasize Latin America's policy problems (esp. related to violence)  predominate over successes.

2. Disaster stories will receive more (even the overwhelming majority of) attention for countries the U.S. government has labeled an adversary.

3. Economic success stories will be reported primarily for market-led policies rather than state-led policies, while negative stories will be the opposite.

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Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Review of Fletcher Knebel's Night of Camp David

Fletcher Knebel's Night of Camp David was a best seller in 1965, telling the story of a president who became paranoid, with delusions of grandeur. It was re-released in 2018 for obvious reasons. The fictional President Mark Hollenbach imagined cabals against him while devising secret plans to create a union with Canada and Scandinavia while wiretapping people whenever he wanted. Gradually people, starting with an Iowa senator (who himself is a selfish, sexist guy, but I guess he might've been seen at the time as a sympathetic character), start noticing erratic behavior and try to figure out what to do, especially since a summit with the Soviets is coming up.

I found it entertaining, both for the topic and as a period piece (lots of 1960s slang, for example). And it does offer food for thought about how to deal with a president whose own cabinet doubts their capacity to govern. The 25th amendment was ratified the same year the novel was published, but has not been put to the test.

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Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Venezuelan Refugees and Sanctuary Cities

You can't compartmentalize policy. Laws aimed at one issue touch other issues as well. In Florida, lawmakers' desire to attack undocumented migrants by prohibiting sanctuary cities ran straight into the need for undocumented Venezuelan refugees to be safe from deportation. Despite all the talk about humanitarian assistance, the Trump administration has refused to provide Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan migrants. So if they get caught up in any kind of law enforcement, they will be deported.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, the number of Venezuelans in the U.S. went from 216,000 in 2014 to 351,000 in 2017, and we know it continues to grow. The state with the largest Venezuelan population by far is Florida.  Many Venezuelans have visas, but then will eventually overstay them. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the number of Venezuelans deported nationally is small in comparative terms, up from 248 in FY 2017 to 336 in FY 2018 (if you're wondering Mexico was at 141,045 for FY 2018). But that will also grow.

From a purely strategic domestic standpoint, this undermines the administration's effort to gain votes by being tough with Nicolás Maduro. It's a state law, of course, not a federal one, but the administration has been clear that it also intensely dislikes the idea of sanctuary cities. Problem is, sometimes they protect your political allies.

Read more...

Saturday, May 04, 2019

More on U.S. Invasion Rationale in Venezuela

Andrés Oppenheimer posits four reasons he thinks U.S. invasion of Venezuela is possible, though still unlikely. The first two are actually points I made back in January and February, and which I have come to doubt. The last two seem more far-fetched.

I feel like we're once again seeing increased invasion talk, including from Congress, and I feel less sure now it might happen even though on the surface it seems like a strong possibility. And yet I could wake up tomorrow and find it happening.

First, the Trump administration is escalating its rhetoric following the Venezuelan opposition’s courageous but unsuccessful April 30 attempt to spark a military rebellion. 

Yes, though the rhetoric really hasn't changed much from past instances. I wrote this back in January when rhetoric was heating up and have come to believe that we need to focus more on what Trump says, not his officials. His language is more careful. Pompeo and Bolton talk endlessly.

Second, the Trump administration may increasingly be worried about not being taken seriously about its vows to help topple Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. 

As I wrote in February, " My worry, as I've said before, is the Trump Factor. He has been reticent to use force, but is also highly sensitive to being viewed as weak." I just don't know if I believe that anymore or to the same degree. Trump's modus operandi is to talk tough even when failing and ignore the failure. The argument makes perfect intuitive sense, but Trump doesn't operate this predictably.

Third, Latin American diplomats tell me there are ongoing private discussions within the Organization of American States to invoke the 17-country Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance of 1947 — TIAR — also known as the Rio Treaty.

This is an interesting scenario, and although he doesn't say so, I assume the common enemy is Russia. Who else could it be? The problem is that Trump denies that Russia is meddling in Venezuela. He is so cozy with Putin that he might not want to antagonize him this way.

Fourth, a military rebellion to restore democracy in Venezuela may be more difficult now after the Trump administration’s blunder in revealing the names of three top Venezuelan officials — including defense minister Vladimir Padrino — who it says were secretly vowing to turn against Maduro on April 30.

I tend to think now that Trump doesn't care about this too much. Talk tough while the crisis goes on and on.


Read more...

Friday, May 03, 2019

U.S. Corporate Media on Venezuela

From Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:

A FAIR survey of US opinion journalism on Venezuela found no voices in elite corporate media that opposed regime change in that country. Over a three-month period (1/15/19–4/15/19), zero opinion pieces in the New York Times and Washington Post took an anti–regime change or pro-Maduro/Chavista position. 
From my own anti-regime change Washington Post opinion piece on March 25, 2019:
Because of its relative power and its historical interest in the region, inevitably the United States becomes deeply involved in Latin American political crises. This is not likely to change anytime soon. Research tells us that the policy options most conducive to democracy are nonviolent, multilateral and consensual. If democracy is the true goal, then attacking Venezuela is unlikely to lead in that direction.
And there were more than just mine. So that survey must've been pretty sloppy.

 

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Boomer Retirement and Immigration

Via Immigration Impact about retirement and declining birth rates in the United States:

It is in our economic best interest to ensure that our population continues to grow. Immigration alone will not address all the fiscal issues facing our social welfare programs and economy more broadly, but they play an important role in reducing the economic effects of our aging population. Baby boomers are increasingly dependent on them to help pay for their retirement and buy their homes as they retire.

From Irresistible Forces: Latin American Migration to the United States and its Effects on the South, the 2010 book I wrote with my dad:
Young immigrants, however, can help fill the demographic gap.  As Myers points out, immigration can alleviate other related economic strains like an insufficient labor force and too few young home buyers to satisfy the number of older sellers.  The demographic fit therefore offers part of the solution, since there is a ready pool of workers able and willing to contribute to the U.S. economy and pay into the Social Security system, providing the income stream for older retirees.
This is not new. It has been entirely foreseeable for many years. Simply put, we need immigrants.

Put a different way, roughly half the countries of the world have birth rates below replacement rate (below 2.1 births per woman) and at 1.8 the United States is one of them. Therefore it is inaccurate to say of the United States, or many other countries, that it is "full."  If you managed to stop immigration right now, the population would shrink. And if that happens, who is going to support retirees?

Actually, forget the Boomers and let's think about Generation X, my generation. Heck, we want to retire too. So we need immigration!

Read more...

Thursday, May 02, 2019

UNC Charlotte Shooting

Given that writing is a fundamental way I express myself, it's been curious that I have not felt much urge to write about the shooting that took place on my campus two days ago. It's been an intense emotional time. I wasn't even on campus when it happened, and so for many people it is even more intense. I had to drop my daughter off somewhere and then I planned to go to the gym on campus. I saw the emergency text message and hoped (or maybe tried to convince myself) it was a false alarm or just the police being careful. Then the news got worse and worse.


I went to the vigil yesterday evening, and seeing our Chancellor break down while talking might have been the most emotional moment I've experienced in my 19 years as a professor here. My eyes are welling up now as I think about it.

With campus closed, I stayed home yesterday but was unproductive, and I expect that was the same for most people. When I thought of the victims, I kept thinking about how even though I don't know them, they're my students too. But I also think about my own children and the news the victims' parents had to get, and I can only barely imagine what that must be like.

As the Chancellor wrote and also said, "This is the saddest day in UNC Charlotte's history." Right now we're just doing our best to move forward, but it's hard to focus on anything else.


Update: Adam Johnson, the instructor of the class, just wrote about the experience here. Not easy reading.

Read more...

Monday, April 29, 2019

Venezuela and the OAS

According to Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela is pulling out of the Organization of American States. However, the OAS does not recognize his government and insists the envoy is Gustavo Tarre, who says the OAS should play an important role in rebuilding the country.

Most, though not all, countries in the OAS recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's president. Therefore his chosen envoy can actively participate. So is Venezuela currently a member of the OAS? Well, the OAS itself seems to believe so, but does that make it true? What is "true" anyway? This is an especially tough question for the OAS, which is commonly seen as weak. In other words, you can have an envoy but that does not necessarily lead to anything.

At this point, the most important question is whether this changes anything in the calculations of the military leadership, which represents the foundation of the government. I can't think of any reason they would care about the OAS, which Fidel Castro (who called it rotten and shameless) and then also Hugo Chávez (who called it a corpse) criticized for years. The OAS cannot do too much to threaten their position.

Read more...

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Military Desertions in Venezuela

Military desertions from Venezuela have been steady over the course of the year, so news of more isn't exactly new. But it's useful to emphasize the reasons.
The deserters, who asked to withhold their names due to fear of reprisals against their families, complained that top commanders in Venezuela lived well on large salaries and commissions from smuggling and other black market schemes while the lower ranks confronted conflicts in Venezuela’s streets for little pay. 
“They already have their families living abroad. They live well, eat well, have good salaries and profits from corruption,” said the lieutenant.
They are not happy about being used to repress their own citizens, which of course was also Hugo Chávez's original resentment. The article is written awkwardly, as the implication is that these deserters would've been fine with repression as long as they were paid well, which I tend to doubt is the case.

For all this to matter politically, however, the desertions need to be transformed into organization. The upper ranks appear to be unified, while disaffected lower ranks leave. The result is strengthening the status quo. Maybe I am missing something, but right now it seems that if anything, desertions are a net negative for the opposition.

Read more...

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Qiu Xiaolong's Death of a Red Heroine

Qiu Xiaolong's Death of a Red Heroine is a political police procedural that takes place in 1990s Shanghai. The setting is important because the case revolves around the changing politics of the era, where capitalist reforms are underway and there is an uneasy relationship between high cadres, their children (HCCs), the average person, and those who had been imprisoned but were now rehabilitated politically. There is considerable distrust.

The victim is a model worker, by the 1990s an almost outdated phenomenon, which means a person deemed to publicly embody the best elements of the Communist Party. Inspector Chen is charged with investigating the murder, and before long he is taking on an HCC. The middle of the novel dragged for a me a little, with all the intricate political dances, but the latter half was really entertaining even though by that point there was no mystery anymore.

Chen himself is a published poet, and the book is loaded with snippets of classic Chinese poets, along with close attention to food and culture. They represent something solid in an otherwise shifting and uncertain political and social landscape. Chen himself is committed to doing the right thing--finding the murderer--regardless of the politics that surround it, and there is a twist at the end that leaves him pondering how hard that can be in China.

Read more...

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

China Invests More in Latin America

China set up a China Development Bank in Latin America. While the Trump administration says aid is a ripoff, globally the bank has financed $190 billion of projects globally as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Who signed on? Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Panama and Colombia. Notice these are all U.S. allies. China offers financing while the U.S. offers criticism and assertions that the "Monroe Doctrine is alive and well," which means the Trump administration believes it gets to choose who Latin America engages with. I wish I could be a fly on the wall as these speech and policy decisions are made. They seem almost intent on ceding influence to China.

Read more...

Friday, April 19, 2019

Expelling Diplomats in Latin America

Anthony Jordan and John P. Tuman, "Explaining Expulsions of U.S. Diplomatic Personnel from Latin America: 1991-2016." Latin American Policy 9, 2 (December 2018): 238-257. Gated.

Abstract:

This article examines expulsions of U.S. diplomats from Latin America and the Caribbean between 1991 and 2016. Employing an original data set of expulsions of U.S. diplomatic personnel, the analysis focuses on the number of first‐mover expulsions—cases where the Latin American government was the first to expel a U.S. diplomat in a year. The models are estimated with pooled negative binomial regression with robust standard errors. The results suggest there were more first‐mover expulsions in countries governed by radical, populist‐left presidents. For the radical, populist Left, expulsions offered a low‐cost mechanism to pursue opposition to U.S. influence in Latin America while also giving executives an opportunity to strengthen ties to their electoral base. Results also show that presidential election years had a positive and significant effect. Prior retaliatory expulsions, alleged U.S. interference, other types of executive‐party control, and economic ties with the United States and China had no effect on expulsions. Oil exports to the United States were associated positively with higher expulsion counts, which we attribute to the unwillingness of radical populists—and of the United States—to escalate diplomatic tensions into wider economic conflicts.
I never thought of doing an empirical study of expulsions--this is a fun article. I'd say it confirms what we would've guessed, which is that government more hostile to the U.S., which are leftist-populist, are more likely to expel diplomats, and especially during presidential election years. It is a low-cost signal of autonomy.

The article goes further with the insight about oil exporters, which tend to expel more.
[A]lthough radical populists were willing to use expulsions to signal the United States and drum up domestic support, they refrained from using oil as a form of leverage with the United States—due in part to their dependence on oil for government revenue. At the same time, because the United States adopted a carefully calibrated response to expulsions, there was no penalty (or embargo) imposed on oil exports to the United States or other trade with countries engaging in expulsions.
Until the U.S. imposed sanctions on PDVSA earlier this year, no one wanted to touch oil. So oil-exporters used expulsions as a sort of proxy and the unspoken agreement was that oil would be left alone.

A sequel should be to determine the impact of losing that diplomatic connection, which could be tough to measure. Once you've kicked them out, do you solve or create problems?

Read more...

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Bolton's Speech: Winning is the New Losing

I have a piece at Global Americans on John Bolton's speech to the Bay of Pigs veterans about Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua policy. I give three reasons why it is problematic. My conclusion:

It is logical to expect a regular series of similar speeches and punitive policies from now until the next presidential election. They are almost certain not to achieve much, but that has never been an obstacle for this administration. The strategy is to talk tough, use sanctions, and court hardline voters, regardless of the effects on the citizens of the targeted countries. Losing is the new winning.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Former Presidents of Peru

There are six five living former presidents of Peru.

1. Francisco Morales Bermúdez was sentenced by a court in Rome for deaths related to Operation Condor. He is almost 100 and therefore not imprisoned.

2. Alan García just shot himself in the head today as police were coming to arrest him for corruption charges in the Odebrecht case. Update: he died of his self-inflicted wound.

3. After being pardoned under fishy circumstances, Alberto Fujimori was put back in jail late last year for human rights abuses during his dictatorship.

4. Alejandro Toledo is in exile in the United States, fleeing Odebrecht-related charges. He was arrested last month in California for public drunkenness.

5. Ollanta Humala is facing Odebrecht charges and was imprisoned in 2017 and 2018 while awaiting trial. The case is ongoing.

6. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is in jail for Odebrecht charges and just today was hospitalized for high blood pressure.

Two escaping accountability, three detained, and one on trial.

No surprise, then, if you look at the 2018 Latinobarómetro survey and see that only 43% of Peruvians favor democracy (versus authoritarianism or indifference). Satisfaction with democracy is only 11%, second lowest to Latin America (Brazil at 9%) has that honor.

There is something successful about former presidents being arrested and put on trial--it can mean judicial institutions are functioning even at the highest levels. The problem, however, is when it doesn't stop. Sure, maybe the courts will work, but you want presidents who don't face corruption charges in the first place. All eyes on you, Martín Vizcarra.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Deterring Influence in Venezuela

The U.S. wants to deter other countries' influence in Venezuela. From CNN:

The Pentagon is developing new military options for Venezuela aimed at deterring Russian, Cuban and Chinese influence inside the regime of President Nicolas Maduro, but stopping short of any kinetic military actions, according to a defense official familiar with the effort.
...
[D]eterrence options could include US naval exercises in the immediate region to emphasize humanitarian assistance and more military interaction with neighboring countries. The idea would be to challenge any Russian, Cuban or Chinese notion that they could have unchallenged access to the region.
"Deterring influence" is a weird concept. Deterrence normally refers to preventing aggression or force of some kind. And if deterrence itself is not backed by a credible threat of force--and the U.S. official is announcing publicly that it will "stop short" of force--then it isn't deterring anything. The U.S. can do naval exercises but that doesn't stop Russians from exerting influence.

The Cubans definitely already have "unchallenged access to the region" so that part is nonsensical. If "unchallenged access to the region" refers to economic relations, that ship has sailed. The Chinese have deep economic roots in the region, built up over 20-25 years. Meanwhile, the Russians don't want the whole region as far as I can tell--they have a longstanding relationship with Cuba and established relations with Hugo Chávez as well. Their influence is already there.

This doesn't even get into the question of how the U.S. has squandered its own influence in Venezuela, which is part of a short Twitter discussion here.

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that "all options are on the table" mostly means "there is no plan at all." Exercises like these reinforce that point because they seem to lack any strategic logic.

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Janelle Wong's Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change

Janelle Wong's Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change (2018) provides a new view of evangelicals but also immigrants in the United States. It gets at the question of where Latinx voters fit uneasily within the two party system.

"Nonwhite immigrants seem to be the only source of growth for the American evangelical population" (13). This is an interesting dynamic because demographics shows that in the future, evangelicals will be increasingly nonwhite though for the time being white evangelicals remain much more influential politically. In a Venn diagram, the two are both evangelical but the overlap is not enormous.

"Nonwhite evangelicals in the United States hold a more expansive notion of the "national community" than do white evangelical Americans" (40). White evangelicals feel a strong sense of embattlement, I think in no small part because, as Wong points out, their idea of national community is quite small. Not feeling threatened, nonwhites do not agree with white evangelicals on a host of issues--immigration is a major one--though they are indeed more conservative than non-evangelicals on issues like abortion.

An important lesson is not to think in blocs. Evangelicals are not a bloc--they're racially divided and show different political views. Further, Latinx voters are not a bloc simply destined for the Democratic Party. Latinx evangelicals are conservative and neither party fits them perfectly.

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Lesser of Two Evils

Benjamin Waddell, a sociologist at Fort Lewis College, has a post on failed U.S. policy toward Nicaragua. He points to something that has been raised quite a lot with regard to Venezuela, which is that the history of U.S. intervention taints anyone the U.S. supports.

While Jaime and Jorge’s comments hardly speak for all Nicaraguans, they summarize the general sentiments of Ortega’s supporters quite well. At the root of Ortega’s base is a firm conviction that he has done more for the poor than U.S.-supported candidates from the right have. For them, he is the lesser of two evils.
The "lesser of two evils" point is a good one and cuts through the question of why someone would support an authoritarian leader who clearly seems to be failing. U.S. economic policy has a track record of screwing people, generally the poor, in Latin America so an authoritarian leader who at least has shown some true interest in their welfare, even if more in the past, is preferable.

Read more...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Donald Trump's 20 Year Old Take on Cuba

Donald Trump's interest in Bay of Pigs veterans has been a thing for a while--he spoke to them during the campaign and now John Bolton is going before them to talk about Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Economic isolation is a key part of it.

Twenty years ago, Trump made a Cuba policy speech as he mulled running for president. He spoke to the Cuban American National Foundation, praising Jorge Mas Canosa. I snipped this bit from C-Span. His logic is based on two contradictory points:

First, the embargo will end the regime. Note that he was saying that 40 years after the embargo was put in place, and that 20 years after saying it, it's still not true.

Second, no matter what, you have sunk costs and so you have to go on as long as the regime is in power. In other words, #1 could easily just be wrong but you keep going anyway. Because you've already gone to so much trouble.

His views have not changed noticeably in the last two decades.  The embargo will work, but it doesn't matter even if it doesn't.

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Ecuador's Nine Reasons For Evicting Assange

Foreign Minister José Valencia went to the National Assembly and gave nine reasons for evicting Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

1. Interference in the affairs of other countries, thus hurting Ecuador's relations with those countries. The U.S. is the biggie here, of course.

2. Bad behavior and lack of respect toward Ecuador. This included, and I am not making this up, riding a skateboard around.

3. Threats toward the Ecuadorian state and the London embassy. He made lots of wild accusations against Ecuadorian officials.

4. The UK's position on had not changed since 2012: no safe conduct for Assange. This had become inconvenient because it offered no way out.

5. He has health problems. Ecuador claimed that if he got worse the embassy had no way of helping him. Not to mention the health of his poor cat, who seems to have been given away.

6. Diplomatic asylum should not be a way of avoiding justice.

7. There is no request for extradition. This, in fact, was wrong because the U.S. did have such a request but Ecuador did not know about it.

8. Ecuador had sufficient guarantees from the UK about not extraditing him. I wonder whether Lenín Moreno really cares.

9. Inconsistencies in his naturalization as an Ecuadorian citizen (which is now revoked). Who knows about this, and as a reason it's worth just about as much as his Ecuadorian citizenship was, which is zero.

Let me gather these together and condense them into two, easy to understand reasons:

1. He is a royal pain in Ecuador's ass.

2. Lenín Moreno wants a good relationship with the United States and Assange made that impossible.

Read more...

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Dilemma of Repression for Security Forces

At The Monkey Cage, a Sociology Ph.D. student at Yale wrote about the timing of the coup in Sudan, which has lessons for Venezuela.

My research, which draws from a detailed analysis of the police mutiny which overthrew Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and from a comparison with the Russian Revolution of 1917, found that most soldiers and police officers facing mass protests defect primarily as a response to the dilemma of repression. They can afford to remain loyal only so long as their job does not require them to kill large numbers of people. When obedience to the regime demands unconscionable acts, rebellion is often the easiest way forward, particularly for reserve units who are rarely deployed for repression.
This is familiar because  it characterized Venezuela after 1989. Hugo Chávez and other officers resented being told to repress. They did not overthrow the government right then, but started plotting.

Thinking of today, it's useful to think in these terms but unfortunately it is not an analysis that facilitates prediction too well. We will only know when the army hits the breaking point after it's broken. But it does point to reasons why Nicolás Maduro is not arresting Juan Guaidó. Such a move would spark resistance and protests that could take security forces beyond their threshold of acceptable repression.

Unlike Sudan, we don't seem to see signs of security forces splintering in Venezuela. The media has focused a lot on defections but that's an entirely different animal. In the choices of exit, voice, and loyalty, "exit" has the least effect in this context. So far in Venezuela it's been mostly loyalty.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Why Maduro Can Now Accept Humanitarian Aid

Several months ago, Nicolás Maduro wouldn't allow humanitarian aid into Venezuela for political reasons. The economy was crumbling and accepting aid meant acknowledging the scope of the self-inflicted crisis. Here is Maduro in September 2018:
“Venezuela is the victim of world media attacks designed to construct a supposed humanitarian crisis so as to justify a military intervention,” President Nicolás Maduro told the U.N. General Assembly last month. He insisted that there is no crisis.
Then in late January 2019 the Trump administration imposed sanctions on PDVSA. Roughly a week later, we had the whole spectacle of the barricaded border to block aid truck.

Then the oil sanctions really sunk in.

Now, two months after the border incident, Maduro says he will accept aid and he's talking to the Red Cross. Last night he even pinned a short news clip about it on his Twitter feed. The sanctions have been in place long enough that he has far more cover to blame the economic situation squarely on the United States. This was highly foreseeable, almost to the point of being obvious. So obvious, in fact, that at least some officials in the administration admitted it.
One US official familiar with the sanctions decision, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity in order to speak frankly, said the move will do little more than “royally piss off Maduro.” 
Another official it essentially gives Maduro even more ammunition to say that the US aims to orchestrate a coup against it. 
If the economy tanks even further than it already has, the Venezuelan leader can blame the US sanctions and perhaps regain some favor among elites — particularly the military leadership — whose support he needs in order to remain in power.
In short, the U.S. employed the nuclear option of oil sanctions and thus far it hasn't yielded regime change. At this point, the administration seems mostly stuck. John Bolton is now reduced to trying to convince the Venezuelan military that Maduro is trying to weaken it through the colectivos. Every day that goes by gives Maduro more ammunition to blame the United States for conditions in the country, while he accepts humanitarian aid and Russian loans.

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Monday, April 08, 2019

Trump Takes Eisenhower's Bad Advice on Cuba (and Venezuela)

From an interview with two Trump administration officials on Cuba. The gist can be summed up in one word: facepalm.

For President Trump, the stars have aligned, and Venezuela is the tool that we believe can provide change within two countries which have a long and complicated history with the United States.  We have the team in place that every president should want- committed to the goal and capable of implementing a strategy rather than just talking about implementing a strategy.  First, using sanctions to remove an illegitimate leader who has made a mess of his country.  Anyone defending what Maduro has done to his citizens has to have their head examined.  Second, while we do not expect immediate political change in Cuba because of our direct sanctions on Venezuela and direct and indirect sanctions upon Cuba, we believe that at least one result will be changes to the Cuban economy because of what the [Juan] Guaido Administration is doing regarding oil exports to Cuba- and we are helping Interim President Guaido achieve his goal of no longer subsidizing the Cuban regime.  Cuba will have to adjust to losing 30% or more of its heavily-subsidized oil imports, and that means permitting more of a market-based economy.  They won’t like it, but their ability to derail it is pretty fast moving beyond their control. 
This strategy should sound familiar because it is the strategy that President Eisenhower started and which became the bedrock of U.S.-Cuban relations. Take, for example, this memo between two of the key Latin Americanists in the State Department in 1960:
[E]very possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba. If such a policy is adopted, it should be the result of a positive decision which would call forth a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.
The lack of interest in the well-being of ordinary Cubans or Venezuelans is worth noting. But more important is the facile assumption that hurting them brings about regime change. For example, what example do Trump officials have when they assert that economic deprivation of a country's people serves to remove leaders? What is it about Cuba policy that makes it worth copying elsewhere?

With regard to Cuba specifically, it's troubling. The administration realizes it cannot force regime change in Cuba but will go ahead with hurting its citizens for no clear reason other than that "they won't like it."

h/t Ric Herrero on Twitter

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Thursday, April 04, 2019

Rogelberg's The Surprising Science of Meetings

I read The Surprising Science of Meetings (2019) by Steven Rogelberg, a highly decorated Professor of Organizational Science, Management, and Psychology here at UNC Charlotte. There are a lot of meetings in academia and plenty of them are not run well. But we are never trained how to do so well, which is a shame given how much time we spend in them.

The book uses the scholarly literature to provide better understanding of meeting dynamics and, more importantly, to give specific tips on how to improve them. Whoever leads the meeting is of course critical--that person needs to start with the idea that everyone's time is valuable and find the right meeting structure for the task at hand. They need to be positive and provide an agenda that makes sense for that meeting. They also need to make sure that the right people are attending and that it is not too full. Other people can be invited but notified of what happened later if they don't feel the need to come. There are all kinds of other insights (e.g. don't do phone meetings).

I actually immediately took one of his nuggets of advice by shortening meetings. In Google Calendar there is an option called "speedy meetings" that reduces the default one hour to 55 minutes, and 30 minutes to 25. That can reduce lateness (because you have a buffer between consecutive meetings) and push you to finish a bit quicker. He notes "Parkinson's law," whereby a meeting will expand to fill the time you allot to it.

Especially if you're an administrator in academia, it's worth checking out.

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Latin America Tries to Ignore Trump

Over the past several days, I have been writing about how the Trump administration paints itself into a corner with constant threats, most of which do not translate into action. That is true in Venezuela and for now it is also true for Central America. Trump made a huge deal about cutting aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala for "doing nothing" about immigration. Nonetheless, the governments of both Honduras and El Salvador say they haven't been notified about anything:

Both Honduras and El Salvador pointedly said they had not been formally notified of any specific cuts in U.S. aid. Honduran Defense Minister Fredy Díaz said cooperation with the United States on security is "unchanged," while the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the relationship has been "solid, close and positive."
They are taking the same stance as AMLO after Trump trolled Mexico on Twitter, which is to ignore him. Step lightly and wait for Trump to be distracted by something else. They figure the chances of him actually doing anything--shutting the border, attacking Venezuela, cutting off all aid--are too low to bother with the risks of confrontation. (I should note, however, that the Mexican stock exchange did not ignore it).

Trump's "negotiation" style is to take an unreasonable position and wait for the other side to concede. Since time after time he backs off the unreasonable position, often without getting anything in return, it becomes easier to ignore. That is a situation ripe for misunderstanding and catastrophic results.

Update a few hours later: Trump says he will not close the border and will give Mexico a year to "stop the drugs," whatever that means. If you issue fake threats, why should any leader of another country listen to you?

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Wednesday, April 03, 2019

The Russian Conundrum in Venezuela

A Russian political analyst writes about why Russia sent troops to Venezuela. What echoes throughout is the notion of equality.

By taking a stand in the United States’ backyard, Moscow also hopes to make itself a more valuable partner for Washington on other issues, particularly those in Russia’s backyard. While structuring a “big deal” with Trump that would require haggling on Venezuela, the Middle East and Ukraine is probably not feasible, simply re-engaging with Washington on equal footing is in itself important.
Venezuela per se is unimportant. Vladimir Putin has no interest in either Chavismo or the Venezuelan people. What this particular article also reminds me, however, is that Russia's interest is not simply antagonistic. It is the use of power to force the United States to recognize Russia's diplomatic equality. Or, as the short Dr. Seuss movie I've seen a million times because I have three children tell us, "We are here, we are here, we are here."
While Russia is under no obligation to defend Venezuela (although state-owned Rosneft has about $9 billion invested there), the country is important to the Kremlin’s narrative of Russia’s return to the global stage as a great power that shapes a new multi-polar world order and has the capability to check destabilizing American unilateralism.
Trump himself said, "Russia has to get out," and then followed up with his oft-repeated "all options are on the table" line that seems mostly to mean inaction. Putin clearly seems to think Trump is bluffing, particularly because Trump has been threatening Venezuela nonstop.

A short while ago I wrote this about China and Russia:
The two countries constitute Maduro's lifeline and we just don't know at what point they are willing to cute him loose. Neither wants to appear to concede to the United States or to lose their investments. I assume the latter can be worked out but the former is tough.
Tough indeed. It seems that Russia is digging in, which means the reputational costs of leaving are increasing exponentially. The two sides are barking at each other, and we can only hope they stay leashed.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Russia Expands its Reach in South America

Just a few days ago, President Trump hammered Colombia President Iván Duque:

"I'll tell you something: Colombia, you have your new president of Colombia, really good guy. I've met him, we had him at the White House. He said how he was going to stop drugs. More drugs are coming out of Colombia right now than before he was president — so he has done nothing for us," Trump told reporters in Florida.
This is the same language he used to verbally abuse Mexico and Central America:
“Mexico is doing NOTHING to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our Country,” he tweeted. “They are all talk and no action. Likewise, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have taken our money for years, and do Nothing.”
It shouldn't surprise us too much, then, that shortly thereafter Russia saw its opportunity to flex its rhetorical muscle.
The Federation Council, the Russian equivalent of a senate, wrote a letter to Colombian Congress in which it accused the country’s government and other allies of the United States of trying to “provoke a civil war” and a possible “military intervention in this state” whose disputed President, Nicolas Maduro, is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A lot is happening at once here, and all of it emphasizes U.S. weakness.

First, Russia is expanding its influence in South America without being countered. Mike Pompeo tweets just don't count.

Second, U.S. domestic interests aren't just influencing foreign policy, they are obliterating it. Intermestic policy is the norm, especially with drugs, but in the past it has not actively undercut allies. Trump's tweets are talking to his core U.S. base. Vladimir Putin saw the insults as an opening to assert Russia's interests.

Third, it is a reminder to Latin America that the Trump administration demands quick and easy solutions to long-standing and complex problems and does not recognize slow and steady progress. This further reduces U.S. influence.

Fourth, it comes on the heels of constant Trump administration threats toward Venezuela that are not followed through. I am in fact glad that the administration is not using force, but it should never have issued threats to begin with. It is now hamstrung--either invade (which would have disastrous consequences) or look weak to Russia (which would have negative consequences).

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Friday, March 29, 2019

SECOLAS 2019 in Oaxaca

I have not been on social media as much recently because I've been in Oaxaca for the conference of the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies, which is always a great conference. Oaxaca itself is gorgeous, as is our conference venue, the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca. Here is a shot I took just as I arrived at the opening reception:


There are also enough runners here that we started a SECOLAS running group. We met first thing this morning and yesterday to go run at a local public sports area (running around streets is challenging, even early!).


We do Latin America every third year (the next one is still being decided). Next year is in Austin, which is also a fun place. I will post the Call for Papers when it comes--it will be March 2020 and the specific days will be nailed down soon. You should come.

BTW, if you're on Twitter you should also follow @SECOLAS_org to keep up.

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Using Military Force Is Not The Way to Achieve Democracy in Venezuela

I have a new piece out at The Monkey Cage, using political science (and some history) literature to argue that using military force in Venezuela is not likely to lead to democracy. It's not a typical op-ed, in the sense that I am just bringing together a lot of work on the topic rather than making an argument solely on the Venezuelan case. So it's a very comparative argument.

The fact that Russia just sent troops to Venezuela adds to the uncertainty. That's not included in my article, but I see it as a basic deterrent against U.S. use of force. Attack Venezuela now and you might be engaging Russians. Chris Sabatini added that it might be aimed at keeping Venezuelans generals in line.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Pence Points at Russia & China Support for Maduro

Mike Pence published an op-ed in today's Miami Herald saying "Nicolás Maduro must go." Aside from keeping the issue on the front-burner (because Trump is preoccupied and not tweeting about Venezuela) it has a Chinese and Russian audience.
The truth is, he does so with the help of nations who refuse to acknowledge that he has no legitimate claim to power, and who continue to prop up his dictatorship. 
Even now, Cuban military and intelligence services train, support, and equip Venezuela's secret police as they bully protestors and silence opposition. Turkey continues to deal in Venezuelan gold, providing Maduro with desperately needed cash to sustain his regime. 
Last month, Russia vetoed a resolution at the United Nations calling for unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela. 
And once again, China is advancing its own interests at the expense of the Venezuelan people. Later this month, China plans to host the Inter-American Development Bank's annual meeting. 
But despite claims of friendship, the Chinese are undermining the hemisphere's progress towards democracy by refusing to grant an official visa to Ricardo Hausmann, the lawful representative of Venezuela – the first time in the bank's history that a host nation has refused to seat a member.
We know that Elliott Abrams is talking to the Russians. And there had already been news of the high-level dispute about allowing Ricardo Hausmann to represent Juan Guaidó at the IADB meeting in Beijing. The Chinese were considering not inviting anyone from Venezuela, which actually would be an acknowledgment that Maduro's legitimacy was in doubt.

The two countries constitute Maduro's lifeline and we just don't know at what point they are willing to cute him loose. Neither wants to appear to concede to the United States or to lose their investments. I assume the latter can be worked out but the former is tough.

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Should We Revive Wet Foot/Dry Foot?

David Bier at the Cato Institute argues that President Obama should not have ended the "wet foot/dry foot" immigration policy with Cuba. Here is the argument:

Whatever the case, ending wet foot, dry foot has exacerbated America’s immigration problems. Yes, the flow of Cubans is lower now, but under the old policy officials could simply parole the arrivals into the country without spending an enormous amount of resources on interviews, transportation, detention, and courts. Forcing Cubans to undergo the formal asylum process has only further burdened the system.
And here is the policy prescription that flows from it:
The administration should restore the wet foot, dry foot policy, which worked for this country for decades. The ultimate result was that more than a million Cubans freed themselves from a communist regime under the policy. 
And, he adds, we should include Venezuelans.

My own long-standing position has been that Latin Americans elsewhere face much worse repression than many of the fleeing Cubans--that's why we have a Central American immigration crisis. So it is unfair to treat them differently. I think we should treat all victims of repression the same--so either allow all of them in or spend the necessary money to reduce the asylum backlog.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

More On Why Invading Venezuela Is A Bad Idea

At Foreign Affairs, Frank Mora writes about what a Venezuelan invasion would look like, with a stark cost-benefit analysis.

There are two plausible ways the United States might use force in Venezuela: a precision bombing campaign and a full-scale invasion. Either course would have to be followed by efforts to stabilize the country and establish a civilian government. That could take years, given the country's size and military strength. Venezuela has a population of 33 million spread across a territory twice the size of Iraq. Its military is 160,000 strong and paramilitaries, colectivos (armed leftist groups that support Maduro), and criminal gangs collectively have more than 100,000 members. Even if a military intervention began well, U.S. forces would likely find themselves bogged down in the messy work of keeping the peace and rebuilding institutions for years to come.
For both bombing and invasion, he lays out best case and worst case scenarios. All of them involve U.S. troops being in Venezuela for years, which would involve ripple effects of violence, death, ruined hemispheric relations, and damaged relations outside the region.

And yet other former officials are saying invasion would be easy.
Venezuela’s constitution ­explicitly allows foreign military missions. That provision would grant legal legitimacy to a multinational force of Venezuelan citizen-soldiers and foreign troops to help keep the peace. Without being drawn into a prolonged campaign, US forces could be deployed to areas liberated by Venezuelans, to detain regime leaders who have been indicted in US courts. Prosecutors can do their part by seeking or unsealing indictments against them; hefty rewards would make it hard for them to hide.
There is every reason to believe it could not possibly be that simple. Put differently, given Venezuela's reality, what reasons do we have to believe it could be?

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Monday, March 18, 2019

No-Confidence Vote in Mexico

Mexico's lower house passed a constitutional reform allowing a president's term to be cut short.

Si se consolida la Reforma en el Senado, se permitiría al primer mandatario mexicano y al Congreso (con el 33% de legisladores) convocar para la revocación de mandato del presidente de la República o gobernadores el mismo día de las jornadas electorales que organiza el Instituto Federal Electoral y serían vinculante si participa al menos 48% del electorado.
The idea seems to be framed as a no-confidence vote, which is lacking in presidentialist Latin America. Executive-legislative disputes instead get resolved by shady constitutional means (e.g. Dilma Rousseff's impeachment and removal) or outright coup. The key difference here is that the vote would come from the electorate and not the legislature, and it cannot be done at any time. It must coincide with other scheduled elections. Which really just makes it another election.

Critics say it is a way to start pushing for re-election, though AMLO says he would sign a pact saying he wouldn't. But this effectively means the presidential term is cut to three years with a new election that does not include any competitors. If the president loses (to themselves, just like Augusto Pinochet!) then you must spend a lot of time and money running an entirely new election with lots of candidates.

It also makes referendums easier:
Para el caso de las consultas populares, se reduciría el porcentaje del número de firmas requeridas de los electores para que éstos puedan solicitar al Legislativo federal la realización de estos ejercicios (del 2.0 al 1.0%) de la lista nominal y los resultados serán vinculatorios para los poderes Ejecutivo y Legislativo federales y autoridades competentes cuando la participación sea mayor al 25%.
This is all about popular votes, which when done a lot can create havoc. In a representative democracy, the representatives are there for a reason.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

UNASUR Is Probably Dead

Lenín Moreno announced Ecuador was pulling out of UNASUR because "ha concluido que no existen las condiciones para que Unasur pueda volver a trabajar por la integración sudamericana." Oh, and they want the building back too. He said it had become a "political platform" rather than a true mechanism for integration. It seems the final straw was when members were unable to agree on a new Secretary-General. Last April, half the countries had suspended their participation anyway, and Colombia later fully pulled out.

Given Venezuela's collapse and general lack of interest, I can't see UNASUR surviving in any meaningful way. Of all the organizations created in the 2000s, I thought it had the most promise. Even conservatives in Latin America--e.g. Alvaro Uribe and Sebastián Piñera--accepted and utilized it. It served as a legitimate source of conflict resolution.

Instead, now Piñera and Iván Duque are talking about PROSUR, yet another new organization, presumably similar but just right-leaning, to replace it. I agree with Bruno Binetti, who says that it would just likely become an empty shell like all the rest. Nonetheless, a group of leaders will meet in Santiago in a week to talk about it. They say it will be "without ideology" but integration requires ideology. If there is going to be economic integration, for example, everyone has to agree on the model, which is fundamentally ideological.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

AMLO's Non-Interventionist Foreign Policy

I wrote several weeks ago at Global Americans about AMLO's cautious foreign policy. Jesse Anderson writes at World Politics Review about the topic as well, specifically the issue of non-intervention in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Domestically, AMLO has indeed been extremely active since taking office, tackling issues as diverse as gas theft and nursery school funding. On foreign policy, however, he’s been much more restrained—a posture that has turned the new president into a target of criticism both at home and abroad.
...
 AMLO’s government has been consistent in its justification for not taking sides by citing Article 89 of the Mexican Constitution, which emphasizes non-intervention and self-determination. Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard has maintained that Mexico “cannot, by constitutional mandate, support political intervention in other countries,” while Maximiliano Reyes Zuniga, the undersecretary for foreign affairs in Latin America and the Caribbean, said back in January that “Mexican foreign policy is guided by constitutional principles established in our Carta Magna.” But not everyone buys these repeated references to the Constitution, and there’s speculation that Maduro sympathizers within Morena have influenced AMLO’s non-interventionist stance.
He asks whether this will hurt AMLO domestically at some point. Since the Venezuelan crisis is acute and he still has high approval ratings, perhaps the answer is not much. I think he is more likely to get hit by immigration policy than Venezuela policy, since the latter does not have a large impact on Mexicans.
Para el mandatario "la mejor política exterior es la interior", algo que para el consultor Luis Estrada, asociado del Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales (Comexi), muestra el interés del Ejecutivo en centrar su atención en el país, dejando el exterior en un segundo plano.
That quote sums it up. So far Mexicans themselves have not contradicted it.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Parsing Pompeo's Threatening Tweet

Yesterday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "I’m not going to talk about particular actions that we may or may not be taking with respect to the security situation for the leadership in Venezuela, just like I don’t talk about the security situation for any leader around the world." And then he tweeted:


I'd say the tweet does indeed refer to actions "we may or may not be taking." We don't know if it is a bluff, but it is clearly saying that the Trump administration wants U.S. officials out of Venezuela so that in case of attack they are not in harm's way. If it was just for the electricity/water crisis there would be no need to mention "constraint."

I was worried about some kind of spark that might push the administration to use military force. This isn't a spark exactly, but the dire situation could increase support (both globally and in Congress) for some kind of action that would get humanitarian aid into the country.

It still strikes me that Donald Trump has not paid any public attention to Venezuela in a while. He is wrapped up in the wall, Bob Mueller, and Hillary Clinton. This does not mean he wouldn't use force, but along with Mike Pence's restrained comments it makes me wonder about what the internal debates look like. If Trump is in fact thinking about using force, he is not bothering to lay the rhetorical groundwork for it himself.

Update: Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza just tweeted that he is the reason the U.S. is pulling its diplomatic personnel out, saying their presence was a threat to peace. Make of that what you will.

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Monday, March 11, 2019

Abolishing Term Limits

Kristin McKie, "Presidential Term Limit Contravention: Abolish, Extend, Fail, or Respect?" Forthcoming in Comparative Political Studies (early view).

Abstract (gated article):
Since presidential term limits were (re)adopted by many states during the third wave of democratization, 221 presidents across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia have reached the end of their term(s) in office. Of these, 30% have attempted to contravene term limits, resulting in either full abolition, one-term extensions, or failure. What explains these divergent trajectories? I argue that trends in electoral competition over time best predict term limit outcomes, with noncompetitive elections permitting full abolition, less competitive elections allowing for one-term extensions, and competitive elections leading to failed bids. This is because electoral trends provide informational cues to the president’s co-partisan legislators and constitutional court judges (the actors who ultimately rule on constitutional term limit amendments) about the cost/benefit analysis that voting to uphold or repeal term limits would have on their own political survival. These findings suggest a linkage between political uncertainty and constitutional stability more generally.
This has been a major issue in Latin America over the last 15 or so years, and of course was central to the 2009 Honduran coup. A slew of presidents tried, either successfully or not, to abolish term limits. What McKie argues is intuitive: competitive political systems are less likely to allow it. She extends the analysis to judges, who calculate whether they will survive politically.
First, low or declining electoral competition creates the perception among these actors that the ruling party will continue to win elections into the foreseeable future. This reduces any fear they may have that lifting term limits could inadvertently advantage an opposition party, because the low level of electoral uncertainty makes an opposition win highly unlikely. As such, the ruling party no longer needs the “insurance” that term limit laws originally provided at the time they were adopted (namely, that an opposition party would not enjoy unlimited incumbent advantage), and thus the term limit rule becomes expendable. Alternatively, a higher level of electoral competition compels ruling-party allied parliamentarians and judges to keep the insurance of term limits in place. 
However, even if term limit rules are no longer needed, this does not guarantee that ruling party legislators and affiliated judges would automatically vote to scrap them. Here, a second, interrelated causal mechanism linked to low electoral competition comes into play—the leverage the president and the party have over ruling party legislators and constitutional court justices. An electorally dominant party can threaten legislators with being “de-campaigned” in the next election or judges with being dismissed from the court if they do not vote the party line.
This is all about horizontal accountability. Democracy requires that different branches of government are independent. If judges feel they can make decisions without losing their jobs, they will not bow down to the executive (which is the whole point of lifetime appointments when they exist).

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Eva Golinger's Confidante of "Tyrants"

I've been making my way through a stack of books I received as gifts. As it turns out, two of them were memoirs published at independent presses by female activists from the United States who traveled extensively to a Latin American country. The first one I read was Dana Frank's on Honduras. The second was Eva Golinger's Confidante of "Tyrants."  They couldn't be more different.

The title is misleading because her story is not one of a confidante. Her own narrative does not indicate that either she or Hugo Chávez confided anything to each other. She did very public work based on documents she obtained through FOIA and presented the the work to him (and then to other leaders in Iran, Russia, and elsewhere) so he could use it however he found useful. She interacted with him only sporadically and then only quickly. Indeed, she spends a considerable amount of time dealing with aides blocking her out. (And you find out a lot about the content of hotel minibars around the world and what she eats and drinks from them).

She even starts to contradict the title, which has "tyrants" in quotations. She hesitantly probes at the people she deals with, but never quite explores the political context. Qadafi and Assad just seem like pleasant guys and their cities were so enchanting. How could it be that Assad murdered people later? This quote from Human Rights Watch just before Golinger's 2010 visit sums it up perfectly:

So while visitors to Damascus are likely to stay in smart boutique hotels and dine in shiny new restaurants, ordinary Syrians continue to risk jail merely for criticizing their president, starting a blog, or protesting government policies.
Compare that to this:
There was no evidence of repression or the heavy hand of the state, as Syria had been portrayed in Western media. The city was vibrant and alive, the mix of the old historic buildings and streets with modern infrastructures and venues. The food was delicious, by far the best Middle Eastern food I'd ever had in my life" (p. 242). 
She does the same hesitant questioning about Chávez, but never uses the same incisive analysis she employs for U.S. policy. Chávez was a good guy who only wanted good things. The people around him dragged it all down. Therefore disaster cannot possibly be his legacy.

Both at the beginning and the end of the book, she compares Chávez to Donald Trump. Loyalty over competence. Corrupt practices. Cult of personality. It's here that she could have really explored her interactions with Chávez then and his legacy now more deeply. At the time, she was an uncritical supporter--her English language and government-funded Correo del Orinoco did not reflect concerns about corruption or unlimited power. She does not discuss whether that bothers her now as she looks back. I wonder if others like her, the Sean Spicers of the world, feel bothered.

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Saturday, March 09, 2019

Tech in Mexico

My former student John Hyatt is a business consultant these days in Mexico (I chatted with him on my podcast last year). He has an op-ed with his partner, aimed at Wisconsin. Their argument is that the Mexican tech sector is booming.
While we hear much talk of a migratory crisis during today’s political climate, it is a fact that Mexico has enjoyed a “net negative migration” rate to the United States since 2010.  For nearly a decade now, more Mexicans have been returning home from the United States than migrating from Mexico. 
In the tech sectors, Mexico’s plethora of engineers, and investors have converted the country into Latin America’s No. 1 tech hub. Mexico currently ranks seventh in the world for active Internet users at nearly 90 million. About 84 million Mexicans regularly delight in sharing pictures, videos and other posts with family and friends via Facebook as the nation checks in at fifth on earth for users of the social media juggernaut.
Mexico has serious problems but it is still important to stay cognizant of its strengths. Especially these days it takes extra effort to break through the stereotypes.

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Friday, March 08, 2019

Military Threats Are Bad Policy

Cynthia Arnson testifying yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "continued talk of a military option is nothing short of irresponsible." This is undeniably true. It is also (thankfully) being undermined even by Mike Pence, who said publicly there is "no timeline" for U.S. policy toward Venezuela, meaning that if Maduro doesn't go quickly, the U.S. might just wait (thus assuaging my concern that stalemate would prompt Donald Trump to do something rash). Trump actually hasn't bothered even tweeting about Venezuela since February 23.


But we still have the Troika of Trolling doing the irresponsible, as they have almost daily for a while. The mixed messages simply make things worse because there is no unified message.

John Bolton:

Mike Pompeo:

Marco Rubio:


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Thursday, March 07, 2019

India and Venezuelan Oil

India is a lifeline for Nicolás Maduro at the moment because it is buying oil (and Indian oil companies are making a handsome profit). In a previous post, Hari Seshasayee pointed out to me that much of that trade is done by one company, Reliance. The U.S. pressured Reliance heavily to stop trading with Iran. It seems it finally worked at the end of last year. So, he wondered, is Reliance's relationship with Venezuela next? From the Washington Post:
India is one of the countries that continue to recognize the Maduro government. Venezuela’s oil minister visited there last month to persuade the two major oil purchasers — Reliance Industries Ltd., which operates the world’s largest refining complex, and Nayara Energy, partially owned by Russia’s Rosneft oil giant — to buy more. The minister, Manuel Quevedo, told reporters he wanted to see the creation of a non-dollar trading bloc involving China, India and Russia, Reuters reported.
The Trump administration naturally prefers otherwise.
“We’ve asked India and other partners” to join the oil sanctions, “and are working with them to have that arrangement, but everything is on the table in that regard,” the administration official said.
If the administration successfully blocked Reliance off from Iran, it seems logical it will do the same with Venezuela. This becomes a serious issue for Venezuelans, who are deprived more and more as the government's revenue dwindles. The Trump administration is gradually tightening the economic screws. What happens to Venezuelans when there are no buyers?

Update (3/10/19): Elliott Abrams is saying publicly that India is being pressured.

"We say you should not be helping this regime, you should be on the side of the Venezuelan people," Elliott Abrams told Reuters in an interview. 
The Trump administration has given the same message to other governments, Abrams said, and has made a similar argument to foreign banks and private companies doing business with the Maduro government. 
Abrams described the U.S. approach as "arguing, cajoling, urging."
Update (3/19/19): Now Reuters reports that Venezuela has suspended oil exports to India, citing China and Russia as its only partners.

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Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Delicias Restaurante Latino

Here is another of my periodic posts about places I eat in Charlotte run by immigrants from Latin America, who are under attack constantly both here and nationally. Today my wife and I ate lunch at Delicias Restaurante Latino on Albemarle Road (not too bad a drive from the university). Like a good number of Charlotte restaurants (including Lempira), it is Mexican-Honduran-Salvadoran.*

We ate baleadas (some with beans/cheese and some eggs/avocado) and tamales (which come fried or steamed), with excellent hot sauce. The tortillas were thick and tasty, and the lunch special includes three. Go there tomorrow if you don't have lunch plans.

*I wondered about this combination. There are studies of this and the logic makes perfect sense. When Central American immigrants arrive at new destinations, some find work at Mexican restaurants. When eventually they open their own, they have learned Mexican dishes and also want to expand their potential clientele, so add the Mexican food (with their own twist, whatever that might be) to the Salvadoran and/or Honduran options. In Charlotte, these restaurants have large, diverse menus that appeal very broadly.

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Embracing Autonomy Chapter 1

As I've mentioned before, I am working on a book project on U.S.-Latin American relations in the 21st century. It is not solely for an academic audience--I want it to be accessible and good for the classroom. Plus, my goal is to bring in Latin American scholarly voices in IR, which is not common (and which I also have not done to my own chagrin). The project has slowed way down since I became Associate Dean, but it occurred to me to put up chapter drafts when I feel ready. I've uploaded a draft of Chapter 1, which you can access here. Feel free to send me any comments if you want.

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Trump is Deporting Venezuelans

Interesting and seemingly critical story in The Washington Times (certainly no liberal outlet) about the Trump administration's position on Venezuelan refugees. The administration is split on whether to allow Temporary Protected Status because it involves...allowing immigrants into the country and something to do with "rogue judges." The House Judiciary Committee is meeting about it today.

Then it points out:
So far, the administration appears to be taking a business-as-usual approach on deportations, with 112 Venezuelans removed through the first four and a half months of fiscal year 2019. 
That compares to 248 total deportations in 2017 and 336 recorded last year. It placed 18th on the deportation list, just behind Canada and ahead of Ghana. 
Democrats complained to the Trump administration last month.
The article frames the debate as partisan, which is inaccurate because the biggest proponents are Republican lawmakers in Florida. In reality, this is in no small part a Republican issue. It has echoes of Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, where a president simultaneously targets a country and refuses to address the migrant flow that ensues. A major difference is that the flow started because of the Venezuelan government, not the U.S., but now oil sanctions exacerbate it and play an independent causal role--obviously any use of force would do the same. The number of Venezuela now is in the U.S. (we're not even talking about Colombia or other neighboring countries) is relatively small but as the crisis continues it will increase.

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Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Why Dialogue Hasn't Worked in Venezuela

I was searching this blog for something (which after so many years of writing I find very useful) and came across a post from almost exactly five years ago. It was about how in early 2014 the Venezuelan MUD was split on engaging in dialogue with the government. Maduro wanted to use UNASUR, while the pro-dialogue part of the opposition agreed only after the participation of the Vatican. The latter group centered on four points:

1. Amnesty
2. Creation of a Truth Commission
3. "Renovation" of certain government agencies
4. Demobilization and disarming of the colectivos

We should remember that at the time this dialogue was a big deal. There had been major protests. The Obama administration had called for mediated dialogue. So did the UN Secretary General and the Secretary-General of the OAS. The Vatican had a flowery message of hope. So it went forward.

From today's perspective, the points seem mild. No demand for Maduro's ouster (though the hardliners did want that) or even new elections. Yet the government did not budge on any. There are still political prisoners, there is no truth commission, government agencies are in tatters, and the colectivos are active. The talks back then were declared dead a month or so after they started.

This is the problem with calls for dialogue now. There just isn't yet any reason to believe the government's response in 2019 will be any different from 2014. It helps explain why the opposition is not split on this issue at all now.

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Maduro's Strategy is to Wait

Along with everyone else, I wondered what would happen to Juan Guaidó when left Venezuela and then re-entered. We know Nicolás Maduro wants to arrest him, but instead he ignored him, pretending that it is just a normal, glorious Carnaval season where everyone dances on the beach.

That response highlights Maduro's clear strategy, which is to do as little as possible and wait this out. Arrest carries a high risk, both domestically and internationally, and so he refrains even though he desperately wants to. Maduro passed the initial test, which was to survive February 23. He then shifted some oil exports to India, which gives him breathing room even though oil exports are falling precipitously (ironically, Russia is picking up the slack for the United States!). The U.S. backed off threats of armed force.

Maduro assumes that Venezuelans will simply tire of this. Guaidó has to keep the energy up, which thus far he's been able to do, but it's not indefinite. That also keeps the opposition together, because otherwise it would be easy to slip back into infighting, which always works to Maduro's advantage. Plus, Venezuelan deprivation now is connected to U.S. sanctions and Americanization works in Maduro's favor. Nonetheless, more countries are now more deeply involved, which mitigates that.

The Downside of Waiting

Waiting is not risk-free.

First, you can run out of money, or at least a sufficient amount to keep everyone happy. However, there are illicit sources of drug or illegal mining revenue that provide additional cushion. This is the big unknown. We see defections but not of the decision-makers, and we just don't know what they're thinking. At the same time, however, Russia and China will eventually tire of throwing good money after bad.

Second, you can get completely outmaneuvered in every international institution. Guaidó just named outspoken economist Ricardo Hausmann as his representative to the Inter-American Development Bank. There was the infamous shift at the Costa Rican embassy. These will likely increase and can create a contagion effect. It also increases the means by which Guaidó has access to resources (though what he can actually do with them is another matter entirely). Incidentally, this also works against apathy--there are always new developments Guaidó can point to as he tries to rally tired people.

We just don't precedent for this. It is highly uncommon for authoritarian governments to let the main opposition leader to run free within the country. No doubt, Maduro and his supporters point to this as a sign of democracy, whereas it's really just a sign of dysfunction. We have not seen weird parallel governments living together without fighting, not to mention in this economic context. Members of the military are defecting, but notably they are not rising up. In the choice of exit, voice, or loyalty, they are choosing exit rather than voice, which makes them less threatening.

I haven't said anything that anyone who is paying attention doesn't already know. Mostly I am trying to make sense of it for myself. If you want to really boil it down, Guaidó needs to keep up morale and energy, which is difficult. Maduro needs to keep the military on his side, which is difficult. And there we are.

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