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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Monday, March 04, 2019

Ian Fleming's Thunderball

In December I read an updated James Bond novel by Anthony Horowitz that I enjoyed. So I thought I'd read one of Ian Fleming's originals. More or less randomly (meaning what the library happened to have) I chose Thunderball, published in 1961. It hasn't aged well.

Before getting to the novel, as I pointed out on Twitter I did a double take about SPECTRE's choice of what currency to use with their extortion plans.




A long time ago for Venezuelan bolívars to be your currency of choice.

And speaking of long ago and not aging well, this is a truly sexist novel with plenty of casual racism sprinkled in (from the black population of the Bahamas, where the action takes place). If you want to know what it means to portray women literally as sex objects, this is the place to see it. The character Domino Petacchi is there almost solely for Bond's gratification. And he drinks. A lot. Not so many martinis actually, but a ton of whiskey, always a double. Along with a steady flow of cigarettes.

I actually found the plot to be plodding. It is not a particularly exciting book, which surprised me. Further, Bond figures everything out correctly the first time, which means there is almost no suspense.

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Brazilian Foreign Policy and Venezuela

Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso wrote an op-ed about Venezuela (h/t Vinod Sreeharsha, a U.S. reporter in Brazil).

He argues that Donald Trump's basic goal is a unilateral global system dominated by the United States. That, he says, is not in Brazil's interest to support, especially because Trump will only be in the White House so long. It's bad for Brazil's image. That brings him to Venezuela, where he says Itamaraty needs to more forcefully reject U.S. policy:

Apoiar a oposição venezuelana é uma coisa. Imaginar que se deva fazer o que foi feito na Líbia, pensando que forças externas podem reconstruir a democracia no país, é ignorar os fatos. Os desatinos verbais têm sido de tal ordem que resta o consolo de ver os militares recordarem que temos uma tradição de altanaria e soberania a respeitar, soberania nossa e dos demais países. 
Bom mesmo seria ver o Itamaraty voltar a ser coerente com sua tradição: ressaltar e criticar o autoritarismo predominante na Venezuela, apoiar a oposição, dar acolhida às vítimas do arbítrio do atual governo e manter acesa a chama democrática. Abrir espaço para que terceiros países, mormente distantes da América do Sul, queiram resolver o drama político pela força não nos convém e fere nossas melhores tradições de atuação internacional.
Here is your basic Google Translate of it:
 Supporting the Venezuelan opposition is one thing. To imagine that one should do what has been done in Libya, thinking that external forces can rebuild democracy in the country, is to ignore the facts. The verbal nonsense has been such that there is the consolation of seeing the military remember that we have a tradition of haughtiness and sovereignty to respect, our sovereignty and the other countries. 
It would be good to see Itamaraty again consistent with its tradition: to emphasize and criticize the predominant authoritarianism in Venezuela, to support the opposition, to welcome the victims of the will of the current government and to keep the democratic flame burning. To open space for third countries, which are far from South America, to resolve the political drama by force, does not suit us and hurts our best traditions of international action.
Indeed, Brazil's traditional foreign policy is regional with a global look that has varied from president to president (with Lula it was very strong, less so with Dilma). The UN was a place for Brazil to make its mark, not fodder for empty globalist conspiracy theories. Under Bolsonaro, Brazil has no foreign policy identity beyond following Trump. In January I wrote about how Brazil would at any other time be taking a lead role to address the Venezuelan crisis, but now Bolsonaro is passive, almost subservient. FHC sees this as a problem for Brazil. At a minimum, it doesn't seem to advance Brazilian interests.

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Sunday, March 03, 2019

Gogo Empanadas

Every so often I post about places I eat in Charlotte owned by immigrants from Latin America. The immigrant community, so vilified, is a vital part of our country. Today it is Gogo Empanadas, a small Colombian restaurant in Matthews with a huge selection of empanadas (they anglicize that as "patties"). It is right off of I-485 so very convenient.

I ran across it entirely by chance. My older daughter periodically has soccer or rugby at the nearby sportsplex. I would drive past a nondescript strip mall and see the restaurant sign (just the word "empanada" kept grabbing my attention) but it apparently wasn't open yet. This weekend it was, so I got a selection to go. They're cooked to just crispy outside and are full. They're delicious--I don't eat meat so I got some of the spinach and cheese, seafood, and rice & beans. You can get literally anything you want (the menu is in the link). I also got both green and red sauces, the latter of which has a nice kick.

If you're in Charlotte, go give it a try.

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Russia Negotiates Venezuela

Russia's foreign minister told Mike Pompeo that Russia is ready to have bilateral talks with the U.S. about Venezuela. It's not the only issue on the table, but it's especially notable in the context of the history of U.S.-Latin American relations. Think about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Spanish-American War, the Panama Canal, the development of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, just to name a few. In all of these cases, the United States negotiated directly with Russia or a Western European power to decide the fate of a Latin American country on some particular (and important) issue.

Venezuela is not in the exact boat as Cuba during the Soviet era, but became closer to it since Maduro took power. That entails increasing economic dependence on Russia to the point that the Russian government has the power to manipulate you. Venezuela has more options than Cuba did because of oil, but it's a dire situation. As a result, Vladimir Putin can use Venezuela for his own purposes to make gains for Russia elsewhere. Venezuela is a bargaining chip with the U.S.

I don't know exactly what the Russians want, but that's beside the point. What matters is that they feel they have the authority to do it in the first place, and it's hard to argue. If I were Maduro, I'd be nervous because Putin has bigger interests. And historically these situations don't turn out well for the Latin American country in question.

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Saturday, March 02, 2019

Chinese Organized Crime in Latin America

An article in U.S. Southern Command's magazine warns against the growing influence of Chinese organized crime in Latin America. This goes hand in hand with the popularity and smuggling of Fentanyl. Evidence is scattered but it's an obvious outgrowth of more Chinese presence in the region.

The big question is what kind of threat this poses, which is tied to how much it is growing and what connections it is making, which are still murky. As with hysterical responses to purported Middle Eastern terrorism on our doorstep, I remain skeptical until I am completely convinced. Since the Trump administration has been warning about Chinese influence, I can envision this issue making its way more into speeches, probably with unnecessarily inflammatory rhetoric.

Put this in the "keep a close eye on it but don't blow it out of proportion" category.

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Friday, March 01, 2019

How Maduro Can Use US Sanctions

Not long ago, Nicolás Maduro made the ridiculous claim that there was no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. He felt the need to do that because admitting it is acknowledging the failure of what he describes as a glorious revolution. There was no credible way of blaming his economic disaster on anyone else.

The U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil changed all that.

Now Venezuela is getting wheat from Russia. They are getting medicine as well. The new message: these are needed to combat the imperialist embargo, which has abused Venezuelan human rights. It provides the perfect ideological cover for the government to seek help elsewhere while saving revolutionary face. There is a dire humanitarian crisis that the U.S. government created. This has worked very nicely for the Cubans for decades. In fact, one of the points Geoff Ramsey brought up in his podcast discussion with Adam Isacson is that diehard Chavistas see the crisis as their own Special Period and they are ready to wait it out.

The longer this stalemate drags on, the more sanctions become a liability for the United States. Just as Cuba back during the Eisenhower administration, they had one goal: pressure the military and the people to oust Maduro. If the policy fails to achieve the goal, then all you're doing is punishing innocent people for no reason.

So Maduro is getting food and medicine elsewhere while expanding other markets for oil (especially India). This helps him keep key allies paid off even if troops defect here and there. Geoff and Adam also bring up the question of whether Latin American governments will resume more or less normal economic ties to Venezuela if the stalemate appears to be indefinite.

In all these scenarios, Venezuelans lose.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Possible Sign That US Intervention in Venezuela is Less Likely

I've expressed my concern that being seen weak could prompt Donald Trump to launch some type of military operation in Venezuela. A week ago I laid out some of the possible outcomes after the failed February 23 attempt to get aid into Venezuela. But there is something I missed. Something so obvious that I almost slapped my forehead for missing it. A Trump classic.

When you lose, declare victory and move on.
President Trump said Thursday that U.S. aid supplies had gotten into Venezuela, despite the country's authoritarian leader publicly refusing to allow shipments. 
"We're sending supplies, supplies are getting through a little bit more. It's not easy," Trump said during a press conference in Vietnam after nuclear summit talks failed with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 
... 
 We're getting them into some of the cities and some of the areas that need them the most. It's very difficult, not an easy job."
This is good news. If Trump convinces himself that he did not fail, then he does not feel weak. If he does not feel weak, he will not intervene to make up for it. That doesn't mean he won't intervene, of course, but it decreases the overall probability.

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Is Political Science Relevant?

Michael Desch makes an oft-repeated argument at The Chronicle that Political Science is no longer policy relevant. I've refuted this argument many times over the years:

2010

2012

2013

2014 (which was Nicholas Kristoff)

There are problems with translation, especially with sophisticated methodologies (I organized a LASA panel about the academia-policy connection in 2014). We need to consciously bridge that gap. Many, many people already are.

There are boatloads of political scientists publishing op-eds in major newspapers, writing posts at The Monkey Cage (which has a national, and definitely DC, audience) or other online outlets, giving presentations at conferences hosted by the government (e.g. State and DoD), getting grants from the U.S. government (not just NSF but also Minerva, which is aimed at the social sciences), tweeting to thousands, or even tens of thousands, of people on policy, talking on podcasts, or even working in the government (which has been true in recent years of a number of political science professors).

I think there is a case to be made that political science is more widely read and relevant now than ever before. There are far more avenues to reach the eyeballs of the public and policy makers than in the past. If I had these ideas 30 years ago, what could I even do? Maybe write them in an email to the few people who had an account. That's about it.

Barack Obama talked about reading How Democracies Die, written by two political scientists. How much more relevant do you want?

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Bad Takes on Venezuela

People are opining non-stop about Venezuela. Including me, of course. I have collected examples of what I consider bad takes or erroneous arguments. I am not linking because I am not trying to start fights with anyone in particular.

1. Just because people with hard currency can shop does not mean there are not widespread shortages, especially for people without hard currency.

2. Opposing Maduro is not the same as supporting Trump.

3. The converse is also true--just being a Trump opponent should not make you a knee-jerk supporter of Maduro.

4. If you call for dialogue without preconditions, it means you prefer the status quo and hope it remains.

5. Just because Venezuela has oil is not automatically a reason for the U.S. to intervene. (We already have good access to it.)

6. The group of Venezuelans you spoke to is not a representative sample. So don't claim it as such.

7. You cannot call the 2018 presidential election free and fair, unless you consider those words to include imprisonment of political opponents, intimidation, media harassment, etc.

8. Don't argue that the U.S. is not infringing any more on Venezuelan sovereignty than Cuba is. (One is invited, one is not, even if you do not like it).

9. Stop comparing this to Chile in 1973. Even Ariel Dorfman calls BS on that.

10. Whether or not you label Maduro a "dictator" is meaningless and nit-picky.

11. The Venezuelan economy has nothing to do with any policy being proposed in the United States.

12. U.S. sanctions (which were quite limited) did not cause the Venezuelan economy to collapse, though the PDVSA sanctions are exacerbating it.

There, got those off my chest.

Update (2/28/19): I've been told there is some confusion about whether these are bad takes or good takes. Or perhaps bad takes made good. The answer: read them however you want.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Chances of US Armed Intervention in Venezuela

I am quoted in this Deutsche Welle article about the possibility of U.S. intervention. See my post yesterday on how there is no good policy options as well. As of now, I see all of the following as true.

1. Intervention is more likely now than it was before February 23. The aid gambit failed and the Trump administration is on its heels. As I've written a number of times, my main fear is what Trump will do if seen as weak (especially if combined with #7).

2. Latin America does not want armed intervention. The Lima Group said so explicitly. Brazil and Colombia--key U.S. allies--were clear on that.

3. Europe does not want intervention. The European Union has been clear on this.

4. The United Nations does not want military action.

5. The United States has a history of intervening unilaterally (or mostly so) in Latin America and elsewhere even without support.

6. Given the lack of support, land invasion is very unlikely. Aerial bombing is more so as a way to frighten the Venezuelan military into defection.

7. A spark can throw all the above into disarray. For example, famed Univision reporter Jorge Ramos and others were detained and their equipment because he didn't like their questions (more specifically, they showed Nicolás Maduro images of Venezuelans eating from garbage trucks). This reinforces what I already thought, which is that Maduro is not a particularly smart person and could easily do something that gives a perfect excuse for military action. This has a long history in U.S.-Latin American relations.

8. However, Mike Pence made a statement with the Lima Group and promised only sanctions while asking other countries to freeze assets. It was definitely un-warlike.

In sum, chances of armed intervention are not high, but they are very real and highly contextual, in the sense that an unexpected and unintended spark can start a fire.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

Venezuela: No Good Options.

The Washington Post reports on the push for armed intervention of some kind in Venezuela.

Vice President Pence will travel to Colombia on Monday to meet with regional leaders — including the head of the Venezuelan opposition, Juan Guaidó — and discuss potential options for a more muscular front against Maduro. While the White House originally cast Saturday’s aid push on the Venezuelan border as a potential tipping point for ousting Maduro, administration officials said Sunday that the weekend’s violence had frustrated those plans, making new action necessary.
Pence plans to announce “clear actions” to respond to the weekend’s clashes, though he is not likely to address whether the U.S. military would get involved, a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plans, told reporters Sunday.
Marco Rubio is trying to stir everything up with bloody tweets of Gaddafi. He left up the Manuel Noriega one, just adding to the inaccurate parallel to Panama. All of the U.S. war mongering only makes it harder for the Venezuelan military to defect.

So what now? Adam Isacson runs down details about what an invasion might look like. It's lengthy and not easy to just summarize, so I strongly suggest you read it yourself. Frank Mora, who as a former DoD official knows his stuff, had a few comments about it and puts the chance of U.S. intervention at less than 10%. Noel Maurer separately argues why the U.S. won't invade Venezuela (though with plenty of caveats, specifically not ruling out aerial attacks). The bottom line is that armed intervention will inflict damage and death, and possibly be very drawn out.

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. And, of course, he has people around him who want to invade. Juan Guaidó also wants it, or at least something more forceful. At least Trump is currently distracted by North Korea and the border obsession, but Guaidó will want immediate attention to avoid losing all his political momentum, just as every past opposition effort did.

The only alternative viable option is negotiation that includes an interim president and presidential elections, along with freeing political prisoners and opening up media, among other things. At this point, Maduro has no incentive to accept that, so would have to be forced into it internally. We have not seen evidence of that yet from the outside.

If there is no invasion and no dialogue, then we stay in stalemate, essentially waiting for the Venezuelan economy to fall apart completely, perhaps by more multilaterally imposed sanctions. This entails deep suffering for Venezuelans, who we are purportedly trying to help. Then we're back to my Zimbabwe comparison. Suffering alone does not prompt regime change.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

There is Venezuela Consensus: Trump Not Following It

We have reached a point of truly remarkable consensus on Venezuela. I have two views below. One is from a conservative former Bush administration official. The other is from a former editor at TeleSur, the media mouthpiece for Hugo Chávez. You can probably tell which is which, but their messages are so similar.

Here's one:

Stalin González, a top opposition lawmaker, suggested earlier this month that a transitional government should include representatives of the ruling “chavismo” movement and military leadership to guarantee the political stability needed to hold new elections. “We need to give space to the chavismo that is not Maduro because we need political stability,” he said. It is important to remember that not all officials who follow Chávez are crooks or human rights abusers.
Here's the other:
Governing institutions should not be confused with people, and solidarity with states behaving badly only discourages the self-criticism that a genuinely revolutionary movement should crave. In Venezuela, this encourages the same self-defeating behavior, escalated since the defeat of 2015, that has led a majority of Venezuelans to feel their government does not act with their best interests in mind.
The consensus is that Venezuelans deserve a free and fair (and inclusive!) presidential election and that unilateral action by the United States is counter-productive. Obviously their views diverge on whether military force should ever be considered a serious option. But that is a huge consensus from polar ideological opposites.

This is why it is so frustrating to hear that Mike Pence is going to Colombia so that he can berate the Maduro and the Venezuelan military some more. The Trump administration seems to be oblivious to the consensus and so acts completely against it. This is a "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" kind of thing. There is unheard of political consensus. Don't screw it up in a misguided attempt to claim all the credit.

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Humanitarian Aid Plan in Venezuela

According to diputado José Trujillo, here is the plan for the humanitarian aid on February 23.

1. Go to Cúcuta, Colombia; Roraima, Brasil; la isla de Curazao; Puerto Cabello y La Guaira. Note: the government says it is closing borders at Curazao, Aruba and Bonaire.

2. Get a human chain of volunteers who have signed up through a special website.

3. If the Venezuelan military intervenes, inform them they are committing a crime of war and against humanity and therefore they will be subject to "international action."

4. If it gets worse, use Article 187 of the Venezuelan constitution, which gives the National Assembly the right to bring foreign forces. Note: this seems to be a shaky use of the language in that article, which refers to foreign contracts. Add Article 13 and you have a problem:

Artículo 13. El territorio no podrá ser jamás cedido, traspasado, arrendado, ni en forma alguna enajenado, ni aun temporal o parcialmente, a Estados extranjeros u otros sujetos de derecho internacional. 
El espacio geográfico venezolano es una zona de paz. No se podrán establecer en él bases militares extranjeras o instalaciones que tengan de alguna manera propósitos militares, por parte de ninguna potencia o coalición de potencias.
Meanwhile, the Commanding General of the Colombian military visited U.S. Southern Command, where SouthCom commander Craig Faller threatened the Venezuelan military and said the U.S. was still considering invasion. Marco Rubio is saying the Venezuelan military is already rebelling and will let the aid in.

This will likely be a major turning point. There are two dramatic possibilities:

First, the military rebels and sparks a broader coup action.

Second, the military blocks the aid and we soon see a U.S.-led invasion.

But there are also less dramatic possibilities:

Third, on its own the the military lets the aid through and then we go back to stalemate.

Fourth, Maduro grandiloquently calls for the military to let the aid in to preserve peace, thus retaining symbolic control, then we go back to stalemate.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Taiwan Keeps Daniel Ortega Afloat

The Trump administration has focused on pressuring Latin American countries to recognize Taiwan and push back against the Chinese presence. In Central America, Marco Rubio has been active in criticizing and trying to punish El Salvador for recognizing China. Both China and Taiwan use money as a carrot.

Enter Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega, ever the political chameleon, recognized Taiwan in 2017. That turned out to be a great move because Taiwan just loaned him $100 million to keep him afloat. Ortega desperately needed an influx of cash as he faces isolation and domestic upheaval. This comes just after Donald Trump said he wanted to come after Ortega.

The competition between Taiwan and China in Latin America gives governments greater autonomy. The United States alone cannot force regime change in Nicaragua solely with economic pressure because there are escape valves. In this particular case, Ortega is actually just doing what the U.S. wanted in the first place.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Americanizing the Venezuelan Crisis

Here is the text of Donald Trump's speech in Miami yesterday about Venezuela. The administration is pushing very hard to Americanize the crisis, to suck up as much of the attention as possible. In his book U.S. Presidents and Latin American Interventions, Michael Grow makes the case that presidents chose regime change not because of economic or national security interests, but for a combination of three other factors:

1. U.S. international credibility
2. U.S. domestic politics
3. Latin American lobbying

#2 is so strong here it's palpable. The speech is all about connecting Democratic candidates to Venezuelan socialism. Yes, it is also about whipping up hardliners in Florida. In that's sense it's easy red meat, but there is a broader, more national strategy.

As a result, Trump and others (especially Marco Rubio) desperately want credit for overthrowing Nicolás Maduro. This Americanizes the crisis and increases the perception that things are being driven by the White House and not by the opposition. As you read, you can see the "USA!USA!" chants during the speech--this is good old nationalistic drum pounding. Let's go get the bad guys. Marco Rubio goes to the border and lectures the Venezuelan military (and my goodness, check out the replies to my tweet on that subject. Hoo boy!). In the speech, Trump threatens the Venezuelan military yet again--it's been threatened numerous times at this point.

This is a very risky proposition. The chances of an invasion going smoothly is slim and the chances of long-term instability are high. Now, maybe that doesn't matter for 2020. Invade, kick out Maduro, and proclaim victory. It depends on how unstable the country is at that point.

My own take is that the more you Americanize the situation, the worse the eventual result for the average Venezuelan. It badly undermines whatever government comes next and increases the chances of armed insurrection. The U.S. should stay in the background as much as possible and let Juan Guaidó do all the talking. But that isn't going to happen.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Dana Frank's The Long Honduran Night

It is most useful to think of Dana Frank's The Long Honduran Night as a memoir. Frank is Professor Emeritus of History at UC Santa Cruz and both a scholar of and activist in Honduras. The book is about her experiences with labor organizers and many others in Honduras as they dealt with the 2009 coup and all its after-effects. It is a highly personal account, with her opinions and her own life laid bare--how she celebrated, traveled, got sick, was afraid, danced, and cried.

It may sound odd given the often grim circumstances, but the underlying theme of the book is joy. She is so glad to see the energy and dedication of Honduran activists, how they persevere and overcome seemingly overwhelming obstacles. The government is trying to kill them on a constant basis but they don't stop.

She hates Juan Orlando Hernández with a passion and shows frustration for how the U.S. media gives him favorable coverage (she took to using the term "axe murderer" for what he was doing in the country*). More specifically, she asks that we stop seeing immigrant flows as stemming from "gang violence" because it inaccurately suggests that the state is trying to stop it, as opposed to being deep in it as well. Giving aid to JOH is just increasing the violence.

I like the fact that she is ideologically nuanced. She apologetically is on the left, to be sure, but she show some skepticism of Manuel Zelaya and how his personality dominated the resistance so much. She is deeply critical of U.S. policy, but has a detailed understanding (based on her own hard legwork) of how the U.S. government is no monolith and how there are lots of sympathetic ears if you know how to find them. You can use those to make positive changes, even if small. She offers no simple answers, understanding there aren't any.

As an accessible book in English, you can't beat it for an informed overview of what's going on in Honduras. We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of the coup and it just keeps affecting (and infecting) everything.

*This generates memorable sentences like "At a commencement ceremony at my university, I sat next to the provost, Alison Galloway, and casually mentioned my axe murderers fixation" (p. 208).

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Effects of PDVSA Sanctions on Venezuelans

Isabelle Laroca at Caracas Chronicles expresses her fear about the effects of U.S. sanctions on Venezuelans. Going after PDVSA creates economic ripple effects that hit everyone. For example:

Given that oil exports are responsible for way over 90% of the dollars flowing into Venezuela, the imports of CLAP boxes, for example, will come to a halt. And while the products sucked and the corruption scheme reached epic proportions, many today depend on those boxes. According to preliminary results of the Life Conditions Survey (ENCOVI) of 2018, 94% of those surveyed don’t make enough money to fulfill their basic needs, while an estimated 7.3 million Venezuelan homes receive CLAP boxes (on an irregular basis.)

I've argued against sanctions like this precisely for this reason. Maduro gets stronger each day that he remains in power while Venezuelans suffer more. For a long time, we could say with confidence that blaming U.S. sanctions for Venezuela's woes was nonsense. It's not nonsense anymore--Maduro is to blame for the policies but sanctions make their effects worse.

The post's comments show that many believe that some combination of the Venezuelan people and the Venezuelan military will hit a breaking point. This is dangerous logic that has not necessarily worked elsewhere. A suffering people and co-opted military can co-exist in a repressive context.

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

How Democrats Flounder on Immigration

Political scientist Anita Isaacs and Economist Anne Preston have a great op-ed in The New York Times about the Democrats' deal to reduce ICE beds. In short, it shows the bankruptcy of the party on the issue of immigration.
But while well intentioned — the list of problems with the immigrant detention system is long — if the Democrats gets their way, they will likely make conditions much worse for the tens of thousands of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in limbo on both sides of the border.
Donald Trump will not detain fewer people just because there are fewer beds. They will just be detained in worse conditions. The core problem is that immigration is now a huge prison business. This is what I discussed in my talk at Washington College last year, which I put up as a post. Immigration is a machine.

 Changing the machine’s nature is difficult. You have to pass new laws, which requires congressional majorities. You have to make a lot of people lose their jobs. You have to spend tons of money.  
We can better understand why Latino support for Democratic presidential candidates is not currently high. 
This machine can be dismantled or reprogrammed, but we have to decide whether we have the will to do it.
This is why Democrats flounder on the issue. They tinker at the margins of the machine and do not challenge its existence.

Back to the op-ed. Here are their proposed solutions:
To the extent that Democrats are serious about immigration reform, restricting beds is more a gimmick than a solution. Absent the comprehensive reform desperately needed, Democrats should use their new political capital to protect migrant rights. That means demanding more humane treatment at detention centers, guaranteeing the right to asylum for refugees from the region, assuring due process for the majority of undocumented migrants who are upstanding members of our society, and requiring that ICE focus its resources on detaining and deporting only those migrants who have committed truly serious crimes.

I would submit that even these suggestions, while important, are not radical enough. Challenge the idea of private prisons, of the ethics of imprisoning children ever, of separating families ever, etc.

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Friday, February 15, 2019

AMLO's Cautious Foreign Policy

I have a post up at Global Americans about AMLO's cautious foreign policy. My basic take:

Contrary to expectations, AMLO is no leftist firebrand in foreign policy. He has an ambitious and contentious domestic policy agenda and his current inclination is to avoid foreign policy conflict that distracts too much from advancing those. His approval rating is a stratospheric 86 percent, so for now the strategy is working. But a number of his foreign policy audiences have opposing views and over time he will find it harder to reconcile them.
I am giving a local talk next week on U.S.-Mexican relations, which will be pitched differently but this is a sneak peek at part of it.

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Venezuela Stalls

Events in Venezuela are of course moving and changing constantly, but there seems to be a stalemate vibe at the moment. What got me thinking along those lines was that for the first time, Juan Guaidó felt the need to say publicly that he wasn't failing. To be fair, he was responding to Nicolás Maduro jibes, so might not have said anything on his own.

Maduro also noted how his representatives met with Elliott Abrams and got the impression the U.S. was more flexible than it sounded in public. The trick here is that there are mixed messages--a good cop/bad cop scenario that might not be intentional. Abrams has said things will take time, Marco Rubio and John Bolton want tough talk and to push military action, and Trump's attention is elsewhere. Who knows how far he is willing to go. My main concern is that he accepts the argument that letting this drag on makes him look bad. He does not like looking weak. But Maduro can see daylight through the cracks in the administration.

Just as in the past, there have been large protests over different days and the military is not budging. How long can people keep up those protests? Fatigue sets in. Undoubtedly this fact is making Maduro feel like he has some breathing room.

Maduro claims he can shift oil exports elsewhere, and India is already looking at ways to conduct transactions that avoid U.S. financial institutions. If Maduro finds more alternatives like this, he can hang on longer, or at least generate enough cash to keep the military happy for a while longer. Since oil production keeps dropping, who knows how long that would be.

I am still worried about the Trump administration throwing up its hands and using military force in some way. February 23 is going to be critical because that is when Guaidó said he was going to try to push humanitarian aid into Venezuela. If shots are fired, then all bets are off.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Podcast Episode 64: The U.S. and Juan Guaidó

On Episode 64 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Tim Gill, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UNC Wilmington. He has published on an array of topics largely involving U.S. global power, Venezuelan politics and human rights, and sociological theory. His work has been published in several academic outlets, including Sociological Forum, Journal of World-Systems Research, Social Currents, The American Sociologist, and Third World Quarterly.

We last talked in Episode 10, which was November 2016 after Trump’s election. Times have changed a bit.

For our discussion, he also co-authored an article with Rebecca Hanson (she came on the podcast two weeks ago) about U.S. policy toward Venezuela in The Nation (click here for the link) and people are all up in arms. Specifically, it is about the U.S. government’s relationship with Juan Guaidó. It generated some heat so we discuss the argument, the responses to it, and where Venezuela may be heading now.

You can find this podcast at iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and anywhere else podcasts can be found. If there is anyplace I've missed, please contact me. Subscribe and rate, even if just to tell me I am a moronic leftist academic.


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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Economic Alternatives in Latin America

Political scientist Thea Riofrancos writes at Dissent about how the Latin American left has relied on extractive industries, which is both damaging to local communities and increases dependent economic relationships (including to China). I totally agree and of course this argument isn't new. What she does, however, is offer concrete solutions.

The first is political. Forge relationships between affected and non-affected communities to stop the spread of extraction.

In direct response to the national anti-mining movement’s demands, deputies of the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) introduced a bill to ban large-scale mining in 2006. Eleven years later, the law was adopted unanimously by El Salvador’s legislature. A number of factors account for this success: dense organizational structure linking affected communities together; the movement’s ability to frame the national conversation around impacts on the country’s vulnerable water system; the innovative use of municipal consultas on mining (all of which registered community opposition); and the strong support of progressive Catholic bishops as well as FMLN deputies in congress. This movement-party dynamic, built on longstanding ties between rural community movements and the FMLN, was essential to channeling popular power into policy change.
It's much trickier to pinpoint what economic policies governments should enact in its place. There's less on that.
Those of us pushing for a post-extractive transition must grapple with two challenges: divestment from existing oil and mining projects and implementing moratoria on new projects, and replacing extractive revenues with taxes on the rich and reinvesting existing rents into non-extractive sectors.
100% of a new policy will be taxing the rich? That's a major challenge. This would be unprecedented and really tough politically given the history of tax policy in Latin America, where non-payment is rampant and governments have few to no means of enforcing it.

Setting that aside for the moment, the non-extractive sectors deserve more attention. Finding them has been the Holy Grail of Latin American political economy. The import-substitution model was a major 20th century effort.

Her article is worth your time. Someday Latin American policy makers need to find new solutions.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Where Maduro Would Go

Now there are discussions about where Nicolás Maduro would go if forced out. The article is based on four anonymous sources, though Elliott Abrams is talking openly about the subject as well.

It is unfortunate that the Trump administration is insisting that it make all the decisions and doing so loudly. This will damage the legitimacy of the new government. Talking openly about where to exile someone has an imperialist taste to it that is not easy to dispel.

In fact, it may well be that all this public talk is intended largely to send signals to Maduro and those around him that a) the U.S. is closing in; and b) no matter what John Bolton said, there are options besides Guantánamo. That talk was plain stupid. Anyway, the article notes that the Russians see this as psychological warfare and it's hard to argue the point.

It might be working on me too. I have heard so many times over the years about how the regime was about to fall and this is the first time I have actually felt like it could be imminent.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

Does Venezuela Hurt Democrats in 2020?

I've seen this argument enough already and debated it on Twitter, so I want to just put it here and leave it. The New York Times writes about how Venezuela is "dangerous" for Democrats in 2020. Here is why this argument is problematic.

First, 2020 is one hell of a long way away and people's memories are short.

Second, beyond short memories there is so much time that the political context in Venezuela will not be the same. BTW, if Trump decides to invade and it becomes a bloodbath with Americans dying then you can guess who that will hurt politically. If he uses military force and it's deemed a success in the U.S. (which may or may not mean good for Venezuelans) then 99.999% of the electorate will soon forget about it entirely.

Third, these arguments disingenuously conflate opposition to invasion and support for the status quo. You can believe that Maduro is illegitimate and that invasion is a bad idea. The simplistic analyses are driving me crazy.

Fourth, no one outside a subset of Floridians care about this enough to put it front and center when voting. Donald Trump won Florida in 2016 but only barely. Pennsylvania was razor thin and they don't give a crap about Venezuela. Same goes for Wisconsin. Well, same goes for frickin every other state.

Fifth, these articles always mention comments from about 2-3 Democratic Representatives, who are representative of exactly nothing in the party. Plus, no one votes based on what one relatively unknown person across the country said 18 months ago.

The scenario that would hurt Democrats in 2020 would be one in which Maduro were still in power and Democrats were prominently opposing putting any pressure on him at all. I can't see this scenario happening, in large part because the Trump administration is committed to regime change and will certainly use military force of some kind if this drags on much longer. Further, the Democratic leadership believes Maduro is illegitimate and would not be doing that anyway.

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Saturday, February 09, 2019

Manolo's Bakery

There were ICE raids in Charlotte recently, which are intended to terrorize the immigrant community. One small business, Manolo's Bakery, went locally viral with its plea for help. Business is down because people are afraid. It's heartbreaking. So I went with my son and daughter as a small token of support. The owner thanked us the moment we walked inside.

If you're Charlotte, please go check it and other immigrant businesses out this weekend. Manolo's is at 4405 Central Avenue. They have a great selection of pastries and cakes, but also empanadas. I was partial to the spinach while my son gobbled up the pineapple one. Here's just a part of our haul:


Terrorizing people is not just a human rights abuse. It also damages small businesses and therefore local economies by extension.

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How Vice-Presidents Screw Up Latin American Politics

Leiv Marsteintredet and Fredrik Uggla, "Allies and Traitors: Vice-Presidents in Latin America," Journal of Latin American Studies (forthcoming 2019).

Abstract:

Vice-presidents in Latin America have often been at the centre of political turbulence. To prevent conflicts within the executive, most Latin American countries have therefore put in place formulae to elect presidents and vice-presidents on a joint electoral ticket. Still, it is common for presidential candidates to pick running mates from other parties in order to construct alliances and appeal to a broader set of voters. But the presence of such ‘external’ vice-presidents seems to increase the risk of presidential interruption in general and impeachment processes in particular. Accordingly, we argue that the frequently overlooked institution of the vice-president deserves attention as a possible intervening variable that can contribute to the explanation for government crises and their outcomes in Latin America.
The famous quote from U.S. Vice President John Nance Garner (under Franklin Roosevelt from 1933-1941) was that the position was "not worth a bucket of warm spit" and was the "the spare tire on the automobile of government."

Brian Winter noted this article at Americas Quarterly as he discussed the already highly problematic relationship between Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his running mate Hamilton Mourão. Latin American vice-presidencies are no bowls of spit because, unlike the U.S. now, they are often from different parties, intended to shore up an alliance. But once they are elected, they want the presidency. I remember writing about Julio Cobos, the Argentine VP who voted against Cristina Kirchner as a tie-break, then ran away.

Anyway, Marsteintredet and Uggla do a great historical dive and even use two original databases (one for each author, it seems). External running mates make electoral sense but often have undermined political stability. They led to, in the wonderfully phrased term, "presidential interruption." They acknowledge how many other factors are at play and how difficult it is to establish causation, but it's an interesting argument.

BTW, I chatted with Leiv about impeachment on my podcast back in Episode 31.

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Friday, February 08, 2019

Podcast Episode 63: Nayib Bukele Wins in El Salvador

In Episode 63 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcasttalk about the Salvadoran presidential election with Christine Wade, Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Washington College. We talk about why Nayib Bukele won, the problems with the two dominant parties, the role of ideology, and much more. We end on a more optimistic note than normal!

You can find this podcast at iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and anywhere else podcasts can be found. If there is anyplace I've missed, please contact me.


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Thursday, February 07, 2019

Congress Debates Invading Venezuela

The Venezuela military invasion question is percolating in the U.S. Congress. As aid becomes the fulcrum of conflict and tension increases, members of Congress are trying to get ahead of the administration's actions before they are launched.

Marco Rubio was pushing to get congressional (or at least Senate) authorization for the use of force but Bob Menendez nixed it.

Menendez, who was co-authoring the measure with Chairman Jim Risch of Idaho, wrote language declaring that the resolution should be not be construed to allow the for the use of military force there, and was unwilling to go forward without that statement.
Meanwhile, yesterday Rep. David Cicilline co-sponsored a bill expressly prohibiting the use of U.S. Armed Forces in Venezuela "and for other purposes." The full text is not up yet but here is Cicilline's press release:
Cicilline’s legislation, introduced with the support of 20 co-sponsors, prevents the Trump administration from taking any military action related to Venezuela without the approval of Congress required by law.  This administration has frequently pushed the boundaries of the legal requirement to seek congressional approval for military action and this bill will prevent them from doing so in relation to Venezuela.
The discussion can be alarming. See, for example, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina (the "you lie" guy) in a one-minute statement about Venezuela:
We must continue to support hope in Venezuela. Free and fair elections must be held. The people of Venezuela deserve freedom and democracy. 
In conclusion, God bless our troops and we will never forget September the 11th in the global war on terrorism. 
Yes, you are reading that right. He is explicitly tying Venezuela to 9/11.

Not all was creepy, however, Rep. Gwen Moore (who co-sponsored Cicilline's bill) said the following:
The U.S. should support international efforts to achieve a negotiated resolution. Rather than trying to repeat all the mistakes of our failed foreign policy of the past in this region, I urge this Administration to engage with other partners in order to best facilitate a return to democracy.  
Lastly, I share concerns about the individual, Elliott Abrams, appointed by this Administration to serve as a ‘‘special envoy’’ to Venezuela. His history, particularly with regards to his views on U.S. policy in this region, disqualify him to serve as an impartial implementer of a strong diplomatic effort to reach a peaceful resolution. Among other concerns, this individual was twice convicted of lying to Congress and has long held troubling views on how the U.S. should engage with governments in the region with which it disagrees. 
This is a flexible response. Negotiation does not mean you simply sit around and talk. It also involves pressure, but that is applied in a multilateral manner.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Listen to Some Latin America Podcasts

The reason I have my own podcast is that I enjoy listening to them in general, in the car and while exercising. Here are some I've listened to recently related to Latin American politics you might be interested in checking out.

  • Two Gringos With Questions Podcast Chris Sabatini and Kenneth Frankel talk to Tom Shannon, a retired diplomat who played a major role in U.S.-Latin American relations for years. Ever the diplomat, he gives a nice overview of how Latin America views Venezuela without being overly critical of the Trump administration. He covers all sorts of things, including the fact that he's a NASCAR fan.
  • Intelligence Matters Podcast A former Acting CIA Director chats with Vicki Huddleston, who served as the top diplomat in Cuba from 1999-2002. She seems particularly happy to trash John Bolton.
  • Skullduggery Podcast: Yahoo News reporters talk about a new story on Operation Cobra, where a CIA operative clued U.S. officials onto the fact that there were nuclear weapons in Cuba. Great history, though it falls apart when they force a comparison to current day Venezuela, which just does not work.
  • The most recent episode of The Brazil Report with journalist Gilberto Ribeiro goes into the favela militias in Rio. They are dangerous and Jair Bolsonaro loves them. They talk about the history (dating back to the 1950s) and the threats they pose.
  • Off and on I listen to the Revolutions Podcast, which has episode after episode on the Mexican Revolution. Straightforward narrative history and well paced, though at times his pronunciations will make you wince. I just love the fact that this topic is popular to an English-language audience.

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