Friday, November 08, 2019

Generalizing About Latin American Politics

Francisco Toro and James Bosworth have a piece in The Washington Post about how we have to avoid the temptation to generalize too much about Latin American politics, especially in this era of crisis. They note the different demands we see across the region, the stability here with instability there, right, left, and center all mixed up, etc.

For decades, Latin Americanists have been ritually repeating that each country
in the region is different, that each has its own history, social dynamics, political
traditions and cultural idiosyncrasies. For just as long, the rest of Washingtonʼs foreign policy establishment has been ignoring our warnings.
I agree, though comparativists would always leave room open for generalization. The problem is that U.S. policymakers tend to come up with their own that are wrong. All we're hearing now is socialism, socialism, socialism, which is useless when it comes to Chile and any number of other cases. For years we had "pink tide" even while the term had nothing to do with, for example, Colombia and Mexico.

You know what this is? It's really a call for Latin America policy that is more like Barack Obama's. There were certainly problems there--immigration and Honduras come to mind in particular--but I still agree with something I wrote back in 2014:
I like the general thrust of President Obama's policy toward Latin America. More specifically, I like the lack of a one-size-fits-all grand strategy, a focus on positive day-to-day relations on the ground, and hesitance to act too quickly. This does not mean I have agreed with everything the administration has done and I've written about that too.
For Obama, that was part of his general "don't do stupid shit" advice. We don't need a huge Alliance for Progress 2.0. We need careful, reality-based policy.


Thursday, November 07, 2019

Demography and Central America Migration

Longtime readers will know I've done work on demographics of immigration to the United States, which is chronically understudied. Therefore I am always happy to see it placed front and center, such as in this piece by Michael Clemens and Jimmy Graham from the Center for Global Development.

The Northern Triangle has recently begun to fall off a demographic cliff. There will be fewer youths entering the labor market in the region in years to come than since the 1950s. In roughly a decade, migration pressure is likely to fall sharply as a result. Much of today’s pressure will naturally ease.
This sounds good, except for the fact that my dad took a look at the numbers and they're wrong.
The problem with their analysis is that the data simply don't show what they say. The United Nations demographers' medium projections show that the youthful, migration-age populations in Guatemala and Honduras will continue to increase in number for at least another decade, and after that we will see only a gradual slowdown. It is true that the number of youths in El Salvador will be a bit smaller in 2030 than now, but the change is not dramatic. There is no current evidence that any of the three Northern Triangle countries are falling off a demographic cliff. As much as I would have liked for their story to be true, the data simply don't paint the picture they have put out there.
So no cliff.

They note how the same happened with Mexico, which my dad and I pointed out back in 2010 in our book Irresistible Forces:
[T]he end of the demographic fit should also mean that the Mexican labor pool, in particular, will be smaller, thereby increasing the chances that a given individual in Mexico will find employment in Mexico (p. 89). 
The other two facts the authors point out are the efficacy of work visas (i.e. legal avenues for immigration) and the complexity of aid. Some aid can, in fact, increase migration.
National poverty contributes to the lack of local opportunity for the girl, certainly, but her own family’s emergence from poverty is part of what places migration within their reach. This is why, as poor countries get rich, emigration typically rises at first, only falling later.
This is true, and is related to what I just wrote about yesterday with regard to Guatemala.


Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Microfinance and Guatemalan Emigration

Research shows that the most poor are less likely to migrate to those who are poor but have access to some resources. As Benjamin Helms and David Leblang note:
For countries with low levels of per capita income, we observe little migration due to a liquidity constraint: at this end of the income distribution, individuals do not have sufficient resources to cover even minor costs associated with moving abroad. Increasing income helps to decrease this constraint, and consequently we observe increased levels of emigration as incomes rise.
This excellent Washington Post story shows how U.S.-backed microfinance loans in Guatemala spur people to emigrate.
What enables those payments is a vast system of credit that includes financial institutions set up and supported by the United States and the World Bank, part of the global boom in microfinance over the past two decades. The U.S. government and the World Bank have each extended tens of millions of dollars in funding and loan guarantees, money that helped create what is now Guatemala’s biggest microfinance organization, Fundación Génesis Empresarial, and backed one of its largest banks, Banrural. 
But in Nebaj and communities like it around the country, those financial institutions now serve Guatemalans eager to migrate.
In short, these loans give people in a very poor country access to the necessary resources for emigration. They wouldn't have access otherwise. It would be one thing if they managed to reach and stay in the United States, but often they don't. They end up back in Guatemala and in deep debt, from which they cannot recover.

I am teaching a graduate seminar on U.S.-Latin American relations this semester, and we were just talking about the difficulty of explaining the jump of Central American migrants in 2014. You have to separate constants (i.e. poverty and violence) from variables. This is something that did change.

We also talk about unintended consequences, which are a constant in U.S. policy. Decision-makers routinely fail to see long-term ramifications, some of which should be obvious while others are harder to foresee. In this particular case, microfinance--which does work for some people--just becomes just another hustle.


Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Alberto Fernández Visits AMLO

I am quoted in this Associated Press story about Alberto Fernández visiting AMLO. The basic question is whether this means much for the future. Nicolás Maduro, for example, claimed AMLO could lead a new front against imperialism, with Argentina by his side. My take was that this wasn't going to happen.

On the Mexican side, AMLO does not seem to be interested in being a regional leader. He said as much:

"No (encabezaré un eje progresista), porque cada país tiene su propia realidad... su propia historia. Por eso es el principio de autodeterminación de los pueblos, de ahí viene, cada pueblo tiene su propia historia, su idiosincrasia, y cada quien tiene que actuar de acuerdo a sus circunstancias", expresó el mandatario mexicano.
He has his own problems and isn't going to make international enemies. He has been careful not to get Donald Trump's negative attention, so a high-risk, low-payoff anti-imperialism front does not appeal to him.

On the Argentine side, why travel to AMLO? My take here was that Alberto Fernández wanted to make a symbolic statement about his political orientation. That means a country with a stable leftist (or center-left) government. That rules out Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela. He could go to Uruguay, I suppose, but there are indications the left won't be ruling there much longer. That left Mexico. I will be surprised if there is much more to it than that.

Lastly, visiting a leftist president first allows Fernández to next visit countries in the southern cone that are much more important to Argentina.  I don't see a "Latin American left rising," as Reuters put it.


Monday, November 04, 2019

The Eternal Latin American Military

It was just about a generation ago that studying civil-military relations was a hot topic. It's what I did in Chile and plenty of others were doing the same around the region. Most, like me, shifted to over topics over time (David Pion-Berlin is a notable exception--he's been studying this forever). By the mid-2000s or so, people tended to return to ignoring the role of the armed forces, deeming them as just another political actor (defending its bureaucratic interests) in an era of democracy.

Now interest is starting to perk up again as presidents either use the military to keep order or make a point of having the military's support.

I wrote a blog post about Javier Corrales' article on the topic. The New York Times warns of the military's return. The Mexican military (through a retired officer) is criticizing its president, which is highly unusual there and is a bad sign. Over the course of this year, we've seen analyses about the military's (re)growing power in Latin America. This all sounds so familiar.

As Brian Loveman reminded us in his 1999 book For la Patria: Politics and the Armed Forces in Latin America, "The armed forces' role as "guardians" in a system of "protected democracy" is thus part of Latin American political culture and is not restricted to the military subculture and militarylore" (xiv). This does not mean the military wants to govern or even to control decisions, but it does mean that presidents lean on the military for political support in ways that are often not healthy for democracy, while military commanders see themselves as ultimate guardians of the national common good, which at times means making political statements. Ousting the president or even taking over entirely is just the extreme version.

Added to the mix, of course, is the fact that democracy's shine has currently lost its luster in the region. As we see in LAPOP polling, support for democracy is down, from 67.6% in 2004 to 57.5% in 2018/2019. That is a dismaying drop. In 10 countries support is under 50% (versus 6 above 50%). The lowest is in Peru, and the highest in Costa Rica (which famously does not have an army).

Folks, the military never went away. We just weren't paying very much attention for a long time.


Saturday, November 02, 2019

Russia Goes All In On Maduro

I recently talked to Jason Marczak about China's role in Venezuela, which along with Russia is Nicolás Maduro's lifeline. What we're seeing, though, is that ideology and rivalry is showing the clear differences between the two countries' approaches. China is the pragmatic one, looking for return on investment, not wanting to throw good money after bad. Rivalry with the U.S. doesn't make that worth it.

Russia, on the other hand, is literally showering the government with euro and dollar bills, sent by planeload, to keep Maduro afloat. This is money the Russians will never get back, and they know that. But they're all in. This is all about Russia's position vis-a-vis the United States. Russia wants to project into the western hemisphere as tit for tat, and does not want to look weak (either at home or abroad) by losing or giving up on Venezuela.

It's not a particularly risky diplomatic move for Vladimir Putin. The U.S. is not going to retaliate, and certainly as long as Donald Trump is in office, Putin knows there will be no real repercussions. The problem Putin faces is financial, because this there are diminishing returns. As time goes on, the benefits flatten out and eventually become negative, in part thanks to Russia itself.

Think of it as something like this:

As long as the military backs the regime, this can go on a long time. As in Afghanistan, the Russians will likely feel compelled to keep going given sunk costs. Would Putin just decide one day to walk away? Maybe, but it seems unlikely.


Thursday, October 31, 2019

What is a Coup, Anyway?

The word "coup" is now used to mean almost everything. Donald Trump even uses it to describe an entirely constitutional investigation. Evo Morales uses it when talking about the opposition complaining about an unplanned and unexplained stoppage of vote counting. Nicolás Maduro uses it, and he's actually right. It's bandied about all the time.

Andrés Malamud amd Leiv Marsteintredet have done a study--a forthcoming academic article in Political Studies that you can see capsulized here as a blog post--about this phenomenon. Her are the three main points they make:

1. Coups are are increasingly rare, but Latin American instability is not.

2. Inertia leads us to keep expanding the old term rather than employing new ones.

3. It allows the targets to present themselves more as victims.

They go on to classify interruptions of government according to various types based on the perpetrator, the victim, and the tactic. The "classic" coup is when the perpetrator is a state agent, the victim is the executive, and it is illegal.

Actually, this sounds like Clue. It's the president, with the military, in the hall with the candlestick.

Anyway, other outcomes are revolution, autogolpe, and political judgment (e.g. impeachment). Unfortunately, I don't see much relief from the overuse and abuse of the term. Their third point is too tempting for presidents under fire: "coup" sounds bad so you use it, just as you use terrorist, fascist, socialist, leftist, genocide, and other loaded terms with specific meanings that people often ignore and don't understand.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dealing With Double Standards

Steve Ellner and Teri Mattson have a piece in Jacobin making what I would consider the uncontroversial point that the Trump administration has a double standard with Venezuela vs. Honduras. Honduras is run by a deeply corrupt elite tied to drug trafficking and that's pretty much OK for the United States.

Double standards are worth pointing out to the general public, and in fact it is even more useful if you explain that they are a permanent fixture of U.S. foreign policy globally. The U.S. does not forcefully push for human rights in Saudi Arabia, and happily trades with China while blocking Cuba. The authors argue that "Under Trump, these inconsistencies and gaps between rhetoric and practice have widened." I disagree--Reagan lavished praise on genocidal maniacs and Trump's open support for the Saudis just follows a long tradition.

However, pointing them out is the easy part. It is much harder to draw a policy conclusion from them, which analysts rarely, if ever, do. If we accept there is double standard, then we should make a policy recommendation to remedy it. In the Venezuela-Honduras case, here are the options:

1. Do nothing in Venezuela as we do nothing in Honduras

2. Attack Honduras as vigorously as we do Venezuela

3. Something in the middle, with muted criticism and use of multilateral approaches

This exercise is particularly useful because it seems to me that most critics of double standards would prefer that the U.S. treat corrupt allies forcefully. But to avoid a double standard, that would require doing the same with other corrupt countries.

Some of this comes down to perception. They argue the following:

Even if one accepts as accurate the denunciations against the government of President Nicolas Maduro put forward by most of its critics, Venezuela doesn’t reach Honduras’s level of unethical and undemocratic behavior.
This is not obviously true. But setting that aside, the authors do not follow up with a discussion of what should happen in Honduras and Venezuela to get rid of the double standard. That, I think, is where the meaty debate would be.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Podcast Episode 68: Understanding the Bolivian Crisis

On Episode 68 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Miguel Centellas, who is Croft Instructional Associate Professor of Sociology & International Studies at The University of Mississippi. He does research on Bolivian politics, electoral politics, and measuring democracy as well. He was on the podcast way back in December 2016. At that point, Evo Morales had decided to run despite the failed referendum. This time we discuss the current crisis, what the opposition is like, and the state of Bolivian democracy, complete with a Star Wars reference.

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 crazed leftist professor.


Monday, October 28, 2019

Sorting Out the Chilean Protests

The social and political explosion in Chile seems on the one hand to be so simple. Academics and activists have been arguing for a long time that the economic model generates inequality, and the political parties have been in disfavor for quite a while.

Lucas Perelló notes that Chile is unequal, economic elites are grabbing whatever they can, and the political establishment doesn't care. Patricio Navia points to "high dependence on copper, high levels of inequality and an increasingly unresponsive and corrupt political system." Pamela Constable, who has reported on Chile for many years and co-authored a very good book on it, calls it "a democracy that has restored political freedom but failed to meet rising expectations of economic fairness." Irina Domurath and Stefano Palestini Céspedes make a similar argument: "While the immediate trigger of the protests was an increase in subway prices, underlying the unrest is a deep social discontent over the results of decades of neoliberal policies."

But none of this explains timing. Protesters call for a constituent assembly, but that's not new either. The 1980 constitution has long been a bone of contention given its authoritarian origin (Google Jaime Guzmán to get a feel for that). Student protests have been happening for years, but not like this. The subway fare increase was a few cents, but it was a straw that broke the camel's back. The difficult is understanding when the camel's had enough, so to speak. From a comparative perspective, this is a huge question.

Therefore we move to solutions. Interestingly, a new constitution won't resolve the economic issues, but it would address the military response. This isn't likely any attack on capitalism per se, but rather a demand for greater attention to working class problems, public transportation being one of many. At least Sebastiám Piñera appears to have changed course, though new elite faces in the cabinet don't necessarily mean real change. There are comparisons to 2013 Brazil, but we need to be careful about that because the political context is quite different: Chile has experienced electoral shifts from left to right and back again, whereas Dilma was president after years of PT rule. And the corruption aspect is less evident in Chile than it was in Brazil. But Piñera needs to put together a broad-based group that will start proposing economic solutions.

Convincing Chileans that you actually care about their problems is no small project. Hopefully this just doesn't devolve into arguments about "populism." Do that too much and you'll end up with more protests.


Friday, October 25, 2019

New Articles on Latin America

The Latin Americanist, Volume 63-3, September 2019, is now live through Project MUSE.

Articles in this issue:

·         Galia Benitez, Mapping Colombia’s Counternarcotic Networks: Latin America Increase Partnerships

This paper aims to explain the emergence of an antinarcotics network operating between Colombia and several other Latin American and Caribbean countries. This paper first maps out Colombia's antinarcotics deep collaboration, using formal Social Network Analysis (SNA) and centrality measurements to identify the structural locations and evolution of Colombia's transnational joint antinarcotics operations from 2010 to 2015. Second, it explores the reasons why Colombia has engaged in an increasing number of multilateral operations at a regional level with its neighboring countries in the last years. The results illustrate that since 2015, there have been policies that embrace a growing number of multilateral operations at the regional level, despite the fact that Colombia's coordinated antinarcotics responses have so far been mostly bilateral (e.g., coordinated with the US and UK). This diversification has been promoted by multilateral regional antinarcotics agreements like AMERIPOL, whose structures are more conducive to a cooperative approach, and reflects an emergent sense among Latin American countries that drug trafficking is their shared problem and responsibility.

·         Jürgen Buchenau, The Rise and Demise of a Regional Power: The Multilateralism of Mexican Dictator Porfirio Díaz, 1876-1911

This article sketches the international policies of Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz, whose long reign (1876–1880 and 1884–1911) coincided with the evolution of a multilateral approach that sought to limit the growth of U.S. influence in the circum-Caribbean, balance U.S. investments in Mexico with European ones, and assert its own interests. Eager to ascribe significance to the manifold failings of the Díaz regime in order to explain the coming of the Mexican Revolution, few historians have undertaken to understand Porfirian foreign policy on its own terms. The fact that Díaz's balancing act ultimately failed should not detract from the conclusion that it registered modest successes for many years.

·         Leopoldo Pena, Calling on Difference in Javier Castellanos Martínez Dxiokze xha … bene walhall/Gente del mismo corazón

This article analyzes the discourse of difference in Dxiokze xha. . . bene walhall/Gente del mismo corazón (2014), a novel by Javier Castellanos, Zapotec writer, poet, musician and author of three other bilingual (Zapotec/Spanish) novels: Wila che be ze lhao/Cantares de los vientos primerizos (1994), Da kebe nho Seke gon ben xhi'ne Guzio/ Relación de hazañas del hijo del Relámpago (2005), Laxdao yelazeralle/El corazón de los deseos (2007). In Dxiokze xha. . . bene walhall/Gente del mismo corazón difference is a trope echoing the language of twentieth century indigenous movements and allowing the author to revisit historical events in an effort to demythify national narratives. The article argues that in revisiting historical episodes, Castellanos proposes polycentrism as an alternative to the liberal notion of a harmonious pluricultural nation. To do so, Castellanos employs the dilla guka-dillaxiwi, a Zapotec narrative genre that subdues the individualistic, Promethean and hegemonic position of narrative authority. Moreover, his use of the dilla guka-dillaxiwi responds to a cultural turn in which anthropology and literature were seeking to break away from the policies of indigenismo and set out to form indigenous intellectuals, cultural workers, as agents for a pluricultural nation. Considering the importance of this cultural turn, the article contributes to Latin American and indigenous literature by analyzing the interaction between anthropology and literature. And, as a way of inviting further research on the connections between Mexican indigenous literature and anthropology, the article highlights Castellanos' encounters with national figures, Guillermo Bonfil Batalla and Carlos Montemayor, driving forces for Mexico's turn to pluriculturality at a moment when difference became a disputed topic for indigenous and national intellectuals in multiple fields.


Thursday, October 24, 2019

Politicizing the Latin American Military

Javier Corrales has an article in Americas Quarterly warning that the political use of the military that we're seeing around Latin America will not lead anywhere good. I agree. However, I think we need to shift the argument a bit.

Latin America used to be known as the land of the military junta. It is now at risk of becoming the land of militarized democracies.  
I would argue that it already is, and has been. I studied civil-military relations extensively at the beginning of my career almost twenty years ago and that was clearly evident. It's not always every country all the time, but it's always been there. Brian Loveman wrote a lot about how deeply embedded Latin American militaries are in their constitutions, which in many cases are not amended or not enough.

I think it's more useful to consider this a long-standing problem because it requires structural changes and not just policy shifts. Specifically, it requires constitutional changes to the military's role and to the president's ability to decree emergency powers.
Empowering the military is worrisome, even when most citizens support the idea. Governments end up being indebted to generals. Generals get too used to certifying or setting policies. Policies become too focused on the need to maximize security. And security is conceptualized mostly in terms of repression.
Once again, I totally agree, so let's re-examine all those constitutions, all the myriad laws that allow presidents to give in to the temptation to use maximum force when faced with crisis.


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Podcast Episode 67: China & Venezuela

In Episode 67 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Jason Marczak,  Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. He’s been active in studying Latin America for a long time, previously with the Americas Society and Council for the Americas. Yesterday the council hosted an event “China, Oil, and Venezuela: Myths, Reality, and the Future.” (Here is the link to video of that event) In particular, we talk about what interests China has in Venezuela and what role it might play in an eventual political transition.

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 wrong about everything.


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Joshua Davis Talk

Joshua Davis wrote Spare Parts, which I reviewed last year and which became the common reading for the university this year. As chair of the Common Reading Committee, I had the pleasure of having dinner with him and seeing him give a talk on campus this past week (big crowd, 700ish). He's very engaging, and had a message for students about how your career is not a linear thing. He told a great story about how on a lark he went to an arm wrestling competition to watch and was encouraged to participate. He paid the $20 entrance fee and promptly lost two matches. Since there were only four people in his weight, he came in fourth, which made him eligible to go to the world championships as an alternate. Since someone was on probation, he did, to Poland. He then told his neighbor about the adventure, and that person happened to be the Executive Editor of Wired. He was encouraged to make a pitch, and his journalism career began.

He gave us an update on the protagonists of the book, now adults, which like his book is neither entirely negative nor positive. He had never imagined the book would be so relevant this long. He wrote the book some years ago, and in 2013 remember that the Senate passed an immigration reform bill, and there was hope--not very high, but still--of some real legislation before House Republicans killed it.

If you haven't read Spare Parts, it is well worth your time. There is also a movie with some stars in it, which I have not seen but which Davis says is pretty good, though they Disneyfied it and ended with the competition rather than the struggles that continued afterward.


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mixing Military and Police Functions in Chile

The Chilean army is at the northern border to fight drug trafficking. They will "track and identify criminals."

El Comando Conjunto Norte, dependiente del Estado Mayor Conjunto de Chile dirige la coordinación de las distintas capacidades de las Fuerzas Armadas con las fuerzas policiales. Los militares prestan el apoyo logístico y tecnológico para rastrear e identificar a los criminales, mientras los elementos de las fuerzas policiales son responsables de aprehenderlos.
Augusto Varas, who was at the forefront of publishing on Chilean civil-military relations in the 1980s, published an interesting article at the Fundación EQUITAS site on the military and internal order under Sebastián Piñera. This isn't just about drugs--it's about concern over what the military mission should be. In July he decreed the military would become part of the fight against drugs at the border, even in May he had said this wasn't a it was trained for.

Varas notes how expanding the military's mission beyond its profession has been a hallmark of Piñera's two terms, and goes hand-in-hand with a market orientation that sees the military budget as something to be used for whatever the government wants rather than strategically constructing the military's proper mission and leaving other pressing problems--climate change, fires, earthquakes, drugs, etc.--to other state agencies.

Further, and more troubling, it gives the military an internal orientation and the mission to keep internal order, which is consistently a source of violence.
Así, el Decreto 265 es una mala idea y debe ser abandonada. Con malos y peligrosos resultados en otros países, tiende a consolidar un espacio en el que se diluyen las fronteras entre lo militar y lo civil, lo nacional y lo extranjero, lo castrense y lo político, lo republicano y lo autocrático.
The same goes in the United States, where the military should not be involved in patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

New LAPOP Data

The Latin American Public Opinion Project has released their 2018/2019 AmericasBarometer data. This "Topical Brief" provides an introduction, then you can look at specific country reports on their website. There are a handful now and I assume more to come.

The upshot: Latin Americans are decreasingly happy about democracy. In fact, people who use social media are least satisfied with it. I can see that--swim around in political Twitter (or your friend's incessant political Facebook posts) for a while and see how you feel about the world afterward.

If you read through the reports from Central American countries but also Mexico, you can easily answer the question of why people are emigrating. They see the economy as bad and security as worse, and many have been victims of crime.

Some other interesting tidbits:

--Mexicans are more satisfied with democracy after AMLO's election.

--Guatemalans have more confidence in the military than in CICIG

--Guatemalans have the most confidence in the evangelical church

--both the least educated and the richest Hondurans have the highest support for democracy

--almost 2/3 of Salvadorans are satisfied with public education

--perception of corruption has been declining in Ecuador.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Evo's Bid To Stay In Power

Ben Raderstorf and Michael J. Camilleri have a good op-ed in The Washington Post about Evo Morales, who is running for president (yet) again in Sunday's election. They note that Bolivians show clear signs of tiring of his presidency and they express concern that he will gradually govern in a more authoritarian manner. He has centralized power over time.

Basically, this is a question of whether Bolivia looks more politically like Venezuela and Nicaragua, with suppression of dissent and closing off of democratic spaces, or more like Ecuador, where Rafael Correa walked away. Correa's choice is more democratic and better for the country in the long term, but unfortunately he doesn't make that choice look very attractive. He is living in exile, hounded by the Ecuadorian judicial system and funded by the Russians, where he frantically and unsuccessfully tries to make himself politically relevant using Twitter. That doesn't tilt the decision-making calculus in a democratic direction.

One twist here that they point out is the notion that Morales is courting agribusiness. As Linda Farthing argues in a recent issue of Latin American Perspectives (a leftist academic journal):

Over its 12 years in power, Bolivia’s MAS government has made significant advances in expanding inclusion and reducing poverty. In the process, it has steadily been transformed into a hegemonic force that is increasingly dependent on expedient and pragmatically based compromises with economic elites. Concurrently, social movement influence and participation in the government have steadily declined. After 2009, when an uprising by Eastern elites had been quashed and MAS gained a congressional majority, the MAS missed an opening to advance its original project of structural change, opting instead for a more expedient strategy that has kept it in power at the cost of accommodating elites and debilitating social movements.
That sounds rather Nicaragua-like. But will it make him lose?

Morales currently leads in the polls, though there was controversy (and even threatened legal action) when a new poll showed him failing to win a first round. He needs either 50% or 40% with a 10% margin over the second place finisher, and the opposition is not united. It would be a surprise and a major shift if he actually lost.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Will Trump Lose the Hardliner Vote in Florida?

The clash of bases for President Trump is, as so many other things in the administration, unusual and self-defeating. On the one hand, we have the traditional appeal to Cuban-Americans and now also Venezuelan-Americans about harsh policies toward those respective governments. Freedom and all that. On the other, we have the appeal to the racist and rabidly anti-immigrant base, which does not want non-white immigrants of any kind.

That creates what the Associated Press describes today for Cuba.

Since the end of the Obama administration, the number of Cubans deported from the U.S. has increased more than tenfold to more than 800 in the past year as the Trump administration enforces a new policy inked just days before it took over. It is also imposing its own sharp limits on who is eligible for asylum. That’s an unwelcome development for growing numbers of asylum-seeking Cubans who had long benefited from a generous U.S. approach and their government’s unwillingness to take its people back.
So remember that Obama ended the infamous "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, so that part is not new. The big difference is that Obama viewed it as part of an overall policy of engagement:
During my Administration, we worked to improve the lives of the Cuban people - inside of Cuba - by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world. Sustaining that approach is the best way to ensure that Cubans can enjoy prosperity, pursue reforms, and determine their own destiny. As I said in Havana, the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people.
Trump kept the new immigration policy and ended the engagement, and even though Obama was an active deporter-in-chief, Trump takes it to an entirely new level with a blanket policy of basically wanting to deny asylum to anyone. And he also cut consular services to make it almost impossible for anyone to get a visa legally.

I've written before about how he touts his hard line against Venezuela, which exacerbates emigration, then refuses to allow Venezuelans to find refuge in the United States.

The big question is how this affects Florida in 2020. Trump won the state by only just over 100,000 votes so he cannot afford to lose many voters. Now, many of those voters are the other base, the one that likes tough talk but does not want more non-white people coming in. But what would it take for Trump lose the hardline Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American vote? Whoever becomes the Democratic candidate would be well-served to bring up the refugee/asylum issue.

For the time being, Trump's position is entirely anti-immigrant and everything else is subservient to that. People who have his ear (such as Marco Rubio) will try to get him to find some solution, but there is no way to know if he would follow it.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Pressuring Venezuelan Creditors

Mitu Gulati & Ugo Panizza, "Maduro Bonds," Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2018-56


For multiple decades, activists have sought to institute an international legal regime that limits the ability of despotic governments to borrow money and then shift those obligations onto more democratic successor governments. Our goal in this article is to raise the possibility of an alternate legal path to raising the costs of borrowing for despotic regimes. All countries have systems of domestic laws that regulate agency relationships and try to deter corruption; otherwise the domestic economy would not function. Despotic governments, we conjecture, are especially likely to engage in transactions that are legally problematic. The reason being that despotic governments, by definition, lack the support of the populace; meaning that there is a high likelihood that actions that they take on behalf of the populace can be challenged as unrepresentative and contrary to the interests of the true principals. The foregoing conditions, if one translates them into the context of an ordinary principal-agent relationship, would constitute a voidable transaction in most modern legal systems. That means that if opposition parties in countries with despotic governments today were to monitor and make public the potential problems with debt issuances by their despotic rulers under their own local laws, it would raise the cost of capital for those despots. To support our argument, we use both the concrete example of the debt issuance shenanigans of the Maduro government in Venezuela and a more general analysis of the relationship between corruption, democracy and a nation’s borrowing costs.
I don't believe I've ever seen the word "shenanigans" in an abstract. And then there is also "sleazy."
We describe how the efforts of civil society to point out suspicious looking aspects of a particularly sleazy bond issue by the Maduro government both resulted in a significant increase in the market’s perception of the risk of a particular bond issue and, we suspect, killed the willingness of investors to engage in other similar transactions. 
Loaded language aside, the argument is a simple one: opposition parties in authoritarian contexts should loudly proclaim how certain borrowing practices violate domestic law, thus raising doubts in the minds of creditors. It is public shaming, with an added threat of future complications.

One problem here is that they make specific reference multiple times to "opposition parties" but the Venezuela example they use actually involves Ricardo Hausmann, who is not in Venezuela and does not seem connected to a party, and Marco Rubio, a non-Venezuelan U.S. Senator. The body of the article never mentions anyone in a Venezuelan opposition party. This should give us pause.

So yes, you can publicly raise doubts about debt and use social media to spread your word. But basing it on U.S. officials and actors abroad raises ethical questions. It's like a public version of Richard Nixon's "make the economy scream" statement about Chile.


Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Lenín Moreno in Crisis

Protests against Lenín Moreno's austerity measures are intensifying, to the point that Moreno actually moved the capital from Quito to Guayaquil.

Of course, it's all playing out across Twitter. Just as Martín Vizvarra had recently done in Peru, Moreno tweeted a picture of himself with the military leadership.  Then he retweeted Juan Guaidó's claim that Nicolás Maduro was responsible. Meanwhile, Rafael Correa is going berserk, calling Moreno a dictator, retweeting various videos of protesters confronting police, and telling him to resign.

Moreno called the protests a coup, and indeed Ecuador has a long history of them. It's worth remembering that Rafael Correa's extended time in office through elections is the exception in Ecuador's political history. In 2000, CONAIE (the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, which is now leading the protests) was central in bringing down Jamil Mahuad. A lot has been written on CONAIE's political activism. I don't know if this is a coup push, but if CONAIE's involved it means it's well-organized. It has called for a national strike tomorrow.

It's also worth remembering that cutting fuel subsidies is dangerous in general. In 2011, Evo Morales tried it and backed off immediately because of protests (the so-called gasolinazo). Among other things, messing around with propane played an important role in protests that ousted Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003. Mauricio Macri faced protests last year as he started cutting back on subsidies. There are plenty of examples across Latin America.

And yet Moreno says they aren't coming back. It doesn't help him that the International Monetary Fund, which he courted, wrote approvingly of the measures:

The reforms announced yesterday by President Lenin Moreno aim to improve the resilience and sustainability of Ecuador’s economy and foster strong, and inclusive growth. The announcement included important measures to protect the poor and most vulnerable, as well as to generate jobs in a more competitive economy.
The optics aren't good for him, but he figures that with the military's support he can wait them out.


Saturday, October 05, 2019

Do Vaguely Something in Venezuela

Conservative analysts remind everyone of what everyone already knows, that Nicolás Maduro is propped up by foreign governments. Like most other conservatives writing about Venezuela, they want something to be done, but will not actually say what. Here are the verbs they use:

--"unravel" the "network"
--"countering" his external allies
--"take into account" the external state actors
--"challenge" his source of support

So how do we unravel, counter, take into account, and challenge? They won't say, so I don't know, though President Trump is busily alienating most governments in the world except for Russia so does that count?

Or perhaps we could challenge the idea that dialogue never works, take into account comparative cases, counter the urge to hurt Venezuelans because of their governments, and unravel the corrupt networks.


Monday, September 30, 2019

The Larreta Doctrine

Max Paul Friedman and Tom Long have an opinion piece in Uruguay's El Diario on the Larreta Doctrine. Not familiar with it? That wouldn't be surprising because it's not brought up very often. But it was an effort by former Uruguayan Foreign Minister Eduardo Rodríguez Larreta in 1945 to get Latin American states to collectively protect democracy and human rights. Here is a longer English-language analysis they wrote for Perspectives on Politics.

They argue that there are three key points to Larreta's case:

1. Human rights and democracy are inseparable, and violations are a threat to regional peace.

2. There should be precommitments with regional mechanisms that focus on popular sovereignty. Basically, by definition violation of democracy (e.g. a coup) would be a negation of sovereignty.

3. The United States must commit to working multilaterally.

The idea is that given the current ramping up of rhetoric against Venezuela in particular, but also the erosion of democracy elsewhere, it is worth reconsidering valuable ideas from the past that emphasize collective non-military solutions to crises surrounding human rights and democracy. Otherwise the region seems largely stuck.

The devil is in the details. Aside from the question of sovereignty, the really big challenge here is defining democracy or human rights violation. Latin America has never found consensus about either (or anything, for that matter). For example, when a political figure is arrested in any given country, the region is split about whether that individual is a political prisoner or a golpista who deserved it. When a president is removed in an irregular manner--Zelaya, Dilma, Lego--there is no regional consensus on whether a coup took place. And if you cannot agree on basic concepts, then you cannot agree on what action to take or whether to take any action at all.

That doesn't mean it's not worth trying, though. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has wholeheartedly rejected the third point. "America First" is by definition a unilateral approach to foreign policy. But go check out their arguments--they're worth reading and pondering.


Friday, September 27, 2019

Parsing U.S. Policy Toward Central America

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Kozak gave testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on U.S. policy toward Mexico and Central America, thought he focuses mostly on the latter. It is a perfect summation of how sticks are characterized as carrots, and the U.S. is, as President Trump might say, perfect.

First, the history of Central American migration:
People have been heading north from the region for several decades, including during the civil war periods in El Salvador and Guatemala when violence in the region was rampant and tens of thousands of individuals were murdered.
This is excellent use of passive tense to avoid responsibility. Violence was rampant, of course, because of large-scale U.S. military aid and active support for dictators.

Fast forward to today. The United States simply wants to "messaging aimed at educating" people not to come. Oddly enough, he notes that the U.S. has wanted to "combat" the "antiquated economic models that protect those who have long benefitted from the status quo," which in fact El Salvador and Guatemala are pursuing precisely the economic models prescribed by the United States for decades.

Unfortunately, the "success of many of our foreign assistance programs" were not educating sufficiently because of  "powerful, entrenched forces." Therefore President Trump decided to "reprogram" aid, which was not "punitive" but rather just a "wakeup call" for those governments to prove their "political will." (Note: "political will" is mentioned six separate times).

Further, the U.S. decided to shift the burden of asylum to Mexico and Central America to create a "safe and legal way to pursue their aspirations" and to "discourage those who do not have genuine asylum concerns."

Oddly, he notes that in Guatemala "we have seen broad based protests against corruption and "impunity" but does not mention the administration actively dismantled the only organization capable of effectively combating it.

In sum:
There is nothing stopping the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras from adhering to their commitments under their own Alliance for Prosperity plan, other than a lack of political will. 
This is the core of U.S. policy toward Mexico and Central America. 


Monday, September 23, 2019

Jaime Manrique's Like This Afternoon Together

I read Jaime Manrique's new movel Like This Afternoon Forever, a novel about homosexuality, the priesthood, and drug politics in Colombia. Descriptions of it refer to the issue of false positives, though in fact that's just one part of the narrative. Two Catholic priests, Ignacio and Lucas, meet as children, fall in love, and eventually end up in Bogotá together.

The book's style is very straightforward, which belies the complexities of what's occurring. There is of course the fact that two priests are a couple, though in fact that is not so uncommon. But there is also poverty that drives them to deep frustration, doubts about God, the challenge of AIDS, alcohol and drug abuse, and Colombian politics. The government, the military, the police, the drug traffickers, and the paramilitaries are all complicit in the same game, all to the detriment of most Colombians.* That's the backdrop for the dramatic end of the novel. In and out itself, the prose is not so memorable but the story and images will stick with me.

*This is also a major theme about El Salvador in Sandra Benitez's excellent novel The Weight of All Things, where all sides in political conflict are bad for the ordinary person.


Friday, September 20, 2019

The Russians Hire Rafael Correa

I hadn't realized the Russians gave Rafael Correa his own talk show,"Conversando con Correa." He just interviewed Nicolás Maduro. His last interview was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Correa notes that hey, maybe there were some "errors" but Venezuela is a victim. He asks Maduro what went wrong, and his first response is the "physical loss" of the eternal commander. The rest is the fault of the United States, complete with Hitler reference. The show is punctuated by visuals to emphasize that fact. Thanks Obama!

This is a nice soft power platform for the Russians precisely at a time when the United States is basically ceding its position in the region. I have no idea how many people actually see it, but RT has serious reach in Latin America.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Podcast Episode 66: Chilean Terrorism & the Ghosts of Sheridan Circle

In Episode 66 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Alan McPherson, Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy at Temple University. He has published a ton on U.S.-Latin American relations, especially as it relates to intervention. In particular, he has a brand new book Ghosts of Sheridan Circle: How a Washington Assassination Brought Pinochet’s Terror State to Justice. That assassination took place September 21, 1976, almost exactly 43 years ago. I highly recommend the book, which reads like a thriller. Here is the review I wrote of it on this blog.

Go order a copy of the book at the University of North Carolina Press or at Amazon.

If you're going to be in DC on October 1, then go see him in person!

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 wrong about everything.

Update (9/20/19) Go check out his op-ed in The Washington Post.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Someone Please Start Studying Latin American Twitter Diplomacy

Yesterday Juan Guaidó started negotiating with Nicolás Maduro and the international community via Twitter. For years now, well before Donald Trump was even a candidate, Latin American presidents have used Twitter to excite their base, snipe at foreign adversaries, and lay out their preferred policy options.

And yet no one is publishing academic works on the phenomenon. There are plenty of works on Twitter diplomacy in general, or on non-Latin American countries. But this has been a big deal in the region and deserves analysis. Up to now, there is virtually nothing.

There is one article examining "populism," but this is a term fraught with problems so it's of limited utility. Another simply argues that there is no common usage of Twitter by Latin American presidents. We need more than this, focusing on public diplomacy via Twitter. Latin American political leaders clearly view the medium as useful and important, but scholars somehow don't, ironically perhaps even as they closely follow such exchanges on their own.

So Guaidó talks to Maduro and the world, Hugo Chávez and Alvaro Uribe sparred all the time, Rafael Correa went and still goes on rants about foreign policy, post-presidency Vicente Fox got full-on weird about foreign policy, Evo Morales rails against the United States, and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. We need to study this stuff and figure out whether and how it changes our traditional ways of understanding international relations. For some reason, no one is bothering.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Hugo Chávez Drug Policy & U.S. Intervention

Juan Forero and José de Córdoba at The Wall Street Journal report on documents used by U.S. federal prosecutors alleging that Hugo Chávez had a cocaine plan for the United States:
In 2005, Chávez convened a small group of his top officials to discuss plans to ship cocaine to the U.S. with help from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said a participant in the meeting who, at the time, was a justice on Venezuela’s supreme court, according to the papers. The Bush administration was strongly criticizing his governing style then and had publicly approved of a 2002 coup that failed to oust him. 
“During the meeting, Chávez urged the group, in substance and in part, to promote his policy objectives, including to combat the United States by ‘flooding’ the country with cocaine,” said an affidavit in the documents written by a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent. The former supreme court justice was identified as Eladio Aponte, who fled to the U.S. in 2012 and has been a witness on drug cases, said a person familiar with his role in the investigations.
That Chávez and those around him were involved in some manner in drug trafficking has long been alleged, but this is a new twist. We always need a healthy skepticism about information yielded by someone trying to save their own neck. Is there any corroboration or is all this from a single source?

For the most part, I see this as another potential building block of a rationale to intervene militarily because it can be used as a national security threat type of argument, especially when added to the invocation of the Rio Treaty. Those building blocks remain sketchy, however, given Latin American and Trumpian hesitance to use force. Mexico, for example, is vociferous about its opposition to using the Rio Treaty for Venezuela.

Meanwhile, Juan Guaidó and his team announced that the Norway talks were officially dead, after Nicolás Maduro had already done the same. But Boston Group facilitated talks continue.

In other words, as always there is a lot of talk and not much changes. John Bolton is gone, which seems to decrease the chances of intervention, though it occurred to me that I could also imagine Trump dumping Bolton and then intervening just so he wouldn't have to share the credit. The administration's pattern thus far has been tough talk and sanctions.


Friday, September 13, 2019

The Politics of Latin American Aging

Some remarkable demographic projections from the Pew Research Center. The biggie is that the entire world is expected to experience fertility rates below replacement by 2100. But Latin America is news too: by 2100 it is expected to be the oldest region, a complete turnaround from fairly recent history.
The Latin America and Caribbean region is expected to have the oldest population of any world region by 2100, a reversal from the 20th century. In 1950, the region’s median age was just 20 years. That figure is projected to more than double to 49 years by 2100. 
This pattern is evident when looking at individual countries in the region. For example, in 2020, the median ages of Brazil (33), Argentina (32) and Mexico (29) are all expected to be lower than the median age in the U.S. (38). However, by 2100, all three of these Latin American nations are projected to be older than the U.S. The median age will be 51 in Brazil, 49 in Mexico and 47 in Argentina, compared with a median age of 45 in the U.S. Colombia is expected to undergo a particularly stark transition, with its median age more than tripling between 1965 and 2100 – from 16 to 52.
This is by no means the first time we've heard this basic story. International institutions have already been raising them.

These numbers have important political implications. Most prominently, who will take care of this older population? You need a solid number of younger workers to fund a social safety net, not to mention a well-functioning safety net. That burden will inevitably fall disproportionately on women, which will exacerbate gender inequality. Overall, pressure on pension systems is already a hot political topic, and it will become even worse. And by the way, improvements in health technology will keep people alive longer, so they will need resources for more years than in the past.

This shift will also exacerbate already serious urban-rural divides. Rural areas are historically underserved and ignored. A large older population will require assistance that simply does not exist, and the strain will be tremendous.

The combination of all these factors will lead to more political conflict, as if the region needs more. Chile has experienced serious protests over its pension system. Brazil experienced a general strike about pensions just a few months ago. Colombia faced similar protests. Ecuadorian retirees are protesting about their pensions. Argentina passed reforms two years ago after protests. Mexico is undergoing reforms right now.

If protest are big now, what will they be like when the population is much older and there are fewer younger people to fund those pensions?


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Does Invoking the Rio Treaty Matter for Venezuela?

A majority of signatories to the treaty voted to invoke the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (also known as the Rio Treaty). 
In a vote of the States Parties to the TIAR, the resolution was passed with 12 votes in favor (Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, United States, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, Dominican Republic), 5 abstentions (Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru) and 1 absent (The Bahamas).
There were rumors of this during months prior. For time being, it means meetings.

The text of the treaty states the following:
The High Contracting Parties agree that an armed attack by any State against an American State shall be considered as an attack against all the American States and, consequently, each one of the said Contracting Parties undertakes to assist in meeting the attack in the exercise of the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.  
This comes after Nicolás Maduro threatened Colombia, though as mentioned it's been in the works for a while and I wonder how seriously anyone takes that threat anyway. Instead, as the U.S. Ambassador said, "attack" is being reframed as "creating instability."
The Rio treaty was born after the cold war, but it is an instrument to unite the region to face all types of threats, from conventional war, to terrorist attacks, and now to new threats to the stability of the region. 
Colleagues, there can be no serious question that the actions of the former Maduro regime have disturbed the stability of the region. 
The words "stable" and "stability" do not appear anywhere in the treaty, but it does provide some wiggle room with a reference to "an aggression which is not an armed attack or by an extra-continental or intra-continental conflict, or by any other fact or situation might endanger the peace of America." And bingo! The U.S. Ambassador uses those words:
The humanitarian crisis is not the only threat to regional stability. The mismanagement and decline of the former Venezuelan government has allowed the rise of narco-traffickers, trafficking of arms and people, and irregular armed groups that further threaten the peace of the American region. Indeed, in many cases, these traffickers in narcotics, arms and people, as well as other armed groups, benefit from the covert assistance of the former Maduro regime. The United States has sanctioned many top Maduro officials for their roles in arms trafficking and systemic corruption. 
Mike Pompeo echoed that:
Recent bellicose moves by the Venezuelan military to deploy along the border with Colombia as well as the presence of illegal armed groups and terrorist organizations in Venezuelan territory demonstrate that Nicolas Maduro not only poses a threat to the Venezuelan people, his actions threaten the peace and security of Venezuela’s neighbors. 
Where, you might ask, are Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Mexico? Well, they are former members who pulled out, the first four as a group in 2012 (see Boz on this).

And what does this mean? Many of the signatories have already rejected use of force, so it's not likely a fig leaf for that. For the moment, it is a sign of regional unity, albeit a weak one given it was approved by only 12 countries (and the president of one of them controls no part of the government).

The Ministry of Foreign Relations denounced the move, calling it imperialist and noting how few governments had signed on to it. It also accurately noted that the last time there really was an extra-hemispheric attack, in 1982, the U.S. did not invoke the treaty.


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Does Bolton's Departure Matter for Venezuela Policy?

The Venezuelan government has expressed its pleasure that Donald Trump fired John Bolton. They're all apparently thinking of eating papayas to celebrate. On the surface, this makes sense because Bolton is well-known for wanting military intervention. But it's hard to see the administration's policy toward Venezuela changing all that much.

Early in the year, Bolton's presence is part of what made me nervous about intervention. After the ridiculous Troika of Tyranny speech last November (anyone still use that phrase? Didn't think so) he pushed for military force. Trump didn't want to make that commitment, and so simply started ignoring him. This is why I don't think much will change--Bolton wasn't driving the president's agenda on Venezuela anymore anyway.

Now that Bolton is gone, Mike Pompeo has even more influence, and he's equally as bombastic when he wants to be. However, after the failed Venezuelan uprisings earlier this year he followed Trump's lead and toned himself down.

Pompeo in January 2019: ""Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with Maduro and his mayhem."

Pompeo in September 2019:  "We built out that coalition of 50+ countries that have now recognized Juan Guaido as the appropriate, duly-elected leader in Venezuela. And I’m confident we will provide the support that’s necessary so that Venezuela can return to a country with some level of freedom, some level of democracy, and the opportunity to feed its own people."

I agree with Chris Sabatini about how Maduro should not celebrate this too much: "Bolton’s strategy was flawed from the beginning and his departure may pave the way to bring in a more professional, effective diplomat that could be a greater threat to Maduro’s autocracy.” Bolton, even if sidelined, generated mixed signals. That will be less evident now. The administration says that talks have been taking place.

Right now, the administration's approach is sanctions-heavy with some dialogue. If Trump didn't use military force with Bolton there, I can't see any reason it would happen after he left. If the administration uses dialogue more effectively--with plenty of carrots to go with the sticks--maybe it can change the stance of senior officers in the military. Or maybe not. But at a minimum it's more possible without Bolton trying to sabotage it.


Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Trump and CICIG

The former commissioner of CICIG (which is now officially defunct) Iván Velásquez has a message that has been dismal reality for a while. The Trump administration was central to CICIG's demise, as evidenced by the timing.
After the CICIG announced that it was investigating Morales and members of his family for campaign finance violations, he and others began to threaten the commission and launched a campaign to erode the U.S. bipartisanship support. They spent millions on Washington lobbyists and dispatched a steady stream of state officials to make the case that the CICIG was a leftist operation. When the Trump administration announced it was moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Guatemala was the first government to follow suit — all in an effort to get closer to the U.S. government and continue its push to discredit the agency. 
The efforts paid off. Last year, when Morales barred me from returning to the country in violation of the agreement with the United Nations, the tepid response from the Trump administration amounted to a stamp of approval. That’s when Morales refused to extend the mandate.
The administration has done considerable damage to the region, and one could argue that Guatemala is among the worst hit. Take the combination of supporting corruption while attacking the country's migrants and pressuring Guatemala to accept Hondurans and Salvadorans who want asylum in the U.S.

U.S. Rep. Norma Torres co-signed a letter calling on the UN to make sure all of CICIG's employees, plus people who work in Guatemalan courts, receive protection. Trump and Morales combined to make them targets for angry elites.

In a 2017 LAPOP report, Liz Zechmeister and Dinorah Azpuru showed how Guatemalans overwhelmingly trust CICIG. A 2019 poll showed 72% approval. Guatemalans have protested against its closure, but the military and the criminal oligarchy that controls the state have stood firm.

The result, as you can easily guess, will be more emigration. Corruption, violence, and permanent economic inequality leaves no other options for thousands.


Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Will Mexico's Policy Toward the U.S. Wake Up?

Former Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhán wrote an op-ed in the new New York Times Spanish edition calling for AMLO to start saying "enough" to the United States. Under Trump, he wrotes, U.S. policy toward Mexico follows a "Sinatra Doctrine," meaning simply "my way," and it's time to push back.

[E]vitar siempre la confrontación, buscando apaciguarlo, solamente envalentonará a Trump a seguir arrinconando el país.

He wants Mexico to establish its own immigration policy with the Northern Triangle, condemn attacks on migrants in the U.S., remind the U.S. about where the scourge of opioids comes from, among other things. In short, he's calling for more autonomy.

I wrote in Global Americans early this year about how AMLO's policies were cautious, and then asked:
But a number of his foreign policy audiences have opposing views and over time he will find it harder to reconcile them.
AMLO is plainly afraid of Trump, and therefore allows him to walk all over Mexico, but I have yet to see whether that hurts him politically. Right away now his approval is still through the roof at 69%. Perhaps like him, Mexicans generally are more afraid of the devil they know (Trump casually hurting the country) than the devil they don't (Trump deciding actively to hurt the country).


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Venezuela Affairs Unit

I'm sure you know the old joke. Why hasn't there been a coup in the United States? Because there's no U.S. Embassy there. Well, if you don't have an embassy, then you need to create something like it.

The State Department announced the creation of the "Venezuela Affairs Unit," headquartered in the U.S. Embassy in Colombia.

The VAU is continuing the U.S. mission to the legitimate Government of Venezuela and to the Venezuelan people.  The VAU will continue to work for the restoration of democracy and the constitutional order in that country, and the security and well-being of the Venezuelan people.
Its mission mostly is to oust Nicolás Maduro. Bloomberg had reported on this last month:
The Venezuela Affairs Unit, based at the U.S. embassy in Bogota, will allow the department to “engage the broadest and most meaningful group of Venezuelan actors” and “participate in the greatest number of events and meetings to affect change,” according to a letter sent by the State Department to Idaho Senator Jim Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Does this mission include actually helping Venezuelans trying to get to the United States, especially since over a million are in Colombia? Given the administration's policy on the matter, we have to assume not.

A bigger future question is whether the high-profile foreign nature of this endeavor weakens Juan Guaidó's legitimacy. It's a U.S.-Colombia effort.
The United States welcomes the support of the Government of Colombia, which is a further demonstration of its steadfast commitment to democracy and peace in the region.
Empirically, that is hard to discern. According to a recent Datanálisis poll, Guaidó does not have majority approval of Venezuelans but remains the most popular. Disapproval (the red lines) is the norm across the political spectrum. At a minimum, it means Guaidó remains relatively popular despite the criticism of his U.S. ties.

All we can hope is that this unit doesn't make things worse while negotiations continue.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Alan McPherson's Ghosts of Sheridan Circle

I had the privilege of reading a draft of Alan McPherson's Ghosts of Sheridan Circle: How a Washington Assassination Brought Pinochet's Terror State to Justice, which has now just come out. You should but it and read it.

It is the story of the Pinochet government's car bomb assassination of former Allende cabinet member Orlando Letelier and an American, Ronni Moffitt, in Washington DC. John Dinges and Saul Landau wrote a good book on it in 1980, but obviously a wealth of new declassified sources have emerged since then. McPherson dives deep into archives, conducts interviews (including with Letelier's widow Isabel), newspapers, and secondary sources.

The significance of the book is twofold. First, it provides an accessible yet extensively researched account of a particularly important moment in the Cold War, where a foreign country made a terrorist attack on US soil.

Second, the book shows how the Letelier-Moffitt case fits within the broader context of U.S.-Chilean relations, as it had a tremendous impact on U.S. policy and attitude toward the Pinochet government, as well as on human rights law more generally. I am not so sure it "brought Pinochet's terror state to justice," but the investigations that occurred did accelerate the push for justice within Chile (incidentally, Michael Townley, who placed the bomb, was convicted, then talked, and now is in witness protection).

It's highly readable and entirely accessible even if you have no background knowledge of Chile or the general context at all. It is a case of slow-moving justice against petty and murderous terrorists.


Thursday, August 22, 2019

Is Trump's Venezuela Policy Inconsistent?

Cynthia Arnson of the Wilson Center has a post about the Trump administration's policy toward Venezuela, which she calls a "contradiction" and an "inconsistency." She details all the humanitarian problems U.S. policy exacerbates in the region and concludes:

For now, all the chest-thumping in the world cannot obscure the central inconsistency of Trump administration policy:  a gamble that inflicting maximum economic pain on the Maduro regime will make it cry ‘uncle,’ while leaving others to handle the human costs.
My immediate thought as I was reading was, as the saying goes, the cruelty is the point. Trump does not care about the humanitarian disaster and has no sympathy for what neighboring countries face. He has no reason to. He believes U.S. standing in the region is based on brute force, and that hard power protects our national interests. Why else punish Central America when doing so prompts more emigration?

Put another way, Trump likely sees the humanitarian disaster as part and parcel of forcing the Maduro regime to cry uncle. When refugees flood into other countries, that may well serve the purpose of making them push harder for regime change. Further, he does not want to grant TPS to Venezuelans because his xenophobic base won't like it. That base is more important than the hardline one in Florida, which in any case knows the Democratic candidates are likely to support easing off this policy.

In sum, if you were president and a) wanted regime change; and b) were not bothered by human suffering, this might seem to be a perfectly logical and internally consistent policy.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

U.S. Response to China in Latin America

Carlos Roa at The National Interest takes a look at China's relations with Latin America and what the U.S. can do. FYI, ignore the annoying headline--it's not about "losing" Latin America (just Google "losing Latin America" to see what a click-baity cliché this is).

He makes one point that is especially worth emphasizing:

Washington’s political establishment will have to confront its own ideological assumptions—particularly those that inform its approach towards geo-economics. Doing so will require overcoming a long-held aversion to state-led economic initiatives and the notion that the free market holds unquestionable authority over matters of economics and finance. 
This hits the nail on the head. U.S. economic policy has been driven by expanding the private sector as much as possible in Latin America, which often cuts against what Latin American leaders want. Plus, the U.S. long ago lost credibility in this area given the state-led response to the 2008 economic crisis, which stood in sharp contrast to prior U.S. insistence that Latin America allow markets to readjustment themselves while millions suffered.

Roa goes into the ways in which China has increased Latin American indebtedness to its own advantage, pushed to increase Latin American dependence on Chinese suppliers, and increased its export of manufactured goods. What's worth pointing out here is that this is exactly what the U.S. has done in the past. We're mad now because the Chinese are using our own model, which for years tightened dependent ties. Now, as they loosen and Latin America becomes more autonomous, it's a source of frustration and a sense of "losing." It's now not just about being friendly again. It's completely rethinking how the U.S. relates to the region, which needs to be much more on its terms.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

National Views on Immigration

The Pew Research Center has some data on public views of immigration. What it shows is widespread agreement on a lot of issues currently portrayed in the media as divisive.
When it comes to undocumented immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally, a majority of Americans continue to support a way for them to stay in the country legally. 
Overall, 72% say there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally, if certain requirements are met; far fewer (27%) say there should not be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally. The share who supports a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants has edged lower since March 2017 (from 77%), driven by a shift in Republican views.
The consensus has been eroding in the Republican Party, but these numbers are high. It frustrates me, then, to read the Washington Post--among others--labeling immigrant amnesty as a "far left" idea. It is an entirely mainstream argument.

And all this talk about immigrants being criminals? It is held by those much further right.
Most Americans say people who are in the U.S. illegally are no more likely than citizens to commit serious crimes. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say this. Large majorities also say undocumented immigrants mostly fill the jobs that American citizens don’t want (77%) and are as honest and hardworking as American citizens (73%).
The point here is that we agree a lot more on some core immigration issues than the media or the president would have you believe.


Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Thoughts on the Venezuela Sanctions

Here is the text of the new Venezuela sanctions. Headlines inaccurately refer to them as a "total economic embargo." They are not "total" because they focus only on specific people around Nicolás Maduro. The private sector is not targeted. For targeted people, they target "funds, goods, or services." But they do freeze all assets in the U.S.

This is obviously a severe tightening of what already exists, and it will really hurt Venezuelans, who are already leaving the country in large numbers. Note as well that this was not accompanied by any agreement on TPS. As Daniel Larison noted yesterday, this will lead to more suffering.

There is a lot of uncertainty here. For example:

--Anatoly Kurmanaev asks what happens to Venezuelans who rely on U.S. credit cards. There are many potential new avenues of economic strangulation that can lead directly to malnutrition and lack of medical care. Speaking of medicine, Trump says food and medicine are exempt, just as they are in Iran, but in Iran that is not actually the case.

--The order does not mention other countries. It is hard to imagine Russia or China backing off as a result of this, but we know John Bolton would love a confrontation (Trump, who likes Russia, seems much less likely to want to confront Putin). If they don't break off, then the regime might just keep limping along.

--With all assets in the US frozen, what happens with CITGO and its court battle? That was already a highly uncertain situation. Juan Guaidó now says CITGO is "protected."

--What will the impact be on neighboring countries already struggling to deal with the influx of Venezuelans? Just sending them a bit of money is woefully inadequate--it is a massive humanitarian crisis.

The final question is whether these sanctions will have their desired impact, which of course is forcing Maduro out. In response to Larison's post, Roger Noriega tweeted in a manner that I would see as characteristic of sanctions supporters:

The logic for the Cuba embargo is obviously identical in its pursuit of harsh unilateral sanctions, and it has not worked for almost 60 years. So it is perfectly reasonable to ask whether this is going to work either, and we know--I mean know--that many Venezuelans will suffer as part of "moving more decisively."


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