Monday, May 13, 2019

Guaido Asks for US Military Help

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 10, 2019

News Coverage of Latin America

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


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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Review of Fletcher Knebel's Night of Camp David

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

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


Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Venezuelan Refugees and Sanctuary Cities

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

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

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


Saturday, May 04, 2019

More on U.S. Invasion Rationale in Venezuela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 03, 2019

U.S. Corporate Media on Venezuela

From Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:

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



Boomer Retirement and Immigration

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, May 02, 2019

UNC Charlotte Shooting

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, April 29, 2019

Venezuela and the OAS

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

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

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


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Military Desertions in Venezuela

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

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


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Qiu Xiaolong's Death of a Red Heroine

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

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

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


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

China Invests More in Latin America

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

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


Friday, April 19, 2019

Expelling Diplomats in Latin America

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


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

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

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


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Bolton's Speech: Winning is the New Losing

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

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


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Former Presidents of Peru

There are six five living former presidents of Peru.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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