Thursday, December 05, 2019

Decay of the Venezuelan League

Alfonso Tusa writes at The Hardball Times about the Venezuelan League. He starts with the fact that MLB cut ties to the league because of sanctions, but just yesterday the U.S. government exempted the Venezuelan League.

But that doesn't detract from the story, which is about a league in decay, with or without U.S. players. He starts with a description of its storied past, with Luis Aparicio, Bob Gibson, Dave Parker, Rollie Fingers, and so many more. And then now:

Going to the ballpark is not an option for many people anymore. Public transportation is almost not available, and the few vehicles still working are extremely expensive. The league has tried to help by setting 6 p.m. as the new starting time for weekday games, earlier during weekends. The other reason for playing earlier is the rampant insecurity in the streets, which forces people to go home much earlier than they used to. The cost of the tickets is about the cost of a single meal, so many fans cannot even think about going to the stadium because they first have to try to eat. They can’t think about buying beverages and food at the stadium, which is as expensive as the tickets, or even more.
They don't even have enough balls and players cannot throw them into the stands. The play is sub-par and the stands emptier. Even many Venezuelan players prefer to play elsewhere in Latin America during the winter.
How many more times there will be a season like this? The optimistic expect this will be the only time this happens, but that implies the end of the political regime, and that needs much more than simple optimism. But perhaps it is healthier being a dreamer, expecting to leave behind all of the depressing and unhappy images of the totalitarian reality. Better than staying anchored to this dark reality that consumes all of us little by little, every day, like a frog being boiled over a slow fire.
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about the players killed in Venezuela after being attacked on the road. I have to imagine many players will stay away even if they have the option of going. The collapse of the Venezuelan state touches everything.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Diplomatic Realism in Latin America

Mike Pompeo gave a speech the State Department heralded as being about U.S. "diplomatic realism." It is quite a statement, full of inconsistencies, logical fallacies, and falsehoods. Basically, diplomatic realism means the U.S. pursues its interests while lying about it.

--"No one in the region any longer believes that authoritarianism is the way forward." Sadly, this isn't true, as Latinobarómetro results show that 28% of Latin Americans think authoritarianism is no worse than democracy. Indeed, support for democracy down dangerously, and we should not assume otherwise.

--He mentions Hezbollah and Iran, which signals he ignores his own analysts about their importance.

--"There is more democratic cooperation in our hemisphere today than at any point in history." This makes no sense.

--"Colombia has closed its border to Venezuela out of concern that protesters from – terrorists from Venezuela might enter." Quite the slip of the tongue there. Protesters are terrorists are far as he is concerned.

--"We cannot tolerate these regimes inviting bad actors in, and trying to turn allied democracies into dictatorships.." This makes no sense.

--He argues that Obama's Cuba policy made everything in Cuba worse, without evidence (because there isn't any).

--After discussing Cuba, where economic sanctions have failed, he notes that sanctions will succeed in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

--He does reject armed force in Venezuela, so there is at least something positive.

--After noting how much the U.S. has punished governments, then going on to discuss punishing Central American countries with aid cuts, he insists U.S. foreign policy is based on "respect for how our neighbors and allies run their affairs." Laughable.

--He then argues that U.S. immigration policy is based on respect for its neighbors, which is too stupid a claim to bother getting into.

--he mentions religious liberty multiple times, which is code for discrimination against the LGBTQ community, contraception, etc.

--He says the U.S. will be "Vigilant that new democratic leaders don’t exploit people’s frustrations to take power, to hijack the very democracy that got them there." There is no shortage of irony there.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Stop With The Cold War 2.0 Stuff

A Stratfor analyst says there is a "Cold War 2.0" in Latin America. This is a lazy argument--anything with 2.0 is lazy--and also wrong.*

Indeed, with threats to Russia's periphery more daunting than ever, it can be argued that the Cold War never really ended for Moscow. But regardless of whether Russia's current actions in Latin America constitute a second Cold War, or if they're instead merely a reinvigoration of the original struggle, it's apparent that many of the same actors are actively involved in the unfolding unrest in Washington's backyard — and largely, for the same reasons. 
The Cold War had the U.S. and the Soviets on opposite ends of an ideological spectrum. The current era does not. There was extensive guerrilla struggle during the Cold War, and now there is not. Latin America suffered military dictatorships, sometimes of long duration, during the Cold War, and now it does not (notwithstanding the Bolivian coup). China is now a major player in Latin America, whereas during the Cold War it was not.

The actors now are different, Russian interests are different, U.S. interest in the region is different, and the Latin American context is different. There is, in fact, virtually no resemblance to the Cold War at all.

I am all for recognizing Russia's threat to democratic institutions around the world, but this is a paranoid narrative that views Russia as responsible for literally everything happening everywhere. Maybe the best resemblance to the Cold War is that there are people who cannot distinguish between domestic and foreign influences on Latin American events.

* Just Google "Cold War 2.0" and you see the myriad ways we are "on the brink" or in the middle of it. Some of them are quite James Bond-ish, so much more dangerous than the original one. Mostly it refers to Russia, but also sometimes to China. Many of the authors write as if they're making a pitch for a TV show.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Don't Support Coups

In a New York Times op-ed, Steve Levitsky and María Victoria Murillo remind us what we should already know: don't support coups.
For a coup to bring democracy, interim governments must exercise extraordinary restraint. Unelected and without a popular mandate, they must limit themselves to forging a consensus around democratic rules of the game and overseeing clean elections. 
Yet anti-populist coups rarely produce such restraint. Having come to power in a polarized environment, with many supporters driven by intense anger and animosity toward the former government, interim leaders are often tempted to engage in partisan revanchism: They indulge in policy reversals, purge the bureaucracy of the former government’s supporters, prosecute former officials and their allies. 
Such measures almost invariably prompt a new round of polarization and conflict. Supporters of the previous government tend to close ranks, radicalize and mobilize against the new government, which, in turn, brings repression. This spiral of mobilization and violence tends to strengthen the hand of government hard-liners who call for the jailing, exile and even banning of the populists in a retreat into authoritarianism.
They warn against the too-common view that the Bolivian coup is good for democracy, because of course the interim government is busily purging and radically changing foreign policy. Plus, it rolls back much of the progress Bolivia was making.
Establishing a civilian rule is a long and difficult process. Each time military officials step in to resolve a crisis, no matter how benign or even democratic their motives may appear to be, the process of institutionalizing civilian control is undermined. Only recently has Latin America began to break out of this vicious cycle. After 1980, the number of coups declined significantly. At least partly as a result, the last three decades have been the most democratic in Latin American history. The renewed willingness to accept and even seek out military intervention is deeply troubling.
I don't care what you think of Evo Morales. His removal by the military is bad, period. Same with Chávez in Venezuela or Zelaya in Honduras. Same with Juan Perón. These coups did terrible long-term damage to democratic institutions and led to so many unnecessary deaths. Bolivian institutions and Bolivians themselves will suffer much more because of this.

It should be so obvious that we don't want the military to be a moderator force, to take Alfred Stepan's term. And yet we don't learn from history.

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Monday, November 25, 2019

António Costa Pinto's Latin American Dictatorships in the Era of Fascism

I read António Costa Pinto's new book, Latin American Dictatorships in the Era of Fascism: The Corporatist Wave (2019), which examines corporatism and dictatorship in the 1930s. Given the experiences of Jair Bolsonaro and even the coup government in power now in Bolivia, it is a topic and era worth revisiting.

The 1930s was a time of political experimentation, with elites sometimes equally fearful of electoral democracy and Marxism. Corporatism offered a third way.

During the 1930s, social corporatism became synonymous with the forced unification of organized interests into single units of employers and employees that were closely controlled by the state and which eliminated their independence: especially that of trade unions. Social corporatism offered autocrats a formalized system of interest representation to manage labor relations, legitimizing the repression of free labour unionism (p. 2).
Political corporatism is where these state-controlled units replace representative institutions. The collective as defined by the state eliminates individualism, which is unpredictable and therefore undesirable.

Corporatism was diffused globally during the 1930s. Many saw it as the best alternative to the ills of socialism and liberal democracy. This line of thinking was especially strong in the Catholic Church. The church was, Costa Pinto argues, the first vehicle for diffusion of corporatism in Latin America, as it countered secularism and communism. The economic crash of the late 1920s opened the door in Latin America for modeling Portugal, Spain, and to a lesser extent Italy (the church preferred the Iberian models). Between 1930 and 1934, there were 13 successful coups in the region in an authoritarian wave.

There was significant variation in Latin America, with some more fascist than others, some more social than political. This variation held within countries as well.

He looks at the corporatist experiences across the region with short case studies. What we see is variation and inconsistency. Sometimes it lasted only a short time and faced major opposition. Sometimes there was only a fascist flavor or influence, as in Bolivia, where there was "military socialism with a fascist overtone" (p. 58). Other examples, like the Estado Novo in Brazil, went further in consolidating a corporatist state, though the military overthrew Vargas when he shifted toward populism. And then there was Lázaro Cárdenas, who built a corporatist political system that didn't resemble anything else in Latin America, with its secularism and progressive social policy. Fascists were opposed to Cárdenas.

Aside from the important role of the Catholic Church, Costa Pinto notes that existing Latin American political parties often prevented consolidation of corporatism, for example blocking the creation of a one-party state. Further, the U.S. government pushed back, so that corporatism could co-exist with declaring war against Axis states.

Final note: this book could have used some better proofreading, given its misspelling of names. The author gives special thanks to "Kurk" Weyland, for example.

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Impossible Game of the Bolivian Crisis

Santiago Anria and Kenneth M. Roberts have a nice piece in Foreign Affairs summing up the situation in Bolivia. As they point out, the challenge is to push through the binary arguments between "right-wing coup" and "necessary military action against autocratic government." Evo Morales had been centralizing power, but much of his legacy is very positive and, yes, this was a coup.

More pressingly, the new government is worse in many respects, and could worsen still.

The danger today is that a post-Morales government will focus not on restoring the democratic principles that had eroded under his rule but on rolling back the inclusive policies that were the hallmark of his presidency. Indeed, the self-appointed interim government that succeeded Morales, led by one-time Senator Jeanine Añez and a bevy of staunch right-wing figures, is already taking steps in this direction, with cabinet members seeking to discredit the former president and threatening to arrest “seditious” Morales supporters and journalists. Yet for all his missteps, Morales retains considerable popular support, and any outright attempt to undo his legacy risks sending the country down an uncertain and perilous road to prolonged political conflict and violence.
The point that needs to remain front and center is that Evo Morales presided over one of the most stable and successful eras in Bolivia political history. He guided the economy well, avoiding the Venezuelan pitfalls, and he promoted social policies that remain popular. It is dangerous to focus exclusively on the problems of personalization because you lose sight of why he was so popular in the first place. This isn't Nicolás Maduro we're talking about.

They conclude with some classic political science:
Instead, Bolivian politics is being fought in the streets and could become an impossible game in which forming stable governments is less and less feasible. However this turbulent era ends, the Morales presidency will stand as a lesson for governments in the region—both on the opportunities for lasting reform and on the pitfalls of autocratic temptation.
The "impossible game" reference is to Guillermo O'Donnell's book Modernization and Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism, where among other things he uses game theory to argue that 1955-1966 Argentina was a political game that could not be won, in large part so many political factions were committed to preventing Peronists from holding power even when much of the population supported them. In the Bolivian case, of course this would refer to the MAS. As O'Donnell says, "it is the 'rationality' of party leaders and voters that lead to the erosion and final destruction of the existing political system" (p. 196).

As a result, statements like this from Jeanine Añez are step in the wrong direction:
“President Morales destroyed institutions,” Áñez told the BBC. “That’s what all 21st-century socialists do. We saw that movie in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. And that’s the fear that all Bolivians have.”
She has called for new elections, where the MAS needs free reign to advance candidacies and win elections without fear. Otherwise you really do face "erosion and final destruction."


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Buttigieg Called Out For Use of Military in Mexico

I did not watch the debates, but The Washington Post did some fact checking and this caught my eye.

REP. TULSI GABBARD: I think the most recent example of your inexperience in national security and foreign policy came from your recent careless statement about how you as president would be willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels. …. 
BUTTIGIEG: I know that it’s par for the course in Washington to take remarks out of context, but that is outlandish even by the standards of today’s politics. 
GABBARD: Are you saying that you didn’t say that? 
BUTTIGIEG: I was talking about U.S.-Mexico cooperation. We’ve been doing security cooperation with Mexico for years, with law enforcement cooperation and a military relationship that could continue to be developed with training relationships for example.
He continued on:
“Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?” he asked to loud applause. “I’m talking about building up alliances.”
I got some pushback from my original post on this subject, with people arguing that this was just "cooperation." I think Buttigieg is reinforcing what I wrote, which is that in the U.S. we have become horribly casual about the deployment of our military in other countries. Sending troops to Mexico is a bad idea and you should not raise it as a possibility, even with cooperation caveats.

As for his applause lines, it is ignorant to claim that U.S. troops in Mexico would build up our alliance. It would be deeply resented and whatever Mexican president who allowed it would see his or her approval plummet. More people, both Mexicans and U.S. troops, would die than if there was no such troop deployment.

A better answer is "I cannot see a scenario where I would send U.S. troops to Mexico."


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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Chile's Economic Legacy

I recommend Paul Posner's take on the Chilean economy and how it left many Chileans behind. I do think, though, that we need to be careful about referring quite so much to Augusto Pinochet.
Chile’s current constitution, which dates back to 1980, was written under Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the dictator who ruled the country from 1973 to 1990. Pinochet is reviled for overseeing several thousand extrajudicial executions, torture and forced disappearances. He was arrested in 1998 on charges of crimes against humanity but died before being tried. 
But he also implemented the free-market reforms that are often credited for Chile’s celebrated economic dynamism. After growing at an average of 4.7% a year, Chile’s economy today is nine times larger than it was in 1990.
All of this is 100% accurate. But 1990 is a generation ago. Since then, Chile had a load of center or center-left presidents. We should not leapfrog them as we lay blame for Chile's political and economic systems.

In other words, this isn't just Pinochet's legacy. It is the Concertación's legacy, even the Socialist Party's legacy. They had years and years to make a dent, and they failed. I wrote all the time about how Bachelet got lumped together with the "pink tide" even though she presided over and did not much change the most capitalist system in the hemisphere.

Yes, Pinochet created the constitution and the economy, but the center-left accepted them and worked within them. As my friend and colleague Silvia Borzutzky wrote in the book we co-edited in 2010:
The end of the Pinochet regime failed to produce dramatic transformations in Chile's political economy. The Concertación governments enhanced the market approach while introducing modifications in the social policy area (p. 88).
Further:
Although all Concertación administrations have increased spending in the social policy area, the market model that inspired those policies was not modified (pp. 89-90).
So I agree with everything Paul writes in his article, but this isn't just about Pinochet. It's about the presidents and parties who did very little to alter what he created.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Elizabeth Warren's Twisted Take on Venezuela

Yesterday I criticized Pete Buttigieg for his terrible comments on Mexico. Today it's Elizabeth Warren's turn on Venezuela. On the Pod Save America podcast, she was asked about it. She supports sanctions, but with a particularly twisted logic. I have transcribed a snippet that you can see here. It's right at the end:

Refugee camps are springing up. We should be leading the international community to get help to those people, to make sure they've got food, they've got medicine, they've got care. And frankly, that makes it easier for people who are in Venezuela, if they have fewer people to divide the resources, more people seeing an option that if they get out of the country, at least for a period of time, and that puts more pressure on Maduro.
What she's saying is that she supports providing humanitarian assistance at the border to entice Venezuelans to leave their homes and go to the border, which in turn will put pressure on the Maduro government. Now that is just plain horrible.

She talks vaguely of diplomacy, which I take to mean she is not paying much attention to what's going on. At this point, I am not feeling particularly good about the Democratic candidates' takes on Latin America.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Don't Ever Say You'll Send Troops to Mexico

Of course, we are in the period where a ton of Democratic candidates vie for the nomination. Latin America does not seem to come up very often, though I can't say I am paying close attention. These comments from Pete Buttigieg, however, caught my eye.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said at a Latino forum in Los Angeles on Sunday that he’d be willing to send U.S. troops into Mexico to combat gang and drug violence. 
“There is a scenario where we could have security cooperation,” Buttigieg said. 
Even so, he added a caveat: “I’d only order American troops into conflict if American lives were on the line and if it was necessary to meet treaty obligations.” 
His campaign later clarified that Buttigieg would only be open to military use as a “last resort” in response to Mexican cartel violence or an outside threat that endangers the country’s security.
Even with the caveats and the walk-back, this is a sign of a serious and long-standing problem in the United States. We are utterly careless with regard to use of force abroad, with no discussion at all of the human cost or ethics in general. The catastrophe of Iraq, for example, seems not to have had an impact at all. When Buttigieg says something like this, he figures he is looking tough, which candidates believe they need to do. After all, he was just repeating what a Republican Senator already recently said. This is a bipartisan problem. The average person in the U.S. just shrugs--invade a country, whatever. If we need to.

Can you imagine the result if the United States sent U.S. troops into Mexico to fight the drug war? The human cost would be immense and the operation would be guaranteed to fail. Guaranteed. The entire hemisphere--regardless of ideology--would be united in opposition, which would jeopardize any number of other initiatives and totally isolate the U.S.

On the ground, ask General John J. Pershing how it worked out when it came to the local population. True to the U.S. tradition of ignoring the disasters of foreign intervention, Pershing's failure in Mexico led to him becoming head of U.S. forces in the western front during World War I.

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

Judging the Bolivian Coup

In the context of Bolivia, Erica De Bruin is troubled by the U.S. government to accept what it considers to be "good" coups.

A response to the crisis in Bolivia consistent with promoting democratic rule would involve simultaneously condemning both the alleged electoral fraud that triggered the recent crisis as well as the military’s response to it. The temptation to rely on the military to check would-be authoritarians will continue to crop up in the context of mass protests. But the longer-term survival of democratic rule depends on resisting it.
There is an academic/analytic issue here as well. As always, there was (and is) considerable discussion about whether what happened in Bolivia was a coup. In my opinion there was, and my sense is that this is a majority academic view. The military stepped into a political crisis and forced out the president with implied threats in a manner that was not consistent with the constitution.

But then was it a "good" coup, one that opens the door to democratic transition? De Bruin forcefully argues no, saying that there coups rarely lead to democratic outcomes. She provides a link to a political scientist who questioned the idea that all coups were bad (based on the case of Burundi). Now, Javier Corrales has an op-ed in The New York Times leaning that direction. If it's not necessarily good, it might just be the only option.
The best that can be hoped for is that the military sides with moderate civilians, democratic norms, and constitutional rule.
I find this unsettling. All of the "good" coup arguments rely on the assumption that we feel there is an optimal candidate out there with characteristics we like. A "moderate." But what does that mean anyway, beyond just being the person we like? The U.S. has often sought out this fabled moderate, with the Cuban and Nicaraguan cases coming immediately to mind. So Batista and Somoza were too authoritarian and the rebels were too radical. Trying to find Goldilocks tended to mean ignoring local political realities, These so-called moderates weren't acceptable to anyone.

So let's condemn coups, no matter who they overthrow, and let's not just sit back and hope the Latin American militaries make great undemocratic decisions on behalf of democracy. That history is not one we want to repeat.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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