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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Monday, August 05, 2019

TPS for Venezuelans

The Trump administration officially does not like Temporary Protected Status because it is not temporary enough. As the leader of a think tank committed to drastically curtailing immigration put it, "the 'guest' never leaves." Therefore, even while U.S. policy helps push Venezuelans to emigrate, the administration is not eager to protect them if they come here.

The problem with that position is that it runs directly against the hardline Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American constituencies that Trump courts. They applauded when Trump seemed serious about invading Venezuela or otherwise forcing regime change, but now it's clear that he was lying to them. That means there is some political pressure--often channeled through Marco Rubio--to appease them. That in turn leads to ideas about how to give Venezuelans TPS without calling it TPS.

"We're committed to ensure that no Venezuelan is sent back to a situation where they'll be persecuted by the government of Venezuela or by the dictatorship that is usurping democracy in Venezuela," a senior administration official told NPR and other news outlets Friday. 
--
 "We all understand and we're very cognizant of the risks that Venezuelans face being sent back," the official said. "In that regard, whether it's called TPS, or something else, there is a host of mechanisms that are under consideration that we're looking at."

For Syrians, the administration extended TPS without redesignating it, so no one new can apply. They could do that for Venezuelans, but it's tricky because more will definitely be coming. The same is true for Haitians and others.

Venezuela is different from other countries because there is a real political bloc behind it, and its members are largely in Florida, which Trump narrowly won in 2016. As the Democratic candidates find their way to Florida, they'll be bringing this up. Global Americans is keeping track of how the candidates talk about Latin America, and Venezuela is mostly mentioned in terms of opposing armed action. If Trump resists TPS or TPS-like solutions, I would be surprised if the candidates didn't milk it to Florida audiences.

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Friday, August 02, 2019

End of Chile's Copper Law

J.C. Arancibia has the details on the end of Chile's copper law. This is long overdue. It was a 1958 law, later reformed by (but not created by) Augusto Pinochet* to guarantee 10% of copper revenue to the Chilean armed forces.

I followed it closely while researching and writing my dissertation, followed by subsequent publications. It was a major way for the military to evade civilian control and remain very well-funded, even to the alarm of Chile's neighbors. I started my fieldwork almost 25 years ago, which gives you a sense of how difficult it remained to get enough support from the right to pass it. Presidents continually tried and failed. There was a big push in 2011-2012 that I blogged and published about, but it fizzled.

It's good that it is gone, but it should also serve as a reminder that antiquated laws still pervade the military institutions of the hemisphere and give them power and autonomy that undermines democracy.

*Ironically, Salvador Allende's nationalization of copper is precisely what allowed Pinochet the ability to increase the total amount since revenue went through CODELCO, the state copper company.

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Thursday, August 01, 2019

Impeachment in Paraguay (Again!)

Latin American impeachment is a no-confidence vote these days. I wrote about it for Brazil three years ago and then talked to Leiv Marsteintredet about it on my podcast two years ago. Paraguay is the most recent example, where Mario Abdo faces calls for impeachment over a controversial energy deal with Brazil.


"We are going to prepare the corresponding documentation for the prosecution of poor performance. We have to do new elections," said Efrain Alegre, leader of Paraguay's Liberal Party, the main opposition group.
Not crimes, or even high crimes and misdemeanors. Just poor performance, which is no confidence. In Mexico, AMLO called for the same and got it passed in the Chamber of Deputies, but it has since stalled in the Senate.

As long as the parameters are clear, this is not necessarily a bad thing, though the structure of a presidential system (especially with separately elected legislature) makes it a lot trickier.

In 2012, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo was ousted through impeachment in a process of "golpeachment." If the path for removal is not clearly laid out, then it becomes constitutionally problematic. BTW, Lugo himself is in the senate now, and from what I gather his party has not yet decided whether to participate in the impeachment process. The constitution (from 1992) has not changed since Lugo was removed. Article 225 is the relevant part:

El Presidente de la República, el Vicepresidente, los ministros del Poder Ejecutivo, los ministros de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, el Fiscal General del Estado, el Defensor del Pueblo, el Contralor General de la República, el Subcontralor y los integrantes del Tribunal Superior de Justicia Electoral, sólo podrán ser sometidos a juicio político por mal desempeño de sus funciones, por delitos cometidos en el ejercicio de sus cargos o por delitos comunes.

"Mal desempeño de sus funciones" is "poor performance of their duties." The issue is whether such a phrase applies to a single policy you disagree with. Its vagueness is what made Lugo's removal so shady.

In other words, do Paraguayans now view impeachment as no-confidence, as a common mechanism for unpopular leaders rather than an uncommon and solemn occasion? Perhaps Lugo's own experience means the answer might be yes.

Abdo says he is ready.




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