Friday, November 30, 2007

Civilians and the military

I had the interesting opportunity today to participate in a video conference with some Colombian academics, Defense Ministry advisors, and several retired Colombian generals. The topic was military autonomy, and the presentations/conversation kept coming back to the issue I brought up in an article review I did earlier this month, namely lack of civilian initiative and expertise, which is also a part of my research on the military’s role in intelligence.

My talk focused more on the Southern Cone, but the other presenters noted the dynamics are the same in Colombia—civilians have only slowly become more knowledgeable about defense and the military in general (until relatively recently the Defense Minister was an active-duty officer). The combination of lack of civilian experience and military skepticism of civilian ministerial leadership has led to several clashes (or, as one general put it, “choques”) at the ministry, with disputes, resignations, etc. This doesn’t mean any threat to civilian rule, but the civil-military gulf remains.

Much of my work has focused on the military encroaching on civilian authority, which has often been a problem, but it is also true that the armed forces really want more civilians to know how to speak their language and understand defense, and very few civilians do so. That, in turn, can create long-term problems. The big question is how to convince more civilians that studying and understanding defense can enhance political stability in the long run.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Community college and illegal immigration

The debate about whether illegal immigrants should receive in-state college tuition has been a hot one, but in North Carolina there is a new twist. The counsel for NC’s community colleges has ordered all of the colleges to accept illegal immigrants, though only if they can prove they’re a high school graduate or an adult in need of skills training, whereas before it was up to each college to decide.

However, there’s no question about in-state tuition—they have to pay out of state. A full community college class load is $7,465 while the cost for the state of a full time load is $5,375.

As you might guess, the idea bends some people out of shape. They are, it seems, very upset about people who want to obtain education so badly that they’re willing to overpay, so that the state actually nets $2,090 per full time student.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I received an email from William Phung, who works on, a new site that has a wide variety of videos of talks on political issues. There is a section on Latin America. The idea is that extended videos--as opposed to brief YouTube clips--provide more depth. It's worth a look--for example, you can watch a conference with Fukuyama criticizing Latin American populism, or a speech the Venezuelan ambassador gave explaining why critics of Chávez are wrong.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Following up on yesterday's post, in which I wondered what Venezuela "freezing" relations with Colombia and Spain actually meant, the Spanish government had the same question.

The answer? It means nothing. The Venezuelan ambassador to Spain said that there would be "no change" in bilateral relations. With regard to the vague threats against Spanish companies, the Spanish Deputy Foreign Minister's response was that Chávez's remarks "are not very far removed from what he has been saying these days." In other words, Chávez says crazy stuff all the time and we just try to ignore it.


Monday, November 26, 2007

What’s a matta you, hey, gotta no respect?

Hugo Chávez has put Venezuelan-Colombian relations “in the freezer,” but it’s not yet clear what that will mean in practical terms. Normally I associate “freeze” with much more serious disputes—U.S.-North Korea, for example--that may even include sanctions. From Chávez’s statements, it seems—like with Spain and the “Shaddap you face” case —to consist of vague warnings aimed in part at Colombian companies. This also seems different from other “freezes” because these issues are based on personal slights, though of course such slights can also be viewed as disrespect for Venezuela, since he is head of state.

I am undecided about how serious this will be in the longer term. Right now the best thing would be for both presidents to stop issuing public statements calling each other liars, promoters of terrorism, etc. Actually, this is one of those rare instances where Uribe’s statements were much more inflammatory than Chávez’s.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Trading with Cuba

Via Havana Note: I’ve written multiple times about all the U.S. governors and farmers heading to Cuba to negotiate cash-only (and perfectly legal) transactions. Now representative in some of those same states are pursuing legislation that would disallow investment in their own companies and might, if read in a certain way, even label their own Republican governors as supporters of terrorism.

In a rush to be tough on terror, a number of state legislators from Massachusetts to Michigan are attempting to push through bills that would require their state's public pension funds to sell off certain investments with countries on the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. Guess which country is still on that list? (It rhymes with "Tuba.")

Cuba policy at the federal level is already incoherent enough. Add state legislators to the mix and you’ve got pure lunacy.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Taking it to the empire?

The Venezuelan government has long decried the use of U.S. government money to fund opposition within the country. It is political intervention, an attack on sovereignty and therefore unacceptable. So now Hugo Chávez figures he might as well do it too.


Friday, November 23, 2007

I want my two dollars

Following up on the question of why President Bachelet’s approval ratings are so low, the Chilean senate provides two reminders. First, there are serious divides within the Concertación that she has been unable to reconcile. Second, very few people feel she can fix Transantiago.

These were highlighted by the fact that Bachelet requested $92 million to address Transantiago problems. The Senate—including two members of the Concertación—approved $2. Not $2 million. Two dollars (“didn’t ask for a dime”). A major no-confidence vote—the opposition is demanding an entire “redesign” (the details of which are, naturally, sparse). The debate on the senate floor became heated between members of the Concertación (specifically aimed at Adolfo Zaldívar, a Christian Democrat who voted with the Alianza).

This makes me wonder whether any research has been done on the rise of presidential approval ratings. Anecdotally, it's clear that a) presidents often get a honeymoon period; and b) high approval ratings can drop precipitously. But how often do they rise quickly in the middle of a term? Given the depth of feeling against her and just over two years before the next election (for which she cannot stand) can she recover politically?


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lake Norman Turket Trot

In what is becoming a family tradition, we did a run again this year on Thanksgiving morning—there is a new (well, second year) 10K just north of here, the Lake Norman Turkey Trot. They actually had more than double the number of runners from last year, and the other Charlotte Turkey Trot is now huge and crowded (which is one reason we decided to switch from last year).

The only downer was that directly after the race, we had to listen to a guy make a pitch for a new drug he said he developed, which would: prolong life, address impotence, help deal with arthritis and insomnia, eliminate chest pains, and I think there were a few other things but I had tuned it out by then.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Feature on Bachelet

David Rieff in the NYT has a long and sympathetic article on Michelle Bachelet. Overall it’s solid with regard to the challenges Bachelet faces, with some interesting interviews. However, I do not think the article does a good job of explaining why her approval ratings are so low (they bumped up recently but remain under 40%) and why so many protests have erupted.

Because Chileans are like everyone else and can’t go on being grateful for how much better things are in the present than they were in the past, they don’t tend to see things that way, nor should they be expected to.

This is the thread that runs through the article--which, incidentally, does not interview any labor leaders, student leaders, unhappy members of the Socialist Party or PPD, etc.--is that Chileans are doing perfectly fine but just want more, and are annoyed that they don’t get it faster.

Given the intensity of the protests in the past 18 months, which were in response to multiple socio-economic problems, it is a stretch to say they’re based on relatively well-off Chileans just wanting to be more like Singapore or South Korea (which is another argument the author makes).

On the issue of poverty, the article provides statistics lower than any I’ve seen, saying the poverty rate is 10-15%, and that the government claims it is even lower. The Economic Commission for Latin America lists Chile’s poverty rate in 2003 as 18.7%, down from 38.6% in 1990. This can seem like a quibble, but I think it helps explain why many Chileans are dissatisfied. Yes, Chile has reduced poverty, but about 1 in 5 Chileans is poor, and inequality is among the highest in Latin America (generally second to Brazil). If you don’t include that in an analysis, then I don’t think you can really understand why Bachelet has had so many problems.

She did not create those problems, but a common perception is that she hasn’t been very successful in addressing them, especially given her campaign promises.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Latinobarómetro 2007

It is that time of year again—the 2007 Latinobarómetro is here. It is a 112 page report so the best idea is just to browse through. Some highlights:

--only in Uruguay and Venezuela did a majority of people indicate satisfaction with democracy.

--Venezuelans were the most likely to say they had been a victim of a crime.

--by far, Venezuelans were most satisfied with the current and future economic situation of the country.

--by far, Brazilians were the most likely to say they had been a victim of corruption (2/3 of respondents).

--people across Latin America have more confidence in the military than in the police, judicial system, congress or political parties.

--in no country did a majority say that privatization was good for the country. Interestingly, Venezuelans ranked the highest (47% said privatization was good). Argentina was lowest at 19%.

--majorities in about half the countries said that a market economy was best for the country (Colombia was highest; Guatemala lowest). However, almost all countries showed a noticeable drop in that number since 2002.

--only in Venezuela did a majority of respondents say the country had a “just” distribution of wealth. No other country even reached 1/3.

--on a ranking of the political left and right, respondents in the Dominican Republic were more on the right, and Guatemala was most leftist. Latin Americans as a whole ranked themselves almost exactly in the center (5.3 on a 10 point scale).

--Lula is the most popular president in the region. Interestingly, Hugo Chávez ranked very low, beneath George W. Bush.


Monday, November 19, 2007

El Plan Béisbol

There is a long and interesting article at about Venezuela and Major League Baseball. The upshot is that MLB teams are pulling some operations out the country because of concerns about politicization of the sport and possible nationalization. In particular, there is a legislative proposal to require Venezuelan players to pay 10% of any signing bonus to the government, and for the Venezuelan Baseball Association to oversee all aspects of baseball in the country.

Part of the problem is that the Venezuelan government has remained vague, which fosters more rumors, but its ambassador to the U.S. says it will soon unveil “El Plan Béisbol” to lay out the government’s role. In general, the article emphasizes that there remains plenty of space for dialogue.

It’s hard to comment much until the details are worked out, but the money involved with MLB creates a predatory atmosphere. It seems reasonable for the Venezuelan government to step in the middle in some manner—exactly how is of course the big question. My sense from the article is that the government would take some sort of cut, which would then be funneled back into community baseball (building parks, buying equipment, etc.). I would hope it would also mean some form of protection for the young kids being courted by teams--exactly how I don’t know, perhaps even just having someone read and go over a contract before signing. In return, there would have to be assurances about protecting MLB’s investments.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bart Jones’ ¡Hugo! The Hugo Chávez Story From Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution

It’s hard for any biography of Hugo Chávez to avoid a tendency toward either hagiography or venom. In ¡Hugo! Bart Jones, who is openly sympathetic to Chávez, does a good job of examining Chávez’s life and actions from a variety of perspectives. I recommend it and so put it on the side bar.

The weakest parts are actually those in which he takes pains to defend Chávez, as such parts seem more forced. Jones equates endless talking on radio and TV with governmental “transparency,” early in the book long passages come from books of Chávez discussions, so that his ideological development comes out as purity personified, he is compared to George Washington, etc. This actually gets in the way of an otherwise very compelling story of a man who (unlike his heroes Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, or even Simón Bolívar himself) grew up in poverty and, through the forces of conviction, personality, and unbelievable energy, catapulted himself onto a national stage to fight against a corrupt socio-economic system.

The best narrative parts are the 1992 coup attempts and the 2002 coup, which read like a thriller. Jones brings to life the passions of both sides and does not shy away from discussing the missteps Chávez makes. He also discusses the many allies of Chávez who ultimately opposed him, though I think this deserves more directed attention to see what patterns emerge regarding Chávez’s disputes over power, ideology, and personality.

The book makes a strong argument for bias in the U.S. media against Chávez, yet I would guess about 75% of the citations come from that same media (Jones himself is a reporter). There is, in fact, very little from Venezuelan media, either pro or anti-Chávez. So you can, it seems, write a book that casts Chávez in a largely positive light by using newspapers in the United States.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Immigration and the presidential race

Felipe Calderón has called on the presidential candidates in the U.S. to stop using immigrants as “symbolic hostages” (a very nice phrase).

"I am especially concerned at the growing harassment and in recent days the persecution of Mexicans in the US," Mr Calderon said.

"It is my duty to call respectfully but firmly on the candidates of the political parties in the US to stop taking Mexicans as symbolic hostages in their speeches and
I like the more active role both Fox and Calderón have been taking, which is right on target and surely plays well at home. The Mexican government can be rightly criticized for ignoring the conditions that prompt emigration in the first place, but at least it is reacting publicly more often to the scapegoating of immigrants.

As we get closer to the primaries, Republicans are becoming ever more restrictionist and hardline, and I wonder whether that will continue once a candidate is chosen. Will a Republican run in part on the issue, since there is little else to run on, or tack back to the more moderate center?


Thursday, November 15, 2007

LASA 2009

I’ve been pondering LASA 2009, and I think it would be cool to do something on blogs that relate to Latin America. Maybe just even a workshop, which means focused discussion but not necessarily article-length papers (though I also think papers would be interesting, perhaps for the LASA Forum or maybe even more in depth).

I think there would be an interested audience, and this would be the sort of thing that could generate interest since to my knowledge it has not been done before at LASA. There are all sorts of interesting angles to take and questions to pose.

Is anyone interested in this sort of endeavor and planning to attend the next LASA? If so, let me know via comment or email (


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More on Chile

Yesterday’s post on Chile brought up two questions. First, why does the Chilean government seem particularly huffy about the Banco del Sur? Second, what effect will the Chávez-King Juan Carlos spat have on the Bachelet administration?

I would suggest that both have a common thread: Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley. He is certainly more antagonistic toward Chávez than Bachelet, and is now being criticized within the Concertación for openly expressing “solidarity” with the King, Prime Minister Zapatero and former Prime Minister Aznar. (Ironically, the Venezuelan Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs has said Foxley should have more “dignified dialogue”).

I don’t have a good sense of the current dynamics within Bachelet’s cabinet, but it is reasonable to hypothesize that Foxley is a key source of the criticism of the bank. Will this hurt Bachelet? Perhaps indirectly, as a yet another sign that her cabinets (already shuffled twice) are not cohesive and that she lacks control. Let’s wait and see whether Bachelet herself responds.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bank of the South and Chile

The Chilean government announced it would put $50 million into the Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF) and would not participate in the Banco del Sur. The Bachelet administration says it is interested in funding existing institutions that work and not create new ones there are more “uncertain.”

That has always been the position of the Bachelet administration, but it’s interesting that this gesture is being made just shortly before the bank officially opens (on December 5). It could be coincidence, since it occurred during the Iberoamerican Summit, but the bank seems always to have particularly annoyed the Chilean government.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Doing business with Cuba

Cuba just had a trade fair, and a lot of U.S. farmers and elected officials—many of them Republicans--attended. I’ve written about this a number of times before, but it’s worth repeating.

Just weeks after President Bush delivered an address calling on the world to isolate Cuba, officials from Minnesota, Alabama and Ohio — and more than 100 American businesses — were working the giant Havana International Fair, trying to secure part of the $1.6 billion the Cuban government spends each year to import sugar, wheat, livestock, poultry and beans, among other staples.

This particular NYT piece provides a very good overview of U.S. trade policy and the provisions for cash-only transactions with Cuba (which are difficult but doable). I am glad the U.S. media is covering this sort of thing. If you get outside Florida, it’s clear that current Cuba policy has almost no support.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fujimori's posse

Alberto Fujimori remains amazingly popular in Japan, primarily for his resolution of the Japanese Embassy hostage crisis in 1996-1997. Now a number of Japanese politicians, including 73 members of the lower House (which means 15% of its total!) have created a group called the “Multiparty Assistance League for a Just Judgment of Alberto Fujimori” (that is my literal translation—I’m sure it can be made to sound nicer).

It’s not clear exactly what they plan to do. However, just as in the saga about Fujimori running for office in Japan earlier this year, Fujimori’s supporters cite only the hostage issue, and pointedly ignore the corruption, human rights abuses, extortion, etc. because they didn’t occur in Japan.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Free Trade with Colombia

The Washington Post is on a roll. First, there was the editorial about how only leftists criticize Plan Colombia and so we ought to duplicate it in Mexico. Now the editors call for passage of the U.S.-Colombia FTA. Unlike the Bush administration, which says we need to pass it or Hugo Chávez will get a PR boost, the WaPo argues that it’s OK if thousands of people are killed, just as long as they represent a small percentage of the total dead.

Among the tens of thousands of people killed in Colombia since 1991, 2,245 were labor union members, according to the country's National Labor College, known by its Spanish initials, ENS. (Of these victims, about 500 were union "leaders.") This sounds like a lot of people -- and it is, in the sense that even one murder is too many. Lately, though, labor union members have been less likely to be murdered than other Colombians. In 2006, union members made up 4.8 percent of the labor force, or just under 2 percent of the total population, of 43.5 million, according to ENS. Yet of the 17,206 murder victims in Colombia that year, only 70 -- or 0.4 percent -- were union members.

It ends by saying let’s not let “cold-case” files ruin a trade agreement. So sure, lots of them die, but hey, they’re a drop in the murder bucket! If I were a wavering member of Congress, I’d need a lot more than this to convince me.


Friday, November 09, 2007

U.S.-Cuban relations

In the most recent issue of Military Review, Trudi Morales (a political science professor at the University of Central Florida) offers an unflinching look at U.S.-Cuban relations.

U.S. policymakers have insisted on imposing their own interests, agendas, models, and formulas on Latin America—often against the wishes of most of the peoples in the region. At the same time that U.S. leaders insist on internal democratization, they maintain an undemocratic, hegemonic control over the region and demand that it do things “our” way (p. 95).

She offers a number of very sensible policy prescriptions and alternatives. For example:

A related short-term objective includes the unconditional end of the embargo, without a quid pro quo. Congress should also lift the ban on travel and restrictions on trade. Today the blockade and Helms-Burton are not as effective, and even at its peak, the embargo, to paraphrase another Cuba-watcher, served to “bend them but not break them.” Supporters of the embargo argue that it is the only leverage we have. That argument merely reveals the meager influence U.S. policy has over the Cuban regime. It is time to honestly recognize that the embargo has failed to achieve either its central goal, regime change, or its secondary goal, isolating Cuba. And, although it has hurt Castro’s regime, it has also hurt innocent Cuban citizens and American interests. Removing Cuba from the State Department’s List of Terrorist States is another immediate action that can support an orderly, peaceful transition in Cuba—and lend greater credibility to the list (p. 99).

I find it heartening that the U.S. Army chose to publish this type of article, since it so clearly contradicts the administration’s policy preferences. We need more debate like this at all levels of government.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Setting a record number of drug records

About a week ago, Steven Taylor noted another “record” drug seizure in Mexico, and that everything is somehow a new record. I thought of that today as I read about the White House drug czar claiming success, noting a “record eradication campaign.” Commenting on his post, I wrote that it woud be really interesting to do an analysis of the word “record” with regard to drug policy in Latin America.

The constant talk about records bugs me. It’s so obviously bogus. If we are setting records all the time, then why has so little been accomplished? In addition, my hypothesis (to be tested someday when I have time to gather data) is that the word “record” intensifies just before an administration requests more funding for drug initiatives. Do you want to fight drug trafficking? Well, we’ve been setting records so how can you possibly be against [insert drug program here]?

Lo and behold, all this talk of records is accompanied by the following Washington Post editorial, which tells us we need to fund Plan Mexico because only leftists fail to see how successful the Colombia drug war has been.

The package nevertheless will probably become a target for leftists in Mexico and the United States who reflexively oppose any military or security collaboration between the two countries. The Mexican press is calling the aid program "Plan Mexico," after Plan Colombia, the U.S. aid program that has been a continual target for the left despite its clear success in helping the Colombian government beat back drug traffickers, leftist guerrillas and right-wing insurgents.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007


I haven’t posted about baseball in over a month, after this game laid me to waste. It took a while to recover.

We re-signed Greg Maddux, which is a good move. He still has at least one more decent year in him. I should note, however, that I’d make a terrible GM because I just like some players, which clouds my judgment. (I’d probably sign Sammy Sosa if he just lowered his price a bit).

I also can’t resist commenting on the Mike Cameron saga. First, he gets nailed for drugs. Then he says he’s played drunk. Does he mean still woozy from the night before or actually drunk? The thing is, I can’t imagine hitting a fastball while drunk (not that I could hit a fastball while sober either). With regard to the drugs, I agree with Geoff Young that this quote from Victor Conte (the BALCO guy) is perfect:

This isn’t drug testing, this is IQ testing. All you have to do is look at the list and find one of the 30 that’s not on the list and use that. This guy (Cameron) didn’t fail a drug test. He failed an IQ test.

Now we just await the Cy Young announcement, and I would be shocked if it wasn’t Jake Peavy. After that 163rd game, however, which could’ve been his 20th win and instead was a disaster, the Cy Young is not quite as exciting.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Raúl Baduel

Former Defense Minister (and retired general) Raúl Baduel, who played a key role in bringing Chávez back to power in 2002, came out against the constitutional reforms, calling them the equivalent of a coup (and consequently has been labeled a traitor by Chávez).

This is major news, but there is something even more interesting—he just started a blog. As you might guess, the comments are intense.


U.S. policy and Hugo Chávez

If you’d like another glimpse at the ways in which many in the U.S. government view Hugo Chávez, check out this interview with Connie Mack (R-FLA). The highlights:

--the U.S. needs “more severe policies” toward Venezuela in the near future

--“rogue nations” and “terrorists” are using Venezuela as a “conduit” for “dangerous enterprises”

--although Chávez is elected, the election is not legitimate: "I don't think you can make the same argument now that he has been legitimately elected."

--the way to get support from other countries is to “lock in” free trade agreements

--"The time is ripe for the United States to grow alliances and to put the squeeze on Chavez"


Monday, November 05, 2007

Primera Revista Latinoamericana de Libros

I received a copy of the Primera Revista Latinoamericana de Libros and thought I would pass along the link for anyone interested. It is published in NYC but is entirely in Spanish. It has some impressively detailed book reviews, though it did serve to remind me how many books I'd like to read and how little time I have to do so.


Guatemala election

Álvaro Colom seems to have won the runoff presidential election in Guatemala, winning 19 of 22 departments (but not Guatemala City, where Otto Pérez Molina’s hardline rhetoric and military intelligence past attracted more voters). Colom’s party, however, has only 48 of 158 seats in the legislature.

Turnout appears to have been light, perhaps reflecting concern about violence (which seems not have been a problem for the runoff) or perhaps the idea that neither would challenge the status quo to any significant degree?


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Civilians and defense in Latin America

David Pion-Berlin and Harold A. Trinkunas, “Attention Deficits: Why Politicians Ignore Defense Policy in Latin America.” Latin American Research Review 42,3 (2007) 76-100.

Abstract: Interest in defense issues among Latin American politicians has faded with the advent of widespread democratization in the region and the retreat of the armed forces to their barracks. Defense policy is rarely subject to the same level of public scrutiny and debate as other major policy issues faced by the region, such as health, education, and public safety. This is puzzling because by ignoring defense policy, civilian leaders in the region risk ceding authority to their militaries, allowing them a degree of self-management and undermining the consolidation of democratic civilian control of the armed forces. This article explains civilian politicians' inattention to defense as a function of three factors: a historical path that has produced armed forces with limited capabilities that are more often a threat to their own governments than their neighbors; a relatively benign international threat environment in Latin America that makes neglect of defense policy a low-risk proposition; and the low importance that voters assign to the provision of the national defense as either a public or a private good. Under these circumstances, it is rational for most civilian politicians to ignore defense policy and focus their attention instead on coup avoidance.

I had briefly mentioned their analysis last year in its previous incarnation as a LASA paper. It addresses something that any student of civil-military relations figures out very quickly—interest about defense in Latin America is astonishingly low, and has always been that way. Civilians are generally content to let the armed forces figure things out for themselves. I use this argument as part of an analysis about the military and intelligence services in an article in Third World Quarterly coming out next year.

They cite Chile as an example where legislators and others have made a more concerted effort to become knowledgeable about defense. However, interested civilians and officers in Chile still routinely evince frustration at the general lack of attention—further, even though in the past President Bachelet made a point of taking courses (and even getting a degree) on defense, she says almost nothing about the issue and still appoints Defense Ministers with no background on it (though, to be fair, at least the administration is gradually trying to modernize the ministry itself).

Pion-Berlin and Trinkunas come to the following unfortunate conclusion, with which I agree:

Should these conditions remain unaltered, it is unlikely civilian politicians will "discover" defense planning as a worthy policy goal any time soon. To the extent that this remains true, it may lead to a set of undesirable outcomes. If civilian leaders don't care about defense, they will not oversee efforts to reform military practices and doctrines. Absent civilian prodding, militaries—which are inherently conservative institutions—will fail to adapt their behavior and ideas to changing circumstances. The less concern civilian leaders show for defense, the more the military will resort to self-management, which in turn could breed greater levels of autonomy and pose problems for civilian control (p. 95).


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Term limits (again)

Executive power and term limits have been quite the recent theme. Now Alvaro Uribe has stepped into the mix, suggesting he might like to change the constitution (again) to allow for another re-election in case there is some sort of catastrophe and his coalition can’t unite around a candidate. This comes just after the Alternative Democratic Pole’s Samuel Moreno won Bogotá’s mayoral election, which puts him (or at least his party) in a better position for the 2010 presidential election.

So who will be next on the “I don’t want to step down as president so let’s amend the constitution” train? It's all the rage.

Just after posting, I see Miguel has addressed the same thing.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Cuban cambio

At first glance, it seems like a straightforward story—young Cuban dissidents wear a rubber Lance Armstrong-type bracelet with the word “Cambio” (change) on it and then get arrested.

But wait, most kids wearing them did so for fashion reasons and have no interest in politics.

''Some people wear the AIDS ones which are yellow,'' González said. 'These are white, but in the schools a lot of kids wear it backwards, so you can't see the word `change.' For a lot of kids, it's nothing but a distraction. It doesn't matter to them if it says change or anything else.''

In other words, they aren’t “dissidents” at all, though the Cuban government rounded them up anyway for “social dangerousness.” So it is dangerous to be an unwitting dissident.

Then the story takes another, much weirder turn, as we discover that Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez wears his bracelet all the time, including in bed. No, I did not make that up.


Thursday, November 01, 2007


In a classically corrupt Colorado Party move, the Paraguayan Supreme Court released Lino Oviedo (who was on parole) on a technicality, just coincidentally a few hours before the deadline to apply for a presidential run.

Under Paraguayan law, all candidates must be registered to vote and those serving prison sentences cannot register. The court decision came out shortly before Tuesday's midnight registration deadline, and Oviedo rushed to get on the voter rolls.

''It's such a visible and vulgar manipulation of justice on the part of President Nicanor Duarte Frutos,'' said Paraguayan political columnist Alfredo Boccia Paz. ``You'd have to be pathologically naive not to see the Colorado hand behind this.''

As Boz notes, this is an effort to split the opposition vote to keep the Colorado Party in power. I would only partially agree with him that Oviedo is a threat to “Paraguayan democracy,” as there is no such thing. We might say his political presence is a threat to the possibility of moving in a democratic direction.

In a recent academic article, Paul Sondrol analyzes Paraguay in the context of being a semi-authoritarian regime, and puts it as follows:

The evolving socio-political equation includes widespread disenchantment with a weak economy, a political class newfangled in the give and take inherent in a liberalized environment, and enduring traits reflecting the deepest authoritarian tradition in Latin America, mirrored in a narrow, cynical view of democracy by well-established political elites (p. 51).

An axiom attributed to Stroessner himself sums up the nefarious, semi-authoritarian philosophy: “It is necessary to foment criminality, for criminality produces complicity and complicity produces loyalty (p. 58).

That pretty much sums it up.

Paul Sondrol, “Paraguay: A Semi-Authoritarian Regime?” Armed Forces & Society, Vol. 34, No. 1 (2007): 46-66.


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