Monday, December 31, 2007

Not a happy year's end for Bachelet

Michelle Bachelet’s December approval rating was 39%, with a disapproval of 42%. This has now remained quite stable over the past several months, but represents a 13% drop since December 2006. Strangely enough, Pinochet’s death one year ago ended up marking the beginning of a serious slide for Bachelet.

To make matters worse, the Christian Democrats kicked Adolfo Zaldívar out of the party for siding with the opposition on the Transantiago funding vote. The Concertación—and by extension Bachelet—is in disarray.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Immigration in 2007

Peter Schrag has a level-headed discussion of immigration policy in the latest issue of The Nation. He examines the local laws being passed and the vagaries of public opinion, which is never as anti-immigrant (not even anti-undocumented immigrant) as restrictionists claim, something we should always keep in mind.

At that point the nation may look back on this period as another of those eras, like the Red Scare of the 1920s or the McCarthy years of the '50s, when the nation became unhinged; politicians panicked; and scattershot federal, state and local assaults led to unfocused, and often cruel, harassment. It may be seen in retrospect as a desperate rearguard attempt to freeze Anglo-white places and power in a mythic past.

I especially like the image of becoming "unhinged," which is right on the money.

h/t Bender's Immigration Bulletin.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Conference terrorism

Ferule and Fescue has a phrase for academia that made me laugh—“conference terrorism.”

I believe I coined this term last year to describe those aggressively bad papers that hold an entire room hostage while they're being delivered. But last night I saw a slightly different form of terrorism during the one panel I attended: during the Q&A a kindly-looking grey-haired man in the audience attacked every single member of the panel (two of whom were graduate students, one a second-year assistant professor) with very long, very hostile criticisms that weren't really questions. The panelists did an impressive job of parrying, but it was a deeply uncomfortable-making experience.

I would alter it slightly, though maybe this is discipline-specific. I care less about bad papers than I do bad presentations, which sometimes are of good papers. For example, no one should read their paper—or at least big chunks of it--which I see far too much. I would certainly give exceptions for graduate students as they get experience, but in general we should all be prepared enough to present a paper without reading anything but a few notes.

I totally agree with the second observation. I have seen many situations where an audience member seeks not to engage the author, or even to ask a question at all, but simply to air their own views, which also are often slightly off topic.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Huckabee, foot, mouth

According to Mike Huckabee, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto means we need to increase border security with Mexico. He thinks Pakistanis are second to "immediately south of the border" in illegal crossings.

No, I am not joking. Did I mention he is running for president?


U.S. reaction to hostage release

With all the news about hostage release in Colombia, I started wondering what the official U.S. position was. The fact that Hugo Chávez arranged it, and Alvaro Uribe is being marginalized, can’t sit too well with the Bush administration. On top of that, and rarely remarked upon, is the fact that Chávez also arranged to include governments close to him, namely Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador and France, four of which currently have terrible relations with the United States.

I’ve been looking all around, and am coming to the conclusion that the U.S. government is trying to pretend that it isn’t happening. You can’t really say anything bad about it, but your head might spin and green vomit might spew if you say something complimentary about Chávez.

I found two older references--at a late November conference on the topic, the State Department spokesman was asked about the situation, and he refused even to say Chávez’s name, instead just talking vaguely of letting Uribe do what he felt was necessary. Condoleezza Rice did the same in October.

If anyone sees any current official reactions, I’d be interested to see them.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

FARC hostage release

The FARC is releasing three hostages into Hugo Chávez’s custody—more specifically, Venezuelan planes, but Chávez was the key figure. The FARC’s decision came soon after Alvaro Uribe had given Chávez the boot, so it seems timed to make Uribe look bad. Most news stories on the topic do not mention a quid pro quo, or say only that the FARC wanted to show its affinity for Chávez. No prisoner swap has been announced up to now.

I find this a little strange. It is reasonable to argue that this is a symbolic move by the FARC to make sure Chávez stays in the picture and embarrass Uribe, but why do they not make that more clear? I went to the FARC’s website, which does not even mention the situation at all. Maybe it is a multi-step process that eventually will include release of FARC members in Colombian prisons, but everyone is keeping mum.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mark Prior

The Padres have agreed to terms with Mark Prior. I love this deal because I think it has no downside. Given his shoulder problems it is hard to imagine him getting back to his previous form (he didn't even play in 2007, and really his great numbers were four years ago) but handled well he could really contribute. Bud Black is a former pitcher and pitching coach, so should be in a great position to guide him along. I also like the Jim Edmonds deal of a few weeks ago. No blockbusters, but some solid signings.


Graham Greene's The Honorary Consul

I read Graham Greene’s The Honorary Consul, first published in 1973. I was prompted to read it after seeing Jeff Barry’s review at Buenos Aires, City of Faded Elegance. It is set in the northern Argentine town of Corrientes, on the border with Paraguay, and tells the story of Paraguayan revolutionaries conducting a botched kidnapping, intending to get the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina but ending up with the Honorary British Consul.

For a Cold War novel it is noteworthy that Greene paints all the characters sympathetically. We are not inclined to dislike the police colonel, the former priest-turned-revolutionary, the alcoholic honorary consul, his prostitute wife, or the strikingly amoral Doctor Plarr, around whom the plot revolves. Further, they are all sympathetic to each other, as neither fear nor loathing is apparent. Greene is more interested in the relationships between the characters than the political context itself.

It has a tight plot, which constantly left me wondering how it might end (i.e. we know some combination of people will likely die, but who?). Throughout, most of the characters reflect on the circumstances that brought them there, which increases the tension. Despite the political nature of the novel, it focuses quite a lot on love and commitment—not only in terms of personal relationships but also political causes--as important themes.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Another record drug seizure

Last month I wrote about the use of “record” with regard to fighting drug trafficking. Everything is a “record” to show how well the drug war is progressing. Now the news is that with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard, Costa Rica reports a biggest pot bust in the country's history. For reasons not clear to me, they explain it was enough “to roll 17,600 joints.” Since when did we start measuring marijuana busts in terms of potential rolled joints?


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Leaving Ecuador

The government of Ecuador estimates that 403,000 people have emigrated in the past four years and have not returned. Emigration has really bothered Rafael Correa (who has called it a “national tragedy”) and the government is working on a variety of projects to remain connected to citizens abroad and to encourage them to return. Of course, these efforts also include facilitating the inexpensive and easy sending of remittances. There has been a lot of talk recently about how remittances to Mexico have dropped, but to Ecuador they continue to rise (up 7.5% from last year).

Correa has also held talks with the governments of Spain and Italy, which is where most migrants go, in addition to the United States. Given the political atmosphere here, not to mention the fact that Correa himself was treated like a potential criminal by immigration officials at the airport in Miami, it is a safe bet that he will not have similar talks with the Bush Administration.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Prospects for change in Cuba policy

Wayne Smith, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana who is a longtime observer of U.S.-Cuban relations, co-wrote an article on U.S. policy for the Center for International Policy. It seeks to find some optimism:

Cuba is on the cusp of change. By contrast, there has been little change in Washington. U.S. policy toward Cuba remains as ill-conceived and counterproductive as ever.

There is hope, however, that the changing political equation in Miami, pressure from economic interest groups interested in trade and investment, and support by the majority of Americans for normalization of relations with Cuba will lead long overdue policy change after the 2008 elections.

I find the optimism a bit forced. The logic is that many Cuban Americans are becoming Democrats, which might create support for a change in policy, but then they also note that Democrats have failed to do anything. So far, economic interest groups haven’t acted in concert to pressure the government. The article also does not note that the Democratic candidates have very different views on Cuba so it also depends on who is elected.

One point I found amusing was the so-called “Grandmother Factor,” where young Cuban Americans don’t want to admit to their grandmothers that they either registered Democrat or lean toward toward the Democratic Party.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Speculation about Maletagate

Boz has been following Maletagate--or as he puts it, “Bags o’ Cash”--in several posts, and I would direct readers there for summary and some comment debate. As I wrote in comments there, I think it is too early to judge reactions to the case, and there is still much to learn about it. However, it got me speculating about the potential political winners and losers.

The Bush Administration: despite the separation between Justice and State, in my opinion it is impossible to see this as an apolitical case. This means the U.S. has much to lose, because flimsy evidence will bring down a rain of criticism for manufacturing a scandal for political reasons. Convincing evidence—and “convincing” is obviously subjective—connecting the $800,000 and alleged efforts to hush up the main suspect (the fact that his name is “Guido” seems so appropriate) to the Venezuelan government could damage Chávez, but I doubt this would hurt Venezuelan-Argentine relations much.

Hugo Chávez: if the evidence is flimsy, it is more ammunition for criticism of the U.S. government. However, Chávez’s key challenges right now are domestic, and so I don’t think this will help him much politically. However, it could help solidify his relationship with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, which is very valuable politically.

If the evidence is more solid, he will suffer internationally because his rhetoric has always been anti-interventionist so he could easily be labeled a hypocrite. As the latest Latinobarómetro survey shows, he isn’t very popular in Latin America anyway, so it might not matter more than marginally. Domestically, it could give the opposition some fodder, but again, the key issues in Venezuela right now revolve around domestic policy.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner: I think she has the most to gain of anyone, though I must admit this is even more speculative. Her indignant response—even now including the Argentine Congress--right now has put the U.S. government back on its heels, which she can use to her own advantage because the U.S. doesn’t want to alienate her. If the evidence is flimsy, then she talks tough to her domestic audience, stays friends with Hugo Chávez, and extracts concessions from the U.S. behind the scenes.

If the evidence is more solid, she expresses disgust, fires some people, and reminds everyone that her husband already reacted aggressively right off the bat. Dealing with Chávez would be trickier, because it would not be plausible to say such an affair took place without him knowing about it. She would have to find a way to be critical while staying friendly, as she—like many other Latin American presidents—views ties to Chávez as valuable in pragmatic terms, regardless of ideology.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How Cuba policy makes the U.S. less safe

From the NYT: the GAO is about to release a report arguing that the U.S. government is so intent on enforcing sanctions against Cuba that it is neglecting other, more important missions. The bottom line is that obsession with seizing contraband cigars and rum means real potential national security threats go unexamined.

Catching Americans who travel illegally to Cuba or who purchase cigars, rum or other products from the island may be distracting some American government agencies from higher-priority missions like fighting terrorism and combating narcotics trafficking, a government audit to be released Wednesday says.

The report, from the Government Accountability Office, says that Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, conducts secondary inspections on 20 percent of charter passengers arriving from Cuba at Miami International Airport, more than six times the inspection rate for other international arrivals, even from countries considered shipment points for narcotics.

That high rate of inspections and the numerous seizures of relatively benign contraband “have strained C.B.P.’s capacity to carry out its primary mission of keeping terrorists, criminals and inadmissible aliens from entering the country at Miami International Airport,” says the audit, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

The audit also called on the Treasury Department to scrutinize the priorities of its Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces more than 20 economic and trade sanctions programs, including those aimed at freezing terrorists’ assets and restricting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but has long focused on Cuba.

Between 2000 and 2006, 61 percent of the agency’s investigation and penalty caseload involved Cuba embargo cases. Over that period, the office opened 10,823 investigations into possible violations involving Cuba and just 6,791 investigations on all other cases, the audit found.

This report will definitely be worth a read. It is absurd enough to argue that the sanctions make the United States safer, but it’s even worse when other issues are neglected as a result.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Huckabee and Cuba

Next semester I teach U.S.-Latin American relations, and will definitely be using Mike Huckabee’s stance on Cuba policy because it so perfectly illustrates why U.S. policy is so poorly thought out and counterproductive.

As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee made a point of opposing the embargo. Like so many other governors of farm states—many of them Republicans—he thought it made little sense as it clearly was not working, and he saw significant trade potential for his state.

Now that he is running for president, he changed his mind completely because he wants to court the Cuban American vote in Florida. He claims simply to have seen the light, so that after listening to the words of hardliners, he realizes he must do what’s good for the country, which means doing nothing different. He does not elaborate on how that is good for the United States, but he does say it shows he can “stand tall.”

While courting Rubio's support over the past year, Huckabee said he began to appreciate the perspective of many Cuban-American exiles, who believe lifting the embargo would support a repressive regime.

''He really helped me understand some of the key issues that are so very important not just to Cuban-American community but to all Americans in terms of protecting freedom and standing tall,'' Huckabee said. ``As president I commit that we would veto any legislation that would lift the embargo that is currently in place because we must keep that pressure on.''

The Cuban American vote is no longer the bloc it once was. There is, in fact, quite a bit of debate about how splintered the Cuban American vote might be in the Florida Republican primary. It is therefore even more sad to see a candidate completely renounce his own views to pander to that small audience.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Bolivia deals

Evo Morales finally has some good news, as he is making deals with both Brazil and Chile. After the 2006 nationalization dispute relations with Brazil had cooled, but now Petrobras is once again going to invest in natural gas. Meanwhile, all three governments are going to build a highway from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans.

Citing Brazilian diplomats, the Reuters article frames the Brazilian move as a way to re-establish Brazil’s position of leadership from Venezuela. This seems plausible, as Brazil wants to be the regional leader and historically has had closer ties to Bolivia than Venezuela had. But there is also the simple bottom line—there is money to be made. As for Chile, Bachelet has been working hard to improve relations with Bolivia. The relationship is still prickly, but improved.

As I read the story, I wondered whether it would have any impact on the current political crisis. It could serve to enhance Morales’ stature, as he demonstrates that a) he can act as a statesman; and b) that nationalization did not mean an end to foreign investment. On the other hand, it has no impact on his overall effort to centralize power and the resistance to it.

UPDATE: Thanks to my student Chris for pointing out that Bolivia is also negotiating a $2 billion gas exploration deal with Russia's Gazprom.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

What next in Bolivia?

The central government and departments in Bolivia are espousing positions that are mutually exclusive. Four departments have declared autonomy, a move--the details of which are vague--the government labels illegal. Evo Morales, meanwhile, is celebrating the draft of a new constitution, passed by his supporters and labeled illegal by the opposition.

Nonetheless, even the government is saying the issue of autonomy is part of the constitutional debate and therefore can serve to initiate dialogue. Hopefully, the declarations of autonomy are part of an elaborate public negotiation. The OAS sent an envoy, and José Miguel Insulza will be arriving soon, which can provide cover for both sides to come to the bargaining table.

I haven’t seen anything more about the timing of the recall vote, which presumably will take place in early 2008.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Thoughts on democratators

Maybe a year or so ago I spent some time complaining about the loose use of the terms “left” and “leftist,” especially in the media but also in academia. Thankfully, that has changed a bit over time, as the differences between all the supposedly leftist presidents has become clear, so I tend to see less of the lumping together. The focus now is on Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia (interestingly, Nicaragua never seems to rate).

Let me take Daniel Drezner’s recent article in Newsweek, however, as an example of some analytical issues that still need resolution. He notes correctly that both Rafael Correa and Evo Morales are trying to bypass the elected opposition, though of course we’ll have to see what happens with the Bolivian recall vote (which he does not mention).

He, like many others, now uses the catchy term “democratator.” The origin of this term is, I think, Guillermo O’Donnell’s “democradura,” by which he intended to mean “hard democracy” but can also be seen as a combination of “democracia” and “dictadura.” The essential argument is that elections occur, but executive power is highly centralized, perhaps even in a single individual, and opposition is suppressed.

So far, so good, but the devil is in the details. The article is about authoritarian governments, but he compares Pakistan, China and Egypt, where free and fair elections have not taken place, to Latin America, where they have. No matter what you think of Correa, he is not Musharraf. Nor is Chávez the same as Hosni Mubarak.

Then, after citing Chávez as a “democratator,” he then also uses him as an example of the potential democratic future of the world. The money quote is “the Venezuelan people rebuffed their democratator's wishes.” But if they rebuffed him, and he accepted it, and everything goes on, is he in fact a “democratator”?

As readers of this blog know, I have all sorts of concerns about the abuse of executive power in Latin America, though at the moment I think we should be more concerned about Bolivia and Ecuador than Venezuela. It doesn’t do us any good, though, to toss around terms that tend mostly to lump together countries and/or leaders of which we are suspicious.


Friday, December 14, 2007

U.S. and Latin American Relations

My textbook U.S. and Latin American Relations is now out! If you teach a course, then you can get yourself an exam copy. It combines discussion of major theories with historical background and key current issues. The book has a variety of pedagogical features that are listed on the Longman website.

I guess the cover hasn’t been digitized yet, which is too bad because I really like it.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Political leaders being...political

I have to say I am really mad. Apparently Hugo Chávez is once again providing discounted heating oil to the poor in Massachusetts. Horrible but true.

An article in CNN Money notes how this dictator—defined as a leader who wins and loses free elections—is making political hay by being nice, which is pure evil. I agree.

I also hate it when big naval ships go places and give people urgent care they otherwise wouldn’t receive. All that free pediatric care really gets my goat. Who do those kids think they are? I have nothing but dripping contempt for cross-national sympathy and understanding, which is really a waste of my time and precious tax dollars.

I just think that politicians ought to stop doing good things for political reasons. Humanitarian impulses demean us all.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fujimori blues

Alberto Fujimori was convicted of abuse of power and sentenced to six years, but he has a variety of other, more serious charges, still pending related to human rights. The interesting part of this particular charge is that it involved a warrantless search to see if his former intelligence head, Vladimir Montesinos, had damaging evidence like videotapes, which over time he had collected like comic books to blackmail politicians, judges, etc.

The National Security Archive just recently posted some U.S. government documents obtained through FOIA, which are added to a number of documents already declassified. One is a graphic account of the Japanese Embassy hostage crisis as members of MRTA who surrendered had their heads blown off. The second document is an analysis, essentially saying that although the rescue operation was popular, the “strong-arm” tactics that characterized it were starting to alienate the population.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bachelet's approval is stable and abysmal

Michelle Bachelet’s November approval rating was 38.2%, almost identical to October’s 38.9%, and up from September’s amazing low of 35.3%.

She is getting close to the halfway point of her term, and this highlights a problem with Chile’s recent constitutional reform. We read constantly about the proposed end to term limits in Bolivia and Venezuela, but in Chile we see the drawbacks of the reverse, i.e. terms that are very short (four years) and do not allow for immediate re-election.

The result is that lame duck status comes very quickly. Unless she gets an unexpected and dramatic boost somehow, Bachelet’s low numbers mean she won’t recover politically in time to get anything substantive done. The fight to be the Concertación’s next candidate is already well underway.

I must say I don’t get the logic of denying immediate re-election, but allowing one nonconsecutive re-election. I don't see how an incumbent president is somehow less deserving than someone who sat out a term.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Latinos and party affiliation

I hadn’t had a chance to comment on the Pew Hispanic Center study of Latinos and their party affiliation. The general media response has been focused on the shift of Latino voters away from the Republican Party and toward the Democratic Party.

I would like to highlight another shift that hasn’t been much reported, but which I think is potentially more important, that of Latinos away from both parties.

On basic party identification, some 44% of registered Latino voters now say they are Democrats, compared with 42% in 2006 and 48% in 1999. Some 19% now say they are Republicans, compared with 22% in 2006 and 19% in 1999. Some 25% now say they are independents, compared with 20% in 2006 and 23% in 1999. In short, most of the movement among Latinos toward the Democratic Party in the past year has been an increase in those who say they lean to the Democratic Party rather than an increase in those who explicitly identify themselves as Democrats (p. 2).

I take this to mean that Latino voters view the Democratic Party as preferable, but as each year passes the party is less and less likely to woo Latinos to identify explicitly with it.

I recently did some work with La Noticia, a Spanish-language newspaper here in Charlotte, and I found that as of October 2007, 45% of registered Latino voters in Mecklenburg County were Democrats, 21% were Republicans, and 33% were “unaffiliated” (numbers don’t add to 100% because of rounding).

So although this is an otherwise worthwhile study, it misses the critical question of why Latinos are moving away from both parties. Both parties and the media assume that immigration is the main issue, but my hunch is that there is something much broader at work. Exactly what I’m not sure.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hugo Chávez and conventional wisdom

I think it’s fair to say that current conventional wisdom says Hugo Chávez’s loss stemmed in part from focusing too much on international affairs (including a lot of traveling) and not enough on Venezuela. I’ve seen this all over the place, from Oil Wars to Oppenheimer, and it makes sense.

Chávez, though, just signed agreements with Belarus, saying Venezuela would provide all the oil it needs for 100 or 200 years, and that Alexander Lukashenko gets a bum rap.

I have to figure this is not the best immediate post-referendum move, but as I noted, in Venezuela conventional wisdom has been messed up lately.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bolivian military

As I had been reading about Bolivia’s current political crisis, I thought that a silver lining was the absence of the armed forces, which have traditionally been even more politicized than many of their Latin American counterparts. Evo Morales was skillful in rooting out high ranking officers skeptical of his politics and in emphasizing nationalism--as opposed to ideology--when using troops to seize gas fields.

Fast forward to now, and the commander of the military gave a speech harshly criticizing the governors (prefects) referring to the cowards in their fiefdoms who wish to destabilize democracy. A few weeks ago, at least one prefect had asked the military to intervene. In the same article, a PODEMOS senator said he thought the armed forces were betraying military honor by not addressing the presence of Venezuelan troops and by being too close to the government as opposed to the state.

My guess is that very few soldiers would be interested in shooting at peasants allied with Evo Morales. Many Venezuelan troops were disgusted when called out by Carlos Andrés Pérez to attack people during the Caracazo. So at least for now, the crisis can be addressed, if not by entirely non-violent means, at least not by a military uprising.

At least I hope I’m right.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Vote in Bolivia

I had written about the possible demonstration effect of the Venezuelan referendum on Bolivia, but this is definitely not what I would’ve expected. Evo Morales called for referenda on whether or not he, the VP and the nine governors should remain in office, in response to the violent reaction to the Constitutional Assembly. The governors have apparently accepted.

If the negative vote for each exceeds the percentage vote they received in their last election (53.7% for Evo) then new elections would be called within 2-3 months. Miguel writes that the current law is more specific, in that if someone received a plurality in the election, then a simple majority in the referendum would be required for removal. However, Morales is sending a bill to the legislature on the referendum, so the details may differ.

I haven’t seen any timetable for when the vote will occur, and the government has already announced that the constitution will go forward as planned (a draft by December 14) even though the constitution is the proximate cause of this particular conflict (ideology, of course, is the distal cause). Therefore, the recall vote is ostensibly intended to help break the political stalemate but simultaneously the violence will likely get worse. The atmosphere of the vote will be much more volatile than in Venezuela.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Free Trade and U.S. Policy

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a number of other senators just came back from Latin America and his statement upon returning hopefully shows some shift toward common sense in the Democratic Party. He argues that free trade agreements can be one element of an overall U.S. policy if done properly, but the obsession with FTAs as the be-all, end-all of policy toward the region is a bad idea (though, after talking about how great the deal was for Peru, he voted no, which is not exactly a way to inspire Latin American leaders).

Another senator, Bob Menéndez, came back saying very reasonably that we need to stop paying too much attention to Hugo Chávez, which relates back to FTAs since they are cited as the way to magically defeat him.

Unfortunately, the “free trade helps out allies against Chávez” is becoming conventional wisdom, primarily as a result of being repeated constantly:

“There is a growing division in Latin America today,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee. “We ought to help countries like Peru that are not going the direction of Venezuela.”

This line of thinking tends to equate a vote against free trade with a vote in favor of Hugo Chávez. We will all be much better off when the two are de-linked.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Daniel Alarcón's Lost City Radio

I read Daniel Alarcón’s Lost City Radio, a really good novel, based loosely on Peru (where the author was born) and the war with Sendero Luminoso.

The narrative really brings to life the shadowy nature of internal war. The rebel group—the “Illegitimate Legion” or IL—is rarely seen, and even a sympathazer who carries messages for them doesn’t know anything about their ultimate goals or their leadership (it is so decentralized, in fact, that there is no leadership). Rumors fly that they don’t even exist, that they were invented by the government, though the story makes clear—tragically—that they exist and are incredibly vicious.

The government is no better, routinely arresting people and torturing/killing them at “the Moon,” a desolate, cratered part of the country, and forbidding mention of the war. The government also renamed all the towns and cities of the country, making them numbers—much of the story takes place in “1797.”

The main character is a women with a radio show that reads the names of the disappeared. A young boy from the remote jungle comes into her life, which sparks memories and sets in motion a number of revelations that are gradually brought out through the course of the novel. I found the following quote nicely summed up the confusion and ambiguity of the war:

“The question was posed by the owner of the radio, and there was an innocence to it that Rey appreciated, a genuine need to know, without a hint of malice. “Tell us, sir,” Zahir asked, already speaking of the war in the past tense, “who was right in all of this?” (p. 236).


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dick Williams in the Hall of Fame

Dick Williams will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and although he'll be wearing an A's hat his importance to me was getting the Padres to the World Series in 1984.

Williams had a way of bringing success to previously underachieving teams before his hard-nosed style grew old with players and management.
True enough.

And his 1984 Padres made their first World Series appearance in history. During Williams' four San Diego seasons, a team that had had only one winning season in its first 13, never finished below .500.


Aftermath in Venezuela

Of course, everyone is scrambling to make sense of the “post NO” era in Venezuelan politics. What’s absolutely fascinating—and what makes predictions so difficult—is that conventional wisdom was turned on its head. Low turnout was supposed to hurt the opposition, not the government. Polls were supposed to be wrong because they were politically motivated.

Chávez still has the enabling laws, and is committed to his vision of 21st Century Socialism regardless of the vote, which may lead to renewed conflict before long, but I am mostly inclined to put a positive spin on the results.

--Democracy worked. Chávez lost and accepted it. It’s obvious, but bears repeating. There have been countless facile comparisons to Fidel Castro, but Fidel has never participated in anything but fully cooked elections, and there is no way Fidel would ever accept electoral defeat.

--As a result, the opposition likely won’t keep up the abstention strategy for elections. Democracy is strengthened when everyone participates and accepts losing as a normal event.

--Chávez was defiant but relatively subdued, and neither side hurled outlandish insults at each other. It’s hard to imagine that state of affairs lasting very long, but at least for now…

--Aside from a very small amount of crowing, the U.S. government kept its collective mouth shut, which is good for everyone.

--Perhaps this is wishful thinking because the political contexts are different, but there is potentially a positive demonstration effect for Bolivia and Ecuador.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Ambassador to Chile

I've had no opportunity to read much of anything about the Venezuelan referendum because I was in DC all day to participate in a seminar to help brief the new U.S. Ambassador to Chile, who heads to his post next week. My own presentation focused on the political and economic consensus in Chile to adhere to the market model and keep the Concertación together, and how Bachelet's election raised expectations even though she was not challenging that consensus, which in turn has led to criticisms from both the left and the right.


Sunday, December 02, 2007


As Venezuelans go to vote, it is worth noting that the country’s constitutional debate is not the only one in the region, and not even the most conflictive. Ecuador’s constitutional assembly recently dissolved the legislature and took over its powers while it drafts a new constitution to be presented in a referendum within eight months. As in Venezuela and a number of other Latin American countries, the opposition is disorganized and fractured, offering no alternative vision.

In Bolivia the situation is worse than either Venezuela or Ecuador in terms of political conflict, as the constitutional assembly holed up in a military installation without the opposition (which boycotted) and approved an initial draft of a new constitution in the midst of very violent protest. This draft, however, has not officially been made public and as yet there is no timetable for considering each separate article. Miguel has an interesting post and subsequent debate in the comments.

The truth is that Venezuela has oil and a flamboyant president whose insults and tirades are Vesuvius-like, so it receives the vast majority of the attention (including, I should say, from me). Constitutional proposals in Ecuador and Bolivia do get a lot of attention from bloggers, but in the U.S. media are either ignored or vaguely lumped together as “leftists” or Chávez clones.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

You know the Venezuelan referendum rhetoric is really getting weird when...

...the Finance Minister accuses the opposition of hoarding toilet paper to influence the vote. Apparently without irony he said this was "playing dirty."


Be like Mike

Kudos to NC Governor Mike Easley. On the community college flap:

"The people we are talking about were brought here as babies and young children through no fault of their own," he said. "They distinguished themselves throughout our K-12 system. Now, I'm not willing to grind my heel in their faces and slam the door on them."

As always, views on immigration do not fall neatly within partisan lines. During the last Republican debate, Mike Huckabee—certainly no liberal—said almost the exact same thing:

“In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did. We're a better country than that.”


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP