Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Venezuelan military

Hugo Chávez backed off a previous plan of intelligence reform, but through decree now is restructuring the role and function of armed forces, and increasing their role in intelligence--responsible for the "organization, planning, management and control of a national intelligence and military counterintelligence system.'' The reforms also give the president more personal control by giving the executive sole authority to appoint military command and giving the president the option of bypassing regular chains of command by naming anyone he/she wants in "command" regardless of their rank. (Article 80: "military personnel in all grades or hierarchies will be subordinate to the officer named in command.")

Once again, he used decree power to make a decision that, by its nature, should entail intense discussion and debate in the legislature. Further, it is a bad idea to have the military deeply involved in intelligence, especially domestic. It is also a bad idea to screw around with the normal chain of command through presidential whim.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Keep your rebels to yourselves

Rafael Correa has requested that Colombia increase the number of troops on the border to prevent the FARC, drugs, and refugees from spilling over into Ecuador. Presumably he added "and tell those troops not to bomb us."

At the same time, the Ecuadorian government announced that it was extending refugee status to 50,000 Colombians until the middle of next year. Ecuador is simply awash in refugees.

These are issues that get lost in the shuffle in most accounts of Colombia. Despite all the fanfare, Colombian political violence is still displacing thousands of people, who feel they have no choice but to flee. Uribe has, of course, scored some very important victories against the FARC, but the general impression we now get is that the war is somehow won.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin and Latin America

I like to keep the readers of this blog informed about the candidates and their views on issues related to Latin America. I can give you the kind of analytical depth you won't find elsewhere.

Having said that, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has been named McCain's running mate. Now we get to the in-depth part: I first heard of Sarah Palin approximately three hours ago. She seems to have no views on Latin America at all. Neither does she seem to be interested in immigration, as Alaska is not the first destination of choice for many immigrants from Latin America.

I hope you now feel a bit more informed.


Chile poll numbers

When asked "Who will be the next president of Chile?" here are the responses:

1. Sebastián Piñera (58.9%)
2. Ricardo Lagos (11.5%)
3. Soledad Alvear (4%)
4. José Miguel Insulza (3.4%)
5. Eduardo Frei (1.7%)
6. Joaquín Lavín (1.3%)

Note, however, that this did not question who the respondent would vote for, but rather just who they thought would get the most votes. When asked which coalition they would vote for (I don't know why they didn't ask which specific candidate) they got the following results:

40.3% Alianza por Chile
32% Concertación

President Bachelet herself has an approval rating of 46.9% and disapproval of 51.5%. Those numbers are more favorable than anything I've seen in a while.

Much will depend on the how the rest of Bachelet's term goes, though the right would be hard pressed to explain how it would handle the economy (or even Transantiago) any better. I would like to see responses to a question like, "Do you think the Concertación has been in power too long?" I think many people will have that in mind when they vote, regardless of the candidates.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Frei's trip

In June I wrote about the potential presidential candidates in Chile, two of whom (Frei and Lagos) are former presidents. Now Frei is going around the country, but denies it has anything to do with a presidential run. Quote: "If my going around the country makes anyone nervous, it's their problem." He's just hanging with his peeps, nothing more.

Frei is a dull candidate. He was a dull president. He may figure that being boring will work in his favor, as Concertación voters will find that appealing after the relative tumult of the Bachelet years.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Obtaining asylum

I happened across a Department of Homeland Security report from last month on the numbers of refugees and asylees admitted into the United States in 2007. If we take a look at asylees, that is, those people already in the U.S. who argue they would be persecuted in their country of origin, we see the following:

--Colombia is consistently second on the list (to China) but the numbers are decreasing significantly every year. An important question, of course, is whether the number of people wanting asylum has dropped, or just the number of people getting it.

--Venezuela has been fourth on the list (with Haiti third) for the past three years. This is very politicized (as refugee/asylee status was for Nicaraguans vs. Salvadorans in the 1980s) and would be a great topic of research.

--Guatemala and El Salvador are also on the top 10, a reminder that civil wars (not to mention U.S. foreign policy) reverberates for years.

--Finally, China is first on the list and far above the rest in volume and went up in 2007. Hope those Olympics were fun.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Viva ref kicking

According to Fidel, Olympic athletes may attack the referee because there is a racist plot against the Third World in the Olympics. He blames the Olympic Committee for the lack of a Cuba gold medal in boxing. (See also Boz on this story).


Monday, August 25, 2008

Economic reform in Paraguay

Check out Upside Down World for a first rate analysis of Paraguay's economic challenges as Lugo takes office, written by a Political Science Ph.D. student (Gustavo Setrini) at MIT.


Hispanics and the Florida vote

The Miami Herald has an interesting story about the dramatic growth of non-Cuban Latino registered voters in Florida. We've already heard Obama talk about changing (albeit in small measure) U.S. policy toward Cuba, and now McCain is the first Republican to have a non-Cuban as the state's presidential campaign chair. As the election nears, it will be interesting to see how the candidates craft their Florida messages.

I wish the story examined the potential political effects more closely, but then it meandered on to interview people in Florida, such as the Venezuelan who thinks Obama may end up just like Chávez, simply because both had a platform of change.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Brought to you by the federal government

Remember Operation Scheduled Departure, the self-deportation pilot program? You know, the plan that had no chance of working? Turns out it doesn't work. A single person in Charlotte came forward, and a grand total of eight nationwide.

Maybe I have a libertarian streak in me, because what annoyed me the most was the fact that they spent money developing a plan they knew would not work. It didn't even work as a PR tool, as it was ridiculed by everyone. The immigration process is a mess, yet we direct government employees and their budgets to implement a DOA pilot program?


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden and Latin America

By now everyone knows that Obama has chosen Joe Biden as his running mate. He is known primarily for his foreign policy experience and his really big white teeth.

What would this mean for U.S. policy toward Latin America? We have to start with the obvious point that VPs (usually) don't make policy, and even if they do, they don't care much about Latin America compared to other hotspots around the world.

In general, though, I think we can characterize Biden as Mr. Status Quo, and left to his own devices my hunch is that his policies would be scarcely different from George W's. He likes the Cuba embargo (though, to be fair, he has said tentatively that we should talk to Raul), he likes Plan Colombia, he likes military solutions, and rails against Chávez. He does support immigration reform. (For a quick take, Erwin at The Latin Americanist has links to Biden official policy positions).


Friday, August 22, 2008

Yet another post about Uribe and a third term

I've posted about this many times, but wanted to point out a very good NYT editorial on the topic:

The region needs democracy, underpinned by strong institutions. It does not need more strongmen — however popular they may be or indispensable they may consider themselves. Mr. Uribe should make clear — now — that this will be his last term.



Just get in line to nowhere

Check out this flowchart from that spells out why people can't just "get in line" when it comes to entering the United States. The idea that it is easy to get in is a very common misconception, and I don't really know why that is the case.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tris Speaker: The Rough-and-Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend

I read Timothy M. Gay's Tris Speaker: The Rough-and-Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend, which I liked though clearly you need to be a baseball fan to get into it. I found that it is really less a biography than a chronicle of early 20th century baseball that centers (no pun intended) on center fielder and Hall of Famer Tris Speaker. This didn't bother me much, as I appreciated the opportunity to read about how great a fielder he was, playing very shallow center in the dead ball era, the rivalries that emerged at that time, and the bitter fights between players and management.

However, as the book went on I wondered more about Speaker himself. In particular, he went from a vicious bigot, who played an active role in segregating clubhouses by religion, to a guy who married a Catholic woman and eventually worked closely as a coach with Larry Doby, the first African American to play in the American League. I think the book could have done more to explain whether his shifts in opinion mirrored baseball more generally, or were exceptions, and what the effects were.

Gay also occasionally tends toward hyperbole, perhaps a natural reaction to reading sportswriters of the era. A particular 1912 game was "among the most anticipated--and hyped--regular season baseball games in history" (p. 104). Or "No ballplayer in history was as beloved by a community as Tris Speaker was in Cleveland in 1920" (p. 207). And he veers toward colloqualism, as Babe Ruth's baserunning gaffe in the 1926 World Series might be explained in the following manner: "Maybe old Judge's [Ruth's] flatulence had finally gotten to his brain" (p. 245).

Nonetheless, if you're a fan of baseball history, you will very likely enjoy it.


Chilean tourism

The price of copper is falling, so Chile needs to pursue every angle to bring in revenue. Therefore Sernatur, the country's tourism agency, is promoting UFO tourism. That actually led to me to the website of Chile's national UFO watcher organization. But what really caught my eye was the money quote from Sernatur's brochure:

"In no way can we guarantee that a tourist coming to San Clemente will see a UFO."


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Undocumented immigrants in NC

Check out Libertarian gubernatorial (say that three times fast!) candidate (and Duke Poli Sci professor) Mike Munger's take on the dispute in North Carolina about whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to attend community colleges. At least temporarily now they are barred. They pay out of state tuition, which means their tuition subsidizes others. The governing board apparently does not like receiving extra money.

Peruse his blog generally to see how politicians in NC really, really want third parties to go away.


New flash: Latin America is unequal

In the "better late than never" category, we have Andres Oppenheimer noting that the commodity boom has further concentrated wealth at the top in Latin America:

My opinion: The steady concentration of wealth within Latin America should set off alarm bells.

It suggests that the region's recent five years of steady economic growth may not have translated into creation of a new middle class of tens of millions of small entrepreneurs, but rather led the very rich to become even richer.

True. But this should not surprise us, since Latin America historically has had the highest regional rates of inequality in the world.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Immigration reform

The Washington Post has a good editorial on the need for immigration reform. The basic theme has been echoed in many such editorials, but bears repeating: the "pull" factors of immigration persist despite enforcement, and therefore must be addressed by Congress.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Back later

As everyone may have guessed, I am on vacation. Hasta pronto.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Your daily dose of paranoia

Check out the Washington Times for yet another assertion that Iran is trying to take over Latin America. This argument keeps popping up periodically. As I mentioned a year and a half ago, they never take Iranian political realities into account--it is in fact not popular in Iran to stretch too much into Latin America.

The current offering discusses countries falling into Iran's "orbit." Is Iran big enough to have an orbit?

"They use their embassies to smuggle in weapons. They used them to develop and execute plans," Oliver "Buck" Revell, a former FBI associate deputy director, has told the San Francisco Chronicle. "[The Iranian presence] is definitely an area that will be of concern to our national security apparatus."

So Iranians "develop and execute plans" that may be of concern to our "apparatus." That sounds like bad movie dialogue. As always, we have lots of rumors, but nothing very concrete. I am no fan of Iran, but I need more than this to consider them a threat to the hemisphere.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Protests in Venezuela

I saw the headline "Venezuelans Protest Chavez's New Socialist Push" and that sounded pretty juicy. Streets clogged? Massive disruption in Caracas? Not exactly. The very first sentence referred to "hundreds." The second paragraph mentioned "about 1,000."

That is a meager protest, even by U.S. standards. Earlier this summer, the same amount of people protested in Raleigh against the General Assembly. Not even a specific issue, just the GA itself. So I am less than impressed that Chávez generated hundreds of complaints. A better headline would have been "Venezuelan opposition fails to generate large protest."

Chávez's response, however, was interesting:

"This is a democracy. They call me a tyrant — tyrants govern without laws. We're making laws, and all those laws are for the benefit of the country," Chavez said.

I immediately thought that sounded exactly like George W. Bush. We're making laws for your own good, so we're democratic. But dictatorships spew out laws all the time. The mere fact of making laws means nothing--it is all about how they are made.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

On stupid arguments about people becoming stupid

I've finally reached the tipping point. Thomas H. Benton's article in Chronicle of Higher Education pushed me over the edge and so I have to write something about the latest cottage industry of "young people are messed up." I remember this very well from my early 20s, when the term "Generation X" was thrown around all the time. We were slackers, more interested in video games than reading. Reading, in fact, was disappearing entirely. The future looked grim.

Now back to 2008. To be fair, Benton doesn't just say that students are dumb. He says that everyone is dumb. But he says the same stuff that I read about myself in the early 1990s. No one reads, no one can write, everyone thinks their opinion is most important (incidentally, when did people not feel that way?). Everybody is obsessed with technology so they don't communicate. Young people have "diminished verbal skills." OMG! The future looks grim. And people make money writing books about it.

These arguments are cyclical. At some point, people become adults, establish careers, and then start complaining that younger people are all screwed up, unlike them. We then make up a new name for the generation and congratulate ourselves on how we're perfectly normal while the younger generation will send the country into the toilet.

OK, I had to get that out. These arguments just annoy me. Maybe that's a problem for Generation Xers like myself.


Fidel and sports defections

Fidel Castro's latest column is about sports, particularly the defection of Cuban athletes. What's interesting is that he refuses to acknowledge any agency on the part of the athletes themselves. They must simply have been sucked into the imperialist machine, for which they are traitors. No one freely chooses to leave: they are "plundered" and the country is "robbed." They are "bought" or "bribed." The male soccer team "let itself be drawn into an act of betrayal inside the United States."

He mentions the embargo several times, using it as a primary reason why Cuba faces such an uphill battle at the Olympics. It bears repeating that the embargo helps the Castros enormously.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Brazil to retaliate

Here's an issue that you won't likely hear Obama or McCain talking about, though they should: Brazil is tired of U.S. subsidies and so is soon to retaliate. The collapse of the Doha round meant that no deals had been reached on cotton, ethanol, and other agricultural goods.

The essential problem, of course, is hypocrisy. On the one hand, the U.S. wants Latin American (and other) countries to open up their economies, especially with free trade agreements. We hear platitudes about a bit of short-term pain for long-term benefit. Comparative advantage, efficiency, and all that good stuff. But the U.S. government refuses to accept the same rules for itself. This is damaging U.S.-Latin American relations, but especially with Brazil because it is an agricultural powerhouse and wants the U.S. to follow the same rules it does. Brazil's foreign minister was quite clear:

But they are the biggest subsidisers in the world in terms of what affects us, so we will have to see them in court.

The U.S. needs to decide. If you want free trade abroad, then you need to accept it at home. If you want to protect domestic industries you feel are important, then you need to allow other countries to do the same without bullying them.


Monday, August 04, 2008

The cold shoulder

Cristina Fernández held a press conference on Saturday, and mentioned VP Julio Cobos once, saying she wanted to "de-dramatize" the situation. She is isolating him, but it is not clear where that isolation will lead--she did meet with him a few days ago but no word on what was said. On Thursday she is going to Mendoza, which is where Cobos is from, but he will not be with her.

So things are settling down, but the essential question I've been asking remains unanswered. What will the president do with a disloyal vice president? The three main possibilities are 1) isolate him and create a situation within which he would prefer to resign; 2) make up and work with him; or 3) ignore him.

Trivia note: reports all mention that this was her first press conference. I did not know that Néstor never held one at all. Also, click here if you want a lesson on how photos can be used in a news story to convey an opinion about the subject.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

More on Vice Presidents

An Argentine blogger (El Criador de Gorilas) links to the discussion Matthew Shugart and I were having, and mentions that an Argentine professor, Mario Serrafero, has already written a book on VPs. There is a link to a review, which itself does not resolve our debate but suggests that Serrafero has addressed at least some of them.


Obama, Latin America, and Latinos

Thanks to Mike for sending me a link to the new McCain ad in Spanish. Accompanied by a thumping beat, it simply shows excerpts from Obama's Germany speech, where he lists a large number of countries, and notes that he doesn't mention a single Latin American country. It is an effective ad if you want to make the point that he is not interested in Latin America. However, it tries to make the jump that it also means Obama is not interested in Latinos. I don't see the ad convincing at all in that regard.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Talking to Raúl

Both WOLAblog and The Havana Note note that Arlen Specter has requested a meeting with Raúl Castro. His quote: "I'm a firm believer in dialogue." Even further: ""I've been to Cuba three times and I think the chances are really on the horizon for re-establishing relations with Cuba now that Fidel Castro is no longer in charge." He's part of my collection of Republicans against the embargo--the previous two entrants were George Will and Brent Scowcroft.

Raúl hasn't responded to Specter's request. If he does, it'll throw the Republican Party into even more turmoil because of McCain's constant assertions that anyone who wants to speak to adversaries is soft and naive.


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