Friday, October 31, 2008

The Bush administration and Latin America

I'm glad I have Condoleezza Rice to set me straight, because I was under the impression that the Bush administration was unpopular in Latin America. From a Televisa interview:

You know, I think this President has really changed our approach to Latin America, which, quite frankly and sadly, for a while was seen through a Cold War prism. If you were from the left, you were against us, because that was associated somehow with the Cold War. We’ve wiped that away. And we have excellent relations with governments of the left and with governments of the right. The only thing in common is that they govern democratically, they’re trying to invest in their people, they are accountable to their people, they’re fighting corruption. And I think the United States has been a really good partner in Latin America (inaudible).

I wonder what that "inaudible" was all about. Perhaps coughing to suppress laughter. The same day (October 23) she had a press conference with Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa, where we learned the Bush administration is also totally uninterested in anyone's ideology.

The governments of Latin America come from a wide range along the ideological spectrum, and President Bush has made very clear that there is no ideological test for cooperation and friendship with the United States. We have excellent relations with governments from the left, we have excellent relations with governments from the right, we have excellent relations with the center. Whether you’re talking about Brazil or Chile or Uruguay, or you’re talking about Colombia or – we have a broad range. There is no ideological test.

She ran out of time, but had planned to discuss how strong the U.S. economy is, how McCain will win in a landslide, and how she wishes she had been governor of Alaska because that's how you get the best foreign policy experience.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Colombian military and "false positives"

The Colombian government has fired 27 army officers, including three generals, for being involved in the murders of civilians, who were then dressed up to look like guerrillas. The point of such murders was to increase the guerrilla body count, for which soldiers would receive benefits. These are euphemistically referred to as "false positives." There are several very positive outcomes of this action.

First, since the purge included soldiers of all ranks, it sends a signal--that will likely need to be repeated--that this sort of thing won't be tolerated at any level.

Second, the soldiers are going to be tried in civilian, not military courts. This is important because the latter are beyond civilian control and typically much more lenient.

Third, the army is now going to measure success through demobilizations and captures. Better late than never.

Fourth, Uribe is finally admitting that such actions take place, whereas up to now he's been denying it. No doubt that such denials contributed even more to the overall sense of impunity.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Voting in NC

I voted today, and had to wait an hour and 15 minutes in line. There is an explosion of early voting in North Carolina, where the race is neck and neck, something we're not accustomed to. Lines are often 1-2 hours. Very exciting to be in play for the presidential election.


Heraldo Munoz's The Dictator's Shadow

I just read Heraldo Muñoz's The Dictator's Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet. I wasn't sure what to expect from a political memoir, and before starting wondered if I would get bogged down and keep it mostly for reference. After reading, however, I concluded that I would recommend this book to any non-specialist interested in understanding the Pinochet era. Meanwhile, those who already study Chile will appreciate his insider view and engaging writing. He has held numerous high level political positions and is currently the Chilean Ambassador to the UN.

What I appreciated most about the book was how well it explained very complex issues. Several stand out. The relative stance of the Socialist (of which Muñoz was an active and militant member) and Communist Parties during and then after the Allende years is definitely important, and he has a lot of personal anecdotes. He details the schisms in the former and the radicalization of the latter, and the challenges of coalition building.

Pinochet's arrest is also no simple thing. The people involved, the laws being applied, and the labyrinth of British law are summed up in a really accessible way that incorporates the conflicting political pressures that were in play: the Chilean government, human rights groups, the British opposition (especially Margaret Thatcher), the Spanish judiciary, vociferous Pinochet supporters, etc.

Pinochet is an easy person to caricature, but Muñoz captures his different sides well--the disciplinarian, the diplomat, the Cold War dogmatist, the liar, the family man, the Chilean nationalist, even the old man. I love the quote he has from Pinochet, who claims Chile under his rule is a democracy: "We do not oppose ideas. Ideas are respected. What we oppose is that ideas be spread or that some may attempt to apply them here in the country" (p. 195). Or, much later, when asked about how enormous sums of money were placed in banks around the world: "I forgot. My glycemia was very high in those days" (p. 290).

Muñoz is also nuanced when discussing the role of the United States. The Nixon/Kissinger years are beyond defense, but the Reagan years are not so clear. He credits the National Endowment for Democracy, often vilified in Latin America, for helping to register voters for the 1988 plebiscite that defeated Pinochet. The Letelier murder in DC continued to confound relations and so after an initial honeymoon even the Reagan administration eventually wanted to see at least some human rights progress, though he also discusses the strong support Pinochet had from many members of the administration. Later, the Clinton administration played an important role in declassifying documents and even during the George W. Bush years, Pinochet's corrupt association with Riggs Bank became public as a result of U.S. investigations in terrorism and money laundering. (He does take a poke at John Bolton for failing to understand the Chilean government's position on Pinochet's arrest in Great Britain).

My only quibble: the book seeks to frame Pinochet as completely in the past, so that when Bachelet took office, "Nobody was thinking about General Pinochet anymore. He was the past" (p. 298). Clearly this isn't true, as Muñoz himself was obviously thinking very hard about Pinochet and his legacy. Pinochet the person is dead, but his influences will linger for quite some time.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

FTAs and immigration

Jorge Castañeda wrote an Op-Ed for the Houston Chronicle about the opposition to free trade agreements in the United States. He argues that more attention should be paid to the structure of economic deals between Latin America and Europe, which broaden the scope beyond trade. His suggestions are quite ambitious:

First, clear and explicit human rights and democracy clauses should be included, along the lines of similar clauses in the Mexican and Chilean Economic Association treaties with the EU. Second, more specific provisions on labor, the environment, gender equality and indigenous rights are needed, as well as antitrust, regulatory and judicial reform provisions, for reasons both of principle and political expediency.

Although there have been enormous improvements in most of these areas, there remains a huge agenda, particularly with regard to breaking up or regulating monopolies.

These revised agreements should include bold, enlightened provisions for infrastructure and "social-cohesion" funds, since these can make the difference between muddling through and true success.

Free-trade advocates should not view Obama's demand that these deals be revisited as a mistake, but rather as an opportunity to improve and deepen them; McCain's supporters should not see the incorporation of all of the aforementioned inclusions as "European nonsense," but rather as a way to narrow the gap between the agreements' promise and their actual results.

Improving Mexican and Central American infrastructure, education and rule of law, or improving Colombian and Peruvian drug-enforcement efforts and respect for labor laws and human rights, are all in America's interest, and free trade agreements can help rather than harm such efforts.

I agree with the notion that we should not pretend that trade is separate from other issues, as the U.S. tends to do. I also agree that the U.S. is inextricably linked to Latin America, and therefore we should pay closer attention to how we can actually achieve the goals we proclaim about trade, immigration policy, etc. which means taking a broader approach.

What Castañeda leaves out, unfortunately, is how to sell his idea to Congress. If anything, his plans would be even more unpopular than free standing FTAs because they would cost more and I can already hear the complaints from both sides of the aisle that they would give Latin Americans our hard earned money.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Chilean municipal elections

Chile had municipal elections yesterday, which were widely touted as providing clues about the direction of the 2009 presidential election. The Concertación shows clear signs of strain. For example, for mayoral positions, it won 38.43% of the total vote, versus 40.49% for the Alianza (the coalition of the right). It did, though, win 45-39% for city councils (down one point from 2004).

Senator, former president, and once-again presidential aspirant Eduardo Frei argued that the weak showing demonstrated that the Concertación needs to have open primaries for a single candidate. Meanwhile, presidential candidate Sebastián Piñera boldly claimed that if the Alianza won this election, "we think we'll win the presidential elections."

These elections do not tell us much we didn't know before. It is a familiar story--the Concertación is sagging under the weight of 18 years of rule, but the Alianza simply cannot land any sort of political knockout punch. Polls show that, as of now, the election is the Alianza's (and presumably Piñera's) to lose. But a year is a very long time.

Some trivia: Lucía Pinochet, daughter of the dictator, was elected to city council in Vitacura, the richest part of Santiago.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

McCain and Chavez

The McCain campaign is now running an ad, saying that voting for him will prevent an "international crisis," using Biden's recent comments about Obama. The ad includes a picture of Hugo Chávez. What sort of international crisis does McCain believe Chávez might initiate? I can't think of any crisis Chávez would be capable of launching.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Palling around with terrorists

A foreign head of state orders a bombing in Washington, DC, which kills two people, an act intended to strike fear into that dictator's opponents. Then a U.S. senator later goes to the country, has a "warm" conversation with said dictator, and is given a posh vacation to boot. How does that sound?

One is Augusto Pinochet and the other is John McCain, as described by John Dinges, who has been covering Chile (and South America generally) for decades.

Ironically, Bush administration officials are now concerned about leaving the country, fearing they might be arrested just like Pinochet.

h/t Boz and Marc Cooper - comments on both posts trying to defend McCain are highly entertaining


Obama in Spanish

Michelle links to a 30 second TV ad Obama did entirely in Spanish. That accent is not too shabby.


More on Dole getting nasty

Last week I posted about the ad I received from Elizabeth Dole, attacking Kay Hagan on the issue of illegal immigration. Now Russell shows his own from Chapel Hill.

It appears that Dole has nothing left to do but this.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Compass for Colombia Policy

Four groups (the Washington Office on Latin America, the Center for International Policy, the U.S. Office for Colombia, and the Latin America Working Group) have just jointly published a document entitled "A Compass for Colombia Policy." They propose seven broad steps:

1. Use U.S. aid and leverage for human rights and the rule of law

2. Actively support overtures for peace

3. Support expansion of the government's civilian presence in the countryside

4. Protect the rights of internally displaced persons and refugees

5. Protect the rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities

6. Ensure that trade policy supports, not undermines, policy goals towards Colombia

7. Get serious--and smart--about drug policy

The document is particularly useful because it goes well beyond platitudes and offers thoroughly cited and very specific suggestions for change.

In terms of getting a new administration to listen, I think the most compelling parts of the document are those that specifically link suggestions to policy goals of the United States. For that reason, #3 is especially good. Spreading non-military state institutions (courts, road-builders, doctors, etc.) can play a large role in reducing local support for guerrillas and, hopefully, drug traffickers as well.

This is also why I like #6. At no time have I heard anything in the U.S. about the consequences (unintended or otherwise) that will accompany an FTA. John McCain explicitly campaigns on the notion that the status quo benefits Colombia, and we need the FTA because it gets U.S. companies into Colombia. There must be programs for the people who will lose their jobs as a result; otherwise they will turn to the illicit economy.

Thus, if I were someone trying to convince a new administration, I would to explain how #1, for example, helps us. Elected officials in the U.S. use soaring rhetoric about being a model for the world, etc. but we all know policy makers need to have a concrete reason for doing good. Using leverage runs head-on into the "we're punishing our ally" argument that has been used for decades to avoid pressing allies for democratic change. The only possible way to get around that is to supply convincing reasons why it helps the U.S.

I will conclude more optimistically, however, by noting that the U.S. Congress does indeed pay attention sometimes. The report gives credit where credit is due in that regard.


A few more words on Latin America and Russia

The State Department's news site has an article on the relationship between Russia and Venezuela. Thomas Shannon (the Asst Secretary of State) expands a bit on his notion that Russia does not pose a threat, and that there is no new Cold War. I thought this quote summed it up well:

“Venezuela has bought a lot of weapons from Russia — about $4 billion worth of weapons. And this is something that has caused concern throughout the region, largely because no country [in the region] is buying this many weapons or [these] kinds of weapons,” Shannon said.

But Shannon said a military threat is more than simply buying weapons.

“It involves doctrine. It involves training. It involves capacity,” he said. “And at this point, all the Venezuelans have are weapons.”

And in addition:

“I don’t think there is a new geopolitical reality,” he said. “Quite the contrary. I think what we have in the Americas today is a region which is really coming of age in an important fashion, and a region which is establishing itself in the world as emerging economies and emerging democratic powers.”

I think this might be contradictory, though it is still early to tell. The "coming of age" may well in fact signal some sort of "new geopolitical reality," though it will not enter on extra-hemispheric powers like Russia.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

McCain almost bombed Cuba, my friends

The latest rhetorical inanity is the Biden/McCain exchange about the Kennedy administration. Biden, who has kept amazingly quiet thus far, said enemies would test Obama immediately, just like they did Kennedy, but he has "steel in his spine," perhaps not unlike Doctor Octopus. Anyhow, McCain took the opportunity to say that in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he almost bombed Cuba long before he wanted to bomb Iran, thus demonstrating that he has been "tested."

So what to make of all this? It is entirely possible that some country would test Obama, but as Angus points out, Biden's message came out very weird. As for McCain, he doesn't ever explain what the outcome of the Near-Bomb Experience test was.

Maybe we just need the Canadians to put it all into perspective. The National Post's headline about the story is:

"McCain reminds voters how (very) old he is"


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Latin America doesn't care much about the election

I can't tell you how often I've seen mention about how Latin Americans really hope Obama wins the election. Gallup just published a poll showing that such an assertion is simplistic. Although it is true that more Latin Americans prefer Obama over McCain, the vast majority don't care. The "don't know/refused" respondents reached 63% in Central and Mexico, and 58% in South America.

In fact, there appears to be a direct correlation between the number of "don't know/refused" and wealth. Wealthier countries care more, while the poorest believe that it makes no difference at all.

For all the hot air about Colombia, still only 49% of Colombians believe the election will matter to them. This is the highest percentage in the region, but still quite low given the "life or death" portrayal provided by FTA supporters. And even more telling, Colombians who do care prefer Obama over McCain by a 38-16 % margin.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama and socialism

I don't tend to get very worked up about campaign rhetoric until it reaches extremes. Maybe I have just become numbed to it. But there is no doubt that the McCain team is crossing the line from exaggeration to insanity. The latest message is to brand Obama a socialist, which is laughable, though not as insulting to my intelligence as saying that his policies are just like Cuba's.

I did a double take on that one. From Mel Martinez:

"Where I come from, where I was raised, they tried wealth redistribution," the Cuban-American senator said. "We don't need that here. That's called socialism, communism -- not Americanism."

Say what? I mean, seriously, where do you even start with that one?

Kudos, then, to Colin Powell, who had this to say:

"Taxes are always a redistribution of money. Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to those who pay them -- in roads and airports and hospitals and schools," President Bush's former secretary of state said. "And taxes are necessary for the common good, and there's nothing wrong with examining what our tax structure is or who should be paying more, who should be paying less.

"For us to say that makes you a socialist, I think, is an unfortunate characterization that isn't accurate."


Which came first, the trafficking or the consuming?

Reporter Jens Erik Gould at Bloomberg has a nice article about the political responses in the U.S. and Mexico about drug-related violence. As the violence escalates, Mexicans of all political stripes are emphasizing the essential fact that everything stems from consumption of drugs in the United States:

Felipe Calderón: "We are paying a very high price for the consumption of drugs in the U.S."

Cesar Camacho Quiroz, member of Congress from the PRI: "the prevention campaigns haven't been very successful, and the fight against street-level drug dealing is practically nonexistent in the U.S."

Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's Ambassador to the U.S.: "There are many in Mexico who do feel the U.S. isn't doing enough because they do see bodies piling up on our side of the border."

It is notable that when we read about drugs in the United States, the word most often used is "trafficking," as if the movement of drugs alone was the problem. But, of course, that movement exists only because there is a final destination, namely the consumer in the U.S. Without that consumer, there is no traffic.

This is certainly not a new debate, but I do think Mexico is becoming more vocal than it has ever been. A small but important rhetorical change would simply be to refer equally to trafficking and consumption. A larger step would be to put as much attention and funding in reducing consumption as we do in reducing trafficking. But don't hold your breath:

The Bush administration proposed cutting spending on drug treatment and prevention programs by $73 million, or 1.5 percent, in the 2009 budget which hasn't been approved yet.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Immigration enforcement: recession proof

When I taught a senior seminar on immigration and politics a few years ago, some of my students joked they were looking at the Border Patrol, since it might be the fastest growing employer anywhere. Now, from an article in the Wall Street Journal it appears that ICE Air is the way to go:

While U.S. airlines downsize and scrimp on amenities, one carrier is offering its passengers leather seats, ample legroom and free food. But frequent fliers probably don't want a ticket on what may be the fastest growing "airline" serving Central America.

The article does not get specifically into the total budget, but says it costs the government $620 per person, and last fiscal year it deported 76,102 people. That is a total of $47,183,240.

Unfortunately, in general the article is very fluffy (do I care whether the bologna sandwich tasted good?) and fails even to ask the most important question: how many of these people are likely to get back into the United States in the near future? I cannot pinpoint a percentage, but I have to believe it is substantial.

If you really want to feel ill, just read the comments after the article.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

LungStrong 15K

We did the LungStrong 15K this morning. Every year there is a 15K at Lake Norman (just north of Charlotte) and it is my favorite race of the year. The weather is perfect (though a bit windy this morning), there are a lot of nice views, and it is a good distance to push yourself a bit.

My son is pushing the limit of the jogger strollers, but despite the cramped space still napped most of the race.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Elizabeth Dole gets nasty on immigration

I just received an ad from Elizabeth Dole in the mail, telling me how horrible "Liberal Kay Hagan" is because of her views on undocumented immigrants. It uses imagery of a person being arrested, and then on the inside has an eerie photo of a guy up against barbed wire. The ad also has two photos of Kay Hagan--is that so you know who precisely to hate if you run into her at the supermarket?

I guess she figures she needs to get negative, because she is currently behind Hagan by several points.


Latino myths

One of the interesting topics we discussed on the radio this morning is the persistence of myths with regard to Latinos (this was also the theme of the book The Latino Threat, which I reviewed last month). One of the callers mentioned her concern about illegal immigration, particularly that people come to the United States and "demand we change our language." None of us participating in the show had ever heard anyone make such a demand. Yet such myths persist.

We know the myths exist, but I would like to know more about their origins and dissemination. Federico Subervi, who is in the School of Journalism at Texas State University and was on the show (because he is giving a talk here later in the month) argued that it originates with the most intensely anti-immigrant groups, and then spreads through talk radio and some political candidates.

This seems plausible enough, but the range of myths is so broad, the number of them so large, and they are so pervasive. They have deep historical roots and plenty of coverage even in the mainstream media. It would be fascinating to focus on specific myths and uncover the ways in which they emerged and then were disseminated.

Ultimately, I also think there is an unfortunate gap between academia and the public. There is a lot of very important research being done on Latino health, criminality (or lack thereof), use of public services, learning English, etc. but it doesn't penetrate enough beyond universities and think tanks.


Human Rights Watch brings Venezuela and Colombia together

On the one hand, Human Rights Watch's report on Colombia is "ridiculous" and "full of lies." On the other, its report on Venezuela shows it is working in concert with the United States to destabilize Chávez's government.

There really aren't very many groups that anger Hugo Chávez and Alvaro Uribe equally. Maybe the two presidents can come together in their common hatred.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Discussing Latino politics

For anyone interested, I will be on WFAE's Charlotte Talks tomorrow morning from 9 to 10 to discuss Latino politics and the election:

Latino Politics
North Carolina now ranks 11th nationally in its percentage of Latino residents. With the election coming up, we'll find out what's important to Latinos as a voter group and how those issues are being covered by the campaigns and the media (or how they're being ignored).
Dr. Federico Subervi - Professor, Mass Communication, Texas State University
Dr. Greg Weeks - Assoc. Professor of Political Science, UNC Charlotte
Ruben Campillo - Advocacy Coordinator, Latin American Coalition


The third debate and Latin America

The third presidential debate, which I found to be the most interesting to watch of the three because there was more direct engagement, included a surprising amount of Latin America. First, however, I want to point out that immigration did not come up, except McCain briefly accusing Obama of misrepresenting his position on the issue (a very kettle-like statement, that). Look, I know that the economy is the big issue, but in three debates and 4.5 hours we couldn't even give it a few minutes?

The first Latin America reference was McCain saying he favored opening up our markets to Brazilian ethanol. Give him credit for that--it is an unpopular stance and does go up against a powerful lobby. Obama didn't say anything about it.

But then, suddenly, Colombia became a major point for McCain. He criticized Obama for not supporting the FTA, and Obama responded by referring to the murders of trade unionists. Adam Isacson has a clip, showing how McCain's eyebrows went haywire while Obama was saying that. I actually was watching the debate on a laptop, which didn't have that split screen, so I didn't even see that the first time around.

McCain bungled the FTA theme. If you did not know anything about the topic, his answer was too confusing to make any sense of it:

But let me give you another example of a free trade agreement that Sen. Obama opposes. Right now, because of previous agreements, some made by President Clinton, the goods and products that we send to Colombia, which is our largest agricultural importer of our products, is -- there's a billion dollars that we -- our businesses have paid so far in order to get our goods in there.

Because of previous agreements, their goods and products come into our country for free. So Sen. Obama, who has never traveled south of our border, opposes the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The same country that's helping us try to stop the flow of drugs into our country that's killing young Americans.

And also the country that just freed three Americans that will help us create jobs in America because they will be a market for our goods and products without having to pay -- without us having to pay the billions of dollars -- the billion dollars and more that we've already paid.

Even if you do untangle that, McCain's point is off kilter. He argues that the current situation favors Colombia, and that an FTA strongly favors the United States to "create jobs in America," not in Colombia. He does not explain how that is good for Colombia. Ultimately, it matters very little, because voters are not very interested in Colombia. They are even less interested in whether Obama travels to Colombia.

There was also brief mention of ending dependence on Venezuelan oil (you know, that sha-VEZ guy) and NAFTA. Especially in a tough economy, the latter (along with the Colombia FTA) is unlikely to resonate with voters for McCain.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Immigration and the debates

Immigration was not mentioned in the first two debates, which is the result of poor moderators (has anyone had anything good to say about the moderation thus far?). This, despite prior predictions that immigration would be important in the debates.

I hope it is raised tonight, but I do not have my hopes very high. And if Bob Schieffer doesn't raise it directly, neither candidate will mention it voluntarily.

Despite the media attention on the Latino vote, in general the candidates just do not want to talk about immigration reform. Instead, they wage TV ad wars in Latino markets, often in Spanish so that no English speaker knows what they're saying.

I want both of them put on the spot. They are afraid of possibly alienating restrictionist-minded voters, and we should not let them off the hook.

So c'mon, Schieffer, please make the candidates a bit more uncomfortable.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More on Russia and Latin America

After my previous post on the topic, I talked to a reporter at U.S. News and World Report, who wrote this story.


Nationalization, the U.S., and Latin America

Several weeks ago I posted about how the United States government was talking about nationalization, but refusing to call it that, and how it had criticized nationalization for any other government. Now the New York Times picks up the theme, at least with regard to the former (unfortunately not for the latter) and it is past due. It discusses how the U.S. has a long history of nationalization in times of crisis, including Montgomery Ward, of all things.

Elsewhere, government bank-investment programs are routinely called nationalization programs. But that is not likely in America, where nationalization is a word to avoid, given the aversion to anything that hints of socialism.

“Putting this plan on the table makes a lot of sense, but you can’t call it nationalization here,” said Simon Johnson, an economist at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “In France, it is fine, but not in the United States.

This is true. But this lie we tell ourselves about how we are not the slightest bit socialist is destructive. It makes us criticize others who are not as different from us as we like to think. After all the lectures to Latin American leaders about free market principles, tightening your belts, living within your means, reducing spending, etc., etc. we cannot even admit that we are nationalizing. The problem is that in the future, we will continue to criticize others for doing so because we will never accept that we actually did it ourselves.

We hear all the time about how the U.S. image in Latin America is badly damaged and that it exerts no leadership. One concrete measure to reverse these trends would be simply to admit, in a major speech to a Latin American audience, that the state plays an important and necessary role in the economy. That we can disagree about the extent of the state's role, but that even the most powerful economies cannot rely on markets alone. That there can be, and must be, a balance between the entrepreneurial impulses of capitalism and its destructive tendencies.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Francisco Goldman's The Art of Political Murder

Francisco Goldman's The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? is remarkable investigative journalism, in a country--Guatemala--where it is no easy task. It is about the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, a champion of human rights. But it goes far beyond that, delving into the deep-seated corruption, the incredibly powerful military, and the fear that create serious obstacles to the rule of law and accountability in the country. It reads like a thriller.

I lost count of the number of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses who were threatened, killed, and/or fled into exile for their words and actions. Even in exile, they were followed and harassed by military intelligence. The fact that prosecutions took place and survived appeals is a major step forward for Guatemala, albeit an initial one. The case nabbed some of the small fry, but the higher-ups remain untouched. Threats were even made openly in court, using hand gestures in the shape of guns. Or, as one officer said during cross-examination, "There is no greater or more beautiful glory for a soldier than to see his enemy lying dead at his feet" (p. 242).

There is always good reason for fear. One of the key people involved in the murder was Colonel Byron Lima Estrada (and his son, a Captain). See here for declassified documents about him through the National Security Archive. They were both convicted, along with another member of the military (later murdered in prison) and a priest.

Goldman leaves room open for hope. He made one highly relevant point about generational change:

It was also significant that the prosecution and the judges were relatively young, all under forty, and hadn't believed what older, more experienced people believed: that you could never get a verdict like this in Guatemala (p. 259).

Along similar lines, he ends the afterword (an addition for the paperback version) writing about young Guatemalan investigative journalists he met. With luck (and courage), perhaps they can pry open the institutionalized corruption. Indeed, the publication of this book may well have helped push things in the right direction. An article in The Nation published in June talks about how widely read the book was, despite being in English. Parts were translated, made into pamphlets, and then possibly contributed to Alvaro Colom's victory over Otto Pérez Molina, who was also implicated in the murder.

My only small criticism would be that it can be hard to follow at times. There is a (non-alphabetized) list of people in the back of the book, but people change positions, disappear for a while and then come back, etc. It may well be that no author could juggle so many people.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

$7.5 million a mile

That is the current GAO estimate of the cost of the border fence. And how are things moving along anyway? Well, ''We do not keep a running total of miles as they are completed."

No worries, we trust you.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

State sponsors of terrorism

The Bush administration has taken North Korea off the list. Can anyone say, without giggling or avoiding eye contact, that Cuba is more of a terrorist threat than North Korea?


Garcia accepts resignations of everyone but himself

And his approval is at 19%. This is why almost a third of Peruvians would vote for Fujimori again.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Immigration policy and unintended consequences

The San Diego Weekly Reader published a long and really informative article (the reporter's name is Geoff Bouvier) about the changes taking place at the U.S.-Mexico border around San Diego. Although there is a lot of interesting stuff, one point in particular caught my attention. Time and time again, U.S. policies create unintended and unfortunately unforeseen consequences. In this case, a reinforced border wall, expanded Border Patrol, and technological gizmos were supposed to deter would-be migrants from crossing.

So what was the effect? Here is a quote from an ICE official:

“Since Gatekeeper began, the smuggling has become a lot more organized,” Rogers says. “Where there used to be a lot of mom-and-pop organizations or a lot of people who would come up to the border and wait around and then just jump the fence and try — and maybe even try four or five times before they’d get through — they can’t do that anymore now. There’s double layers of fencing and lights and cameras and helicopters and Border Patrol agents on motorcycles and ATVs and horses. There’s so much infrastructure built up along the border now, we’ve kind of interrupted that migratory pattern where someone would come up and work for a couple of months and buy up a bunch of furniture and TVs and take them back south after the picking season, and then they’d come back up after the holidays. But that doesn’t happen anymore because we have so much organization now. But that’s also caused the smugglers to get a lot more organized. And now we’re seeing the drug cartels getting involved. They’ve noticed that the price for smuggling aliens has increased to the point that it’s pretty lucrative now. So the drug cartels are starting to charge these smuggling organizations a fee or a tax to work in their areas.”

The policy has created the potential for immense profit, and thereby contributed to violence and other associated problems.

And does the wall stop people from trying? Nope.

Hopeful Mexicans will try to go over, under, or through the mesh fence. Panels of it are riddled with patches where cuts were made, areas near it show signs of digging, and Renteria explains that ladders are jerry-built with rebar poles to go over the top, despite the risk of injury from the concertina wire.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Latino voting

I've been writing about the dynamics of bilingual campaigning--now the Washington Post has a short article about Obama's increased efforts to get some Spanish-language attacks on McCain. It concludes:

The ad will air for an undetermined amount of time starting Wednesday in Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico, according to Obama campaign spokesman Federico de Jesus. Both the Obama and McCain campaigns have focused virtually all of their Spanish-language ad efforts in the "Latin quartet" of states, where Hispanic voter turnout could significantly tip the scales in favor of either candidate.

Despite periodic references to Latinos being a "swing vote." the Latino vote is already overwhelmingly Democratic. Just as with African Americans, as the article mentions the key for Obama is not convincing Latinos to vote for him but rather to get people registered and then get them to the polls.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Political consequences of the economic crisis

The jokes are running rampant, like Hugo Chávez talking about "Comrade Bush" and his socialist policies. Clearly, Latin American leaders who have been labeled as adversaries by the United States are making much hay out of the crisis, which has involved truly massive state intervention by a government that proclaimed so loudly and confidently that massive state intervention was inherently evil. But what are the longer term political implications? Since we are in the midst of the crisis, it is still very early, but here are some thoughts.

First, the U.S. message about getting governments out of the economy will never be taken seriously again. This does not mean a rejection of capitalism per se, but for Latin America it means vindication of mixed economic models of its own choice.

Second, it gives a boost to more economic integration in Latin America. I am skeptical of the chances for integration because of historical antagonisms, rivalries, etc. but this crisis provides more support for those arguing that Latin America needs to come together. Let's see what happens in the summit later this year.

Third, it spurs further erosion of U.S. hegemony in the region. Bush administration policies had already contributed greatly, but Latin American governments feel more and more comfortable resisting U.S. pressure (of various sorts) and/or establishing relations with extra-hemispheric powers. Erosion is not the same as "disappearance" but things just ain't what they used to be.

The next question is whether the new administration will recognize the changes that have been taking place. There is a greater chance with Obama, but he or McCain will inherit so many problems that Latin America will barely register. But if U.S. policy (and rhetoric) is not altered to meet new realities, then the points outlined above will deepen to the detriment of the U.S.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The so-called "new Cold War"

In previous posts I've been discussing the sudden references to a "new Cold War" in Latin America, based upon Russia's relationship with Venezuela and its mention of interest in other Latin American countries (for the moment, mostly Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua). I thought it would be useful to break down some of the key aspects of the real Cold War to see what similarities exist.

1. Two adversaries with opposing ideologies, accompanied by strategies of spreading one at the expense of the other. This is clearly not currently in evidence. Russia is not spreading ideology--I'd be hard pressed to define Putin's ideology in any case. He has interests that are based on power, not ideology. In other words, Putin is not trying to "spread" a counterpoint to the United States in Latin America.

2. Proxy wars that avoid direct confrontation. Russian support for Venezuela is not intended to keep a Russian-friendly government in power, though it is intended to send a message to the United States. Unlike the dynamics of the Cold War, the United States government dislikes Hugo Chávez because of his own characteristics, which have nothing to do with an outside power.

3. Threat of devastating war. The stakes now are important, but not life or death. There will no nuclear war over this and most likely no armed conflict at all.

In short, I hope the "new Cold War" label is soon discarded. It is both overly alarmist and misleading.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Chilean presidential candidates

Ricardo Lagos has said he will not be running for president next year. In August I posted about a poll showing Lagos second behind Sebastián Piñera when Chileans were asked who they thought the next president would be. I would think front runner status for the Concertación now goes to José Miguel Insulza.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Colombia and a new "Cold War"

It seems that this "new Cold War" theme is all the craze, no matter how inaccurate it is. The new twist is that Colombian Defense Minister (and future presidential hopeful) Juan Manuel Santos is now also playing it up:

"Russia, with its 16,000 nuclear bombs, has a great desire to be a key player in the world. But its presence in the region will promote a return to the Cold War," Juan Manuel Santos said on Colombian radio Caracol.

Speaking ahead of an official visit to Russia, he said the plans for Russian naval exercises in the Caribbean in November could "affect the balance of power in the region and its stability."

In reality, all Russia's maneuvers do is provide an excuse to claim that regional stability is at risk. Colombia has the most to gain by far of making a big deal about Russia's presence, because that will be used as ammunition for passage of the FTA and for more weapons, training, etc. from the United States.


Friday, October 03, 2008

The VP debate and Latin America

Unless I missed something quickly, the only reference to Latin America during the debate was from Sarah Palin, who continued the line about Obama saying he was open to dialogue with adversaries, such as the "Castro brothers."

The McCain campaign clearly believes this is a winning argument, because it gets repeated over and over. But does it resonate? The Havana Note reports a recent poll showing 60 percent of likely voters believe we need to revise our policy toward Cuba. Support for the embargo is eroding over time, and I have cited many Republicans who think our current policy is a failure.

McCain and Palin need to convince voters in the middle, but I really wonder whether those voters agree that it is a bad idea to meet with people like Raúl Castro.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Russia and Latin America

The media is playing up the idea that we might be entering a new Cold War of some sort, which among other things entails deep Russian involvement in Latin America. Russia is playing this up, with Venezuela deals and military maneuvers, discussion of a closer relationship with Bolivia, and rumors about Cuba. Boz had a good recent post on the topic.

There is one point, however, that I never see mentioned but which is important and has historical precedent: Russia is primarily interested in the United States, and so all of these alliances are contingent upon relations with the U.S. If U.S.-Russia relations improved, Putin would feel no compunction about backing off and/or ignoring promises he's made to Latin American leaders. The Soviets screwed Fidel Castro and humiliated him more than once. Putin doesn't care about Latin America. He is not trying to "compete" in any significant way in the hemisphere, and likely won't in the future either.

If I were a Latin American president, therefore, I would hop on the bandwagon as quickly as possible and get some goodies before they're gone. My hunch is that Hugo Chávez is well aware, and so is successfully milking the situation while it lasts. I doubt he has any illusions about brotherhood with Russia (or Iran, for that matter). Thomas Shannon, who has been one of the few people in the Bush administration to talk sense about Latin America, argues that Russia-Venezuela ties are no threat and "aren't likely to endure."

So let's see what signals the next administration sends to Russia. That will tell us a lot about what Russia does next in Latin America.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008


According to the UN, Sudan has the highest number of internally displaced citizens. What country is second? Iraq? Afghanistan? Maybe Kenya or Zimbabwe? Nope, it is Colombia. In the first half of 2008, 270,000 Colombians fled their homes, which is up 41 percent from the first half of 2007. If that doesn't blow your mind, then nothing will.


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