Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Immigrants and the left in Latin America

The Miami Herald has an article about Mission Identity, the Venezuelan government's effort to expedite citizenship for immigrants, many of them poor (particularly from Colombia) and generally sympathetic to Hugo Chávez. At least according to Chávez opponents, the idea is to pack the upcoming municipal elections with pro-Chávez voters.

This made me think about how in Latin America the majority of immigrants are viewed as a problem for the right, regardless of where they are. In Chile, there is resistance from the right to allowing Chileans abroad to vote, because it is assumed they fled Pinochet and therefore will vote Concertación.

Even in the United States, Mexican immigrants vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party, which contributes even more to Republican restrictionism.

The Chilean case aside, most immigrants are moving to find better economic opportunities, and therefore are most open to political parties that are viewed as more attuned to the disadvantaged, which is far more likely to come from the left. This is a generalization (i.e. some people may well vote for other reasons) but I think it holds pretty well. There are plenty of right-leaning expats, but their relative numbers are much smaller. Governments tap them more for their resources than their votes.

Are there exceptions? A small plurality of Mexicans in the U.S. favored the PAN in the 2006 presidential election, but 40% favored no party, so I would argue this tells us more about apathy than real support for the right. For Mexico, allowing expats to vote has more to do with maintaining economic contacts--regardless of which party is in control--than with domestic partisan politics. Cuba is another exception because the legacies of the Castro dictatorship loom over everything else.

But is there a large immigrant community somewhere associated with the right?


boz 8:48 AM  

Without getting into a debate over how you're defining left and right....

The Nicaraguan community here in the US is an interesting one. They certainly lean anti-Ortega and have for a long time (then again, his approval rating is way down in Nicaragua) but lean Democrat here in the US.

The Colombian community in the US and Spain is one where there is strong support for Uribe among immigrants, but they tend to lean towards the Democrats or the Spanish left in their new countries. Then again, the Uribe-effect among voters tends to be more about his effectiveness than his right-wing ideology. There are a fairly large number of Colombian voters who vote for center-left and leftist candidates in local and legislative elections and support Uribe.

In terms of voting right wing in their new country, I'm pretty sure there are immigrant populations in Israel that are among the most right-wing voters there. It goes to the fact immigrating to Israel tends to be a religious/ideological choice more than an economic one.

Anonymous,  9:22 AM  

The Venezuelan community in South Florida seems to be particularly conservative and I remember during my time living in California how the Vietnamese community reminded me of Cuban-Americans in terms of their politics (anti-Communist groups and organizations; large representation at Republican fundraisers), but I do not know their voting patterns.


Greg Weeks 10:58 AM  

OK, but these are relatively small communities--the Venezuelans in the U.S. are not going to have an electoral impact so Chavez can ignore them. I don't know the size of the anti-Ortega community. Colombia could be an example.

Boli-Nica 11:34 AM  

The Colombian ex-pat community is huge in South Florda - and in places like NY. There are more than 100,000 Nicaraguans in Miami-Dade - Miami has a "little Managua". The numbers of Venezuelans are very large.

Enough of these groups were seen as critical in South Florida.

Facing tough election challenges the Diaz-Balart brothers actively campaigned in these 3 communities. Lincoln in particular made issues of his strong support for immigration reform, and the Colombian free trade act.
In the end, he won re-election from a wide margin. And he got a lot of votes from "ticket-splitters" people who voted Obama for president.

Greg Weeks 11:53 AM  

Quick check suggests the number of Venezuelans in Miami-Dade is about 40,000, which will not put a dent in a national election in Venezuela. Maybe that will change if Chavez remains in power over a long period of time.

As for Nicaraguans, the question is not whether the population is large, but whether there is a cohesive ideology.

Anonymous,  1:23 PM  

One reason Mexicans voters abroad tend to favor PAN is that Mexico, like the U.S. requires voters be registered at a home address in Mexico, and to be receiving mail in the United States. "Undocumented workers" are unlikely to meet both these basic requirements, and the voting process also requires returning ballots by registered mail... also a barrier to lower wage workers, and those who are "in the shadows". On top of that, most of those who did vote were nortenos, and likely to be PANistas anyway. And, PAN did a much better job of appealing to absentee voters than the other parties.

Greg Weeks 1:26 PM  

The point about where in Mexico one comes from is interesting. And yes, undocumented workers aren't really part of this question because they are not the ones who would likely be voting from abroad in the first place.

Boli-Nica 5:39 PM  

Most Nicaraguans in Miami left Nicaragua either during the 1978-79 civil war or during the subsequent Sandinista revolution. Earlier exiles included a lot of Somocistas. Others ended up having trouble w/the Sandinistas or were dodging the Sandinista military draft. There is not a lot of love for Ortega here.

boz 6:02 PM  

Most Nicaraguans in Miami left Nicaragua either during the 1978-79 civil war or during the subsequent Sandinista revolution.

There's also a pretty large number that have come over the past 15 years for economic reasons that had nothing to do with the Sandinistas. There's no particular love for Ortega among that group, but they are more representative of the Nicaraguan general population than the earlier exiles.

Anonymous,  11:50 PM  

Interesting post. I'd be willing to bet that the political preference of this group of immigrants is somewhat correlated with the per capita income of their country of origin. While I have no evidence, I'd assume that immigrants from higher per capita income countries such as Argentina and maybe Venezuela tend to be more "white collar" and therefore right-leaning than immigrants from poorer countries like El Salvador or Peru. The Peruvians and El Salvadorans fled their countries in search of wealth, while the Argentines and Venezuelans fled their countries to protect the wealth they already had.

For what it's worth, I can tell you that the expat-type educated Latin America immigrants that I know in the US tend to lean right (no surprise there). Which countries have large educated expat communities?

Greg Weeks 6:24 AM  

Interesting point--however, as I wrote in the post, my guess is that the wealthier, educated expats are a small group so may be financially important but not in terms of votes.

Miguel Centellas 7:49 AM  

So far the discussion has been in terms of Latin American immigrants to the US, rather than immigrants to Latin America (which I thought was the tone of the original post). In that vein, I was going to suggest the ethnic Lebanese community in Ecuador and the ethnic Japanese community in Peru as being associated with the "right" in some ways.

boz 9:53 AM  

and the ethnic Japanese community in Peru as being associated with the "right" in some ways.

I was going to mention that, but held off because I'm not sure it's correct. I think it's more likely that they are associated with the identity politics of Fujimori than any sort of "rightist" ideological leaning. It'd be worth looking at local election results to see which is the case.

Miguel Centellas 7:14 PM  

Oh, I didn't mean to suggest anything by "right" other than right-of-center.

Greg Weeks 6:44 AM  

I'm sure I'll be coming back to this topic--there are obviously a lot of variables involved.

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