Saturday, January 31, 2009

When in doubt, just blame undocumented immigrants

You can claim, for example, that they're going to take money from the stimulus despite wording to the contrary. Alternatively, as Immigration Impact notes about FAIR, you can just blame them for the entire financial crisis!


Friday, January 30, 2009

Three years blogging

I belatedly realized that I began this blog three years ago today. It's turned out to be even more fun than I thought.


Where does Uribe go from here?

So it seems Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will not seek a third consecutive term, instead likely waiting one out so he can run again for a nonconsecutive term in 2014 (for details/links, you can check out Adam Isacson, Boz and Steven Taylor).

This ties in nicely with my recent post about what Latin American presidents do after they leave office. In the case of Uribe, it is reasonable to expect that his goal is to get an Uribista elected and pull strings from the background while waiting for the next election--how well that works would depend a lot on who the successor is. If that candidate somehow lost the election, then Uribe would be the natural opposition leader, even if he weren't in an elected position.

But might he seek a congressional or gubernatorial office in order to ensure a continued political presence while keeping the presidency in mind, a la Eduardo Frei in Chile (where the nonconsecutive dynamic is also in place)? It doesn't seem his style, but who knows.

Individuals who become president of a country seek power, for whatever reason. What, then, shapes their choices about power once they are no longer in the office? Under what circumstances and in what manner can they continue to wield it in some way?


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Virtual logic for virtual fences

Way back in September 2007 I noted how the virtual border fence wasn't working. The same came up in March 2008. But we're Americans, and when we fail, we want to fail big. So now we learn that Texas Gov. Rick Perry's virtual border surveillance program is a flop.

A virtual border surveillance program Gov. Rick Perry has committed millions of taxpayer dollars to fell far short of expectations during the first six months of operation.

Border sheriffs, who Perry gave $2 million to line the Texas-Mexico border with hundreds of Web cameras, installed only about a dozen and made just a handful of apprehensions as a result of tips from online viewers.

Reports obtained by the El Paso Times under the Texas Public Information Act show that the cameras produced a fraction of the objectives Perry outlined.

Is this a problem? Not according to the governor's spokesperson.

The point of the cameras, Cesinger said, is not to help police and Border Patrol make arrests or apprehensions but to deter criminals from breaking the law in the first place.

But Cesinger admitted that how much crime the cameras deter is a factor that cannot be measured.

So you spend a load of money, and then say that failure is not failure, and very likely is success, though even that is hard to measure. If the logic works for the drug war, it can work elsewhere too.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Iran and Russia in Latin America

Robert Gates testified before the Senate's armed services committee. I can't find a full text, but the upshot is that he reaffirms the fact that Russia should not be viewed as a threat to the region, but Iran should. He actually said he would've suggested the Russian warship stop in Miami, but the timing was bad because of the Georgia conflict.

With regard to Iran, he used words like "subversive," "meddling," and "interfere." I am skeptical, for a variety of reasons, and using words like this makes me leery because they can constitute the rhetorical prelude to some sort of ill-conceived action.*

As I've written before, even the mainstream media has noted that Iranians themselves are not so happy about their government's presence in Latin America. In addition, even Time magazine noted that there is almost no ideological or other connection between Iran and Latin American countries. Finally, as oil prices have dropped, Iran cannot afford to do much in Latin America, which makes it more difficult to rise to the level of "subversive."

I don't trust the Iranian government at all, but given the U.S. history of overstating threats and overreaction, I need concrete evidence, certainly much more than Gates' statement about "They're opening a lot of offices and a lot of fronts behind which they interfere in what is going on in some of these countries." I need a lot more than that.

* I also know that readers may say that Obama is different, and that I remain locked in a Bush mindset. I hope so, but I guess I will need to see what Obama does before accepting that.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The FMLN and the U.S.

Roger Noriega was Asst Sec of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs until he was replaced by Thomas Shannon. There is a reason U.S.-Latin American relations improved after he left, as evidenced by the Op-Ed on El Salvador he published yesterday. It has two main arguments. First, the FMLN might govern normally, but more likely will destroy everything we hold dear. Second, the Salvadoran governments of the 1980s were "patriots" and ARENA's current politicians are "creative activists."

The FMLN has accused its critics of preying on the voters' fears by waging a ''negative'' campaign. If telling the truth about the FMLN, its powerless front man Funes or its sponsor Hugo Chávez is ''negative,'' then that says more about them than about those telling the truth.

Particularly sad is the way in which El Salvador's complex internal political dynamics are simply boiled down to Hugo Chávez somehow pulling the strings. The idea that Salvadorans might want change, or might be sick of ARENA for legitimate reasons, or might just like to make their own decisions, is left unexamined.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Colombia, Venezuela, and pragmatism

We always hear that negotiating with Hugo Chávez is a sign of weakness, perhaps even stupidity. We also hear that Alvaro Uribe is someone we should admire (shoot, he got a Medal of Freedom and everything) and that he shares our values.

So what do we make of a four hour meeting between Chávez and Uribe, which culminated in a $200 fund to boost trade between the two countries and mitigate the effects of the global economic crisis?

It all comes back to the issue of pragmatism, which the U.S. has a terribly difficult time internalizing.


New Bolivian constitution

Official results will not be known for another week or so, but to no one's surprise a majority (in the high 50s, according to estimates) of Bolivians approved the proposed constitution. For more discussion I refer everyone to Miguel Centellas' blog. The big question, of course, is whether a new constitution will have a positive impact on regional conflict.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Immigration law in the South

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution discusses the new law in Georgia requiring business and local governments to verify the immigration status of all new hires. No one should be surprised that it does not work:

No one in state government is enforcing the law. No one at the state level has checked to see whether governments and businesses are complying. And nothing happens to them if they don’t.


The reason for the lack of accountability: The Legislature never provided money to monitor the law.

“As far as any enforcement responsibilities under the law, we don’t have any,” Labor Department spokesman Sam Hall said.

In sum, supporters of the law wanted something to make it look like they were "getting tough" but it was too confusing and expensive to function as planned. The end result is yet another law, added to the many in existence, that doesn't work and makes a mockery of common sense but won't be rescinded because that would make legislators look weak.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Former presidents in Latin America

Via The Mexico Institute: the PRI is trying to get former president Carlos Salinas to run for governor of Nuevo León. I wasn't even aware that he lived in Mexico--he had moved to Britain after his presidency and he is not a popular figure.

This highlights the fact that former presidents in Latin America commonly run for other offices. For example, former Chilean president Eduardo Frei is a senator (and wants to be president again). Carlos Menem (Argentina) is also a senator, as is Fernando Collor de Mello (Brazil). There are others. In some cases, they hope to get back to the presidency. Or perhaps to enjoy the legal immunity (and fringe benefits) that elected office provides. Or maybe just to stay in the game in some manner. This wasn't the case in Mexico, however, as PRI presidents followed a tactit rule of staying out of the public eye (though they could wield significant influence behind the scenes). Democracy seems to be changing that.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Hugo Chávez's new job

Like Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez is now a columnist. Here is the initial offering, and here in English. Interestingly, the English version adds two small footnotes, to explain the Caracazo as well as the 1992 coup attempts. Its content is the same as things he's been saying for years, though it includes an exhortation to vote yes on the referendum ("if the No vote wins, the colony and the counter-Homeland will be imposed").


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fidel's undeath

Steven Taylor's post today reminded me that I missed a very important news story. Fidel is not dead, unless President Fernández met with a really good impostor. I know there are a lot of not dead people, and so this might not be newsworthy, but it seems Fidel is particularly not dead.


Chávez, Bush and Obama

Francisco Toro writes about Hugo Chávez at The Huffington Post, arguing that he will treat Obama and Bush essentially the same:

It's just pathetic...and it's hard to overstate how badly Chavez is misreading the international mood surrounding President Obama's inauguration, how naive his attempt is to transition straight from Bush-whackery to a primitive brand of Obama-baiting that treats the two as basically interchangeable.

The issue of "international mood" struck me, because I just saw this article about Cristina Fernández and Fidel Castro:

She said Castro was impressed with Obama's inauguration ceremony and said he thought the new U.S. president was a ''sincere man'' with ``good ideas.''

Not only is Fidel not insulting Obama, he is actually praising him.

Ultimately, though, Chávez needs the votes of Venezuelans, and so what matters most is not international mood, but domestic.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

LASA book exhibit goes poof

The book exhibit has been canceled for the 2009 LASA and there is no explanation. Anyone know why? As someone who spends a lot of time (and some money) there every conference, it's a disappointment.


State Department and Latin America

Boz notes that Thomas Shannon has been asked to stay on, and according to Anthony Wayne (U.S. Ambassador to Argentina) this will last only until the 2009 Summit of the Americas, which is in April. Perhaps the name of his replacement will depend upon whether the Obama team has someone in mind, or whether they care enough to override Hillary Clinton if she has her own preference (or, for that matter, whether their preferences coincide).


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From the inaugural speech

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.
They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

I like that, but history shows that it is easier to say than to do. Remember that in his 2001 inaugural speech, George W. Bush said that "We will show purpose without arrogance."


Inauguration day

Since it snowed overnight, much of Charlotte is shut down. So I will be watching the inauguration with the rest of my homebound family. With regard to Latin America, very soon we will see what sort of stance the new administration will take. Will it be an era of change? Or maybe Obama will be consumed by the "government machine" or "obey the orders of the empire"? We'll start finding out tomorrow.


Monday, January 19, 2009

El Salvador's elections

Official results have yet to come in (so the totals I provide may change a bit) but the elections in El Salvador appear to have given the FMLN a few more seats in the legislature (possibly as many as 37, up from 32). The Christian Democratic Party (PDC) also has enough seats to provide a simple majority (43 votes) in conjunction with the FMLN. Any super-majorities would require courting ARENA, which has 34. However, the PDC is not exactly a leftist party, so even if Mauricio Funes (the FMLN candidate) wins in March*, the party will have its work cut out for it.

The FMLN also suffered a sutback because its mayoral incumbent in San Salvador, Violeta Menjívar, lost to ARENA's Norman Quijano. However, the FMLN has not currently accepted defeat in that race, which is very tight.

A November poll had Funes at 44%, versus 31% for ARENA's candidate, Rodrigo Avila. Those numbers were holding pretty steadily. Remember that current president Saca won just over 57% in 2004, amd Flores won about 53% in 1999. We have to go back to 1994--the first post-civil war presidential election--for a president (Armando Calderón Sol) who failed to garner a majority. He received 49%, and won the runoff.

So the likely scenario is that Funes will win a very historic election (i.e. the FMLN finally obtaining the presidency) but with the lowest percentage in the postwar era. He will have to negotiate with other parties (especially the PDC) to get anything passed, while ARENA will do everything it can to block such deals.

See Fruits and Votes for a discussion about why the presidential and legislative elections are in the same year, but different months.

Also, Tim's El Salvador Blog has a really useful list of online resources for Salvadoran politics.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Horacio Castellanos Moya's Senselessness

Horacio Castellanos Moya's Senselessness is an unusual book that will get under your skin. The narrator has been hired to do the copy-editing for the Guatemalan report on human rights abuses. The narration itself is like a rant, with very long sentences, almost stream of consciousness. I must admit that most of the time I can't get into that type of novel, but he makes it flow along well.

As he does his work, the stories he edits get to him, and he starts to copy down particular phrases into a notebook. The story opens with one of them: "I am not complete in the mind." The more he works, the more paranoid he becomes, certain that military intelligence is about to murder him. He is not relieved even when occasionally he discovers that his paranoia has no basis, though many times we're not all that sure.

The narrator himself is not all that likable. Initially he was concerned primarily with getting an advance on his salary. He spends much of his time chasing women and drinking (which is stopped temporarily due to antibiotics for an STD), almost as if he is trying to remain disassociated from the pain and suffering he is constantly reading about. He notes down the phrases and is not completely aware of why they haunt him so much. He even started to annoy me a bit, but the end of the novel made me change my mind a bit.

I didn't make the connection when I first started the novel, but as I read I realized it goes hand in hand with Francisco Goldman's The Art of Political Murder, which I reviewed last October. The bishop himself even makes a brief appearance, and is mentioned chillingly in the very last paragraph.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Nicaraguan "left"

Unfortunately for Nicaraguan democracy, we have yet another example of how Daniel Ortega is not so much part of a Latin American leftist wave as he is an extraordinarily corrupt politician. His past deals with the Nicaraguan right are well known, and here we go again. From the Miami Herald:

In a ruling criticized as ''another mockery of Nicaraguan justice,'' the country's Supreme Court on Friday overturned the money laundering conviction of former President Arnoldo Alemán, setting him free after serving only four years of a 20-year sentence for allegedly bilking the country out of $100 million.

In a strong sign of a deal, shortly after the disgraced Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) boss was freed, President Daniel Ortega's Sandinista Front won the presidency of the National Assembly, effectively giving the Sandinistas control over all four branches of government.

Alemán thanked "God and the Virgin" for his release.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Not much return migration

The Migration Policy Institute just released a report arguing that there is no mass movement of immigrants back to their countries of origin, an issue I've written several posts about. It makes quite a few interesting points, but I will just highlight a few.

--return migration appears linked with the ease of circulation and developments in the country of origin rather than the U.S. economy or enforcement efforts.

--the U.S. economy and enforcement seem to be more linked to a slowdown of people coming rather than people leaving.

--one reason immigrants (especially recently arrived) are more likely to stay is that they are more willing than the native born to shift locations to remain employed.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hugo Chávez and oil companies

Hugo Chávez's change of mind about foreign oil companies has everyone abuzz. I think it's an interesting development, but the surprise puzzles me. His political program has always been characterized by pragmatism, even on backtracking (the recent Citgo heating oil decision is another example). Chávez has been in power about a decade, and if he were truly socialist, then Venezuela would be socialist by now. If he were a war monger, there would've been war by now. Daniel Drezner writes the following:

Chávez's actions pleasantly surprise me, because retrenchment and realpolitik were not the only option. One could have envisioned Chávez reacting by ratcheting up tensions with neighbors as a short-term solution. Although I suspect most Americans would prefer to see the back of Hugo, this kind of behavior suggests that Venezuela is never going to rise to the problem level of, say, Iran.

There was very little chance Chávez would go after Colombia (the only neighbor he would likely target) because after the last tiff (i.e. when Colombia bombed Ecuador) both countries suffered economically. Pragmatism quickly won out. And I think it is fair to say that no Latin Americanist worth his or her salt has believed Venezuela would rise to the problem level of Iran.

I think the essential issue here is that another aspect of Hugo Chávez is that he talks. All. The. Time. The rhetoric very often does not match future action. Fortunately, the State Department has had this firmly in mind for the past two or so years.


The even darker side of Russia and Latin America

Russia's expanded presence in Latin America is usually viewed in terms of grand strategy, focusing on security implications. This BBC story, however, should be a reminder that there are other, more insidious effects. If there is one thing Latin America does not need, it is the Russian mafia. Russian casinos have arrived in Bolivia.

A law to limit gambling drastically is due to take effect in July in Russia. Approved during Vladimir Putin's presidency, the measure will restrict casinos to four remote regions.

So in a scramble for markets, Russian-owned gambling businesses have been eyeing the possibilities in this Andean nation.

"With Russia tightening its gambling laws, it's going to affect a lot of casinos. So it's natural that they would look to Bolivia, because it's a virgin country in terms of investment," said Jose Maria Penaranda, who runs the Bingo Bahiti chain of casinos.

There is literally nothing good about this. Here is the Santa Cruz District Attorney:

"Basically Santa Cruz has become a little Las Vegas, and foreign capital - mostly from Russia and Brazil - is flowing in, from mafias and other people tied to illegal activities like money laundering," said Mr Cornejo.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Immigrants and elections

The Associated Press has an article about Latin American immigrants returning to their country of origin to run for office. I believe this is going to be fertile research ground for political scientists in the future. There are tons of articles about immigrant political activism in the United States, some research asking whether immigrants lobby on behalf of their home government (answer: they don't) but no analysis about how and why they decide to return home to pursue elected positions.

In general, this is a positive development for everyone. People become more involve in the political process in the U.S., and going back home they bring raised expectations about how political institutions should function.

However, there will inevitably be clashes, both with people who never migrated and therefore may see the individual as less "authentic" and also with local authorities who view him or her as a political threat. Both happened to the infamous "Tomato King" in Mexico.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Obama and Calderón Part 2

Obama and Calderón met today. Most of the details are not too remarkable, but I was struck by Obama's use of the word "upgrade" for NAFTA. I don't know what it means in this context, and neither does the Mexican government:

"We don't know what the upgrade means. ... We want to listen and set the tone for a great relationship," said a Mexican official familiar with Monday's talks who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Further, Obama suggested creating a "consultative group" to discuss NAFTA and a few other things.

My immediate thought was that vague words like "upgrade" combined with putting together some sort of commission rather than just making a decision suggests that NAFTA will stay exactly the way it is for the foreseeable future.


U.S. policy toward Latin America in 2008

The State Department released a list of everything the United States did in Latin America in 2008, as a way of emphasizing the "common values" and "shared interests." It also makes a point about how many times President Bush went to the region (13 during his term) and the dollar amount of assistance in 2008 ($1.9 billion).

There are certainly a number of positive programs, but the persistent question remains: why is the administration so incredibly unpopular? It might be tempting to blame the media, or Hugo Chávez, or other message carriers (maybe even professors and bloggers!). As I've noted before, President Bush very clearly believes that the main problem is that the U.S. is not "getting the word out" and therefore does not receive sufficient credit.

The answer, though, centers on the fact that the United States doesn't listen enough to Latin America. Many of the presidential elections of the past 8-10 years should be telling us something, but we don't hear it. I recommend a really solid article in World Politics Review by Colombian journalist Anastasia Moloney, entitled "The Challenge of South America's Populist Left." It is a good overview of the political dynamics of South America. With regard to U.S.-Latin American relations, the very last paragraph drives home the point:

Despite its excesses and shortcomings, the populist left has offered many previously excluded citizens in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador a greater stake in their country's future. It is this defining social experience that perhaps gives the movement whatever coherence it has. In order for America to regain its standing in South America, not only among the continent's leaders but also among its inhabitants, it would do well to place the aspirations that drive that experience at the heart of its regional policy.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Obama and Calderón

Barack Obama is going to meet today with Felipe Calderón. Plenty of virtual ink will be spilled about the meeting, with all sorts of suggestions about what should be discussed or emphasized.

At this point, I don't think details yet matter. Instead, tone is critical. And there are some good signs. For example, drug trafficking and its associated violence will be front and center, but Obama cannot come off sounding like it is Mexico's responsibility. A "senior aide" had the following to say:

"As worried as we are about the northbound drug trade, we're also worried about the southbound weapons and cash flows that impact the drug war," the adviser said.

Good, and don't forget to mention the people in the U.S. who are buying the drugs.

In addition, I would hope Obama's overall tone reflects acknowledgment of urgency. He has a lot on his plate, and almost certainly has no interest in pushing Mexico up on his list of priorities. But drug-related violence and immigration can no longer be ignored, and also can no longer be treated as something that you just throw fences and guns at.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Goodbye Trevor

I am late commenting on this, but Trevor Hoffman is officially gone. I have mixed feelings--I tend to be sentimental about players I like, regardless of their performance as they age. Trevor was a critical part of some great Padres teams, especially 1998. He was a Padre for 16 seasons. As a spectator at a game, there was nothing quite like hearing Hell's Bells and seeing him come out from the bullpen.

But increasingly I felt less and less confident when he came into the game, as his patented change just didn't fool hitters so much anymore. It happens.

I also think he will be a central part (along with Mariano Rivera) of a growing debate about whether the one inning closer deserves a place in the Hall of Fame. It was hard enough for a multi-inning closer like Gossage to get in. Lee Smith, who was in between those eras, still waits.


Noriega update

The Associated Press has an update on Manuel Noriega. Next week a federal appeals court will hear his argument about why he should be sent to Panama (where was already convicted in absentia for murder, embezzlement, and corruption) rather than France, which wants him for money laundering.

He is also working on his memoirs, which should give us, shall we say, a unique version of events. Coincidentally, I had recently been looking at Anastasio Somoza's memoir, Nicaragua Betrayed. There I learned that Somoza had always tried to protect his political opponents, and just could not figure out why they ended up dead.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Immigration law and absurdity

As part of some research I'm doing, I was reading the December 2008 report of the National Conference of State Legislatures about immigration laws that states passed last year. In Alabama, legislators actually passed a law that all funeral directors within the Alabama Board of Funeral Service must be U.S. citizens.

I think everyone in Alabama, especially the deceased, feel safer now.


Brand Cuba

I had to do a lot of driving, so listened to a number of podcasts. I recommend BBC's two part "Brand Cuba," which examines the identity of the Cuban revolution (you can download it from iTunes). What I liked was that it included all different opinions, but also that it emphasized Cuba's international presence. So, for example, it spends some time examining why Fidel Castro is so popular in South Africa, and how his foreign policy may affect his historical image.

Meanwhile, John McAuliff at The Havana Note links to a Raúl Castro speech about Barack Obama. He mentions that he received a ;etter from a "former president" saying that change was coming so a gesture from Raúl would be a good idea. I assume this is Jimmy Carter, though he did not specify "United States" president.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

John Ferling's Adams vs. Jefferson

All too often, I read or hear someone arguing about how politics in the U.S. is more divided and bitter than ever. That has always seemed overblown, and now I have a book that illustrates the point very well. John Ferling's Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 is a great read, detailing the lead-up and the intrigue into the 1800 election, which of course Thomas Jefferson won in the House after an Electoral College tie.

What comes out crystal clear is how many of the protagonists hated each other's guts, and the press was far, far more inflammatory than it is now. Some highlights:

--John Adams was referred to as "His Rotundity" (p. 90).

--Alexander Hamilton's economic plan was, according to one journalist, the "most memorable piece of imbecility and impudence that was ever imposed on a nation" (p. 147).

--Readers were told that Thomas Jefferson sacrificed dogs on an altar at Monticello (p.154).

--and, for good measure, the French were "factious, cutthroat, frog-eating, treaty-breaking, grace fallen God-defying devils" (p. 110). If they had a senate cafeteria back then, they surely would've changed the name of french fries to freedom fries.

It even got to the point that a Federalist and Republican duked it out on the floor of the House:

Lyon retaliated by spitting in Griswold's face, and Griswold in turn thrashed the Vermonter with a cane. Lyon fought back with fire tongs. The brawl ended only when colleagues separated the gladiators, who by then were punching and kicking each other as they rolled about the chamber floor (p. 106).

Aside from all the insults, Ferling also describes all the intrigue, bargaining, and threats that went on to determine who would win the presidency. Karl Rove looks like an amateur compared to some of those guys.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What to do about Cuba

Carlos Alberto Montaner has an Op-Ed in the Miami Herald, which essentially outlines a hardline stance for U.S. policy toward Cuba.

While Fidel Castro is alive, any significant concession the Obama administration may make to Havana will be counterproductive. It will be interpreted as, ''Fidel Castro is right, and we don't need to make any substantial change in our totalitarian model.'' However, the moment Fidel disappears, Washington must make a goodwill gesture, even to Raúl Castro, as a sign of encouragement to the reformist forces, with the explicit message that the United States is willing to generously help Cubans transform the country into a peaceful and reasonably prosperous democracy.

Since he argues that Raúl will never allow real political change in Cuba, I am not sure why he doesn't want to wait for him to die too (and what happens if Fidel keeps on going like the Energizer bunny?). Regardless, he shows the same odd logic that has trapped the United States for too long, which can be summed up in the following manner:

The embargo was intended to force the Castro regime from power, but instead has helped keep it in power. However, getting rid of the embargo would be a boost to the Castro regime, and thereby keep it in power.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Gendered fearmongering in Chile

Margaret Power, "The Engendering of Anticommunism and Fear in Chile's 1964 Presidential Election." Diplomatic History 32, 5 (November 2008): 931-953. [sorry, full text is gated]

This article discusses how the U.S. government successfully employed ideas about gender and the politics of fear to engender and intensify anticommunism, an aspect of U.S. foreign policy toward Chile that has been largely ignored. It also examines how the Chilean Left responded to the Scare Campaign. My analysis of leftist discourse reveals that although the Left shared many of their opponents' assumptions about gendered identities, it also entertained some different ideas about the role of women in Chilean society.

Of course, much has been written about U.S. policy in Chile in the 1960s. In this article, Power focuses specifically on the consciously gendered nature of the media attention aimed at Salvador Allende in the months leading up to the 1964 election, which he lost to Eduardo Frei.* It was funded by the U.S. government, but welcomed and shaped by the Chilean right, which was happy for the assistance.

This highlights the fact that women's votes were crucial to winning elections in Chile, and so the propaganda was very shrewdly employed to great effect. The project focused on radio, because that provided the largest female audience. Powers quotes a variety of programs and interviews telling women that, for example, if Allende were elected their children would be taken from them by force and sent to the USSR.

It always focused on women's roles as wives and mothers, and interestingly even the FRAP's rebuttals remained within the commonly accepted idea that women should be in the home (emphasizing that only socialism could provide mothers with the resources they needed for their children).

This is the sort of analysis that should be expanded and applied comparatively. The old fashioned notion of communism is no longer relevant, but the contemporary left is obviously often the target of criticism. To what degree is that criticism gendered? For example, is there a message for women about Mauricio Funes and the FMLN in El Salvador?

* It does not, however, explain why those same arguments failed in 1970, when Allende won.


You know Plan Colombia has a problem when...

...even Newsweek publishes a story about how it has done nothing with regard to drugs. The article has a twist, however, that makes it different. Unlike virtually every critique of U.S. drug policy, it is pro-Uribe and critical of Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales. In other words, what many have known for years is starting to creep into the consciousness of the mainstream media and, maybe, eventually into policy makers.


Monday, January 05, 2009

The state and newspapers in Latin America

Evo Morales announced that the Bolivian government will launch its own daily newspaper. I assume this will be attacked and described in some Orwellian manner. It is, however, not that remarkable. Chile, for example, has had one of the stronger democracies in the region, but also has a state-run newspaper (La Nación).

At the same time, for Morales to claim that the new paper will be the "truth" made me think immediately of Fox News' vaunted "fair and balanced" motto. All media has some sort of spin, which is not necessarily a problem. In all Latin American countries, readers know the spin of every newspaper, and interpret them accordingly. The Bolivian state paper will become one more voice in the media din.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers

I read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success, and despite some quibbles I definitely recommend it. I will start with the positive, which is that it challenges conventional wisdom and forces the reader to think about success a bit differently than before. Specifically, it requires you to look beyond common assertions about "self-made" men (as, it should be noted, there are remarkably few references to women in the entire book, a major omission). His examples are sometimes counterintuitive, such as how discrimination against Jewish lawyers gave them unique opportunities to become rich and successful. Plus, he has a knack for using fascinating examples that make his point very well.

However, the book has problems from a social science perspective. Fellow political scientist Laura McKenna at 11D has two separate posts about the book, focusing a lot on the fact that he has no footnotes (though it has a bibliography of sorts at the end, without specific citations).* I agree, though I didn't find it as annoying as she did. As I read, I kept thinking that the book's argument could be strengthened substantially by doing a more structured analysis that looked at a universe of cases, rather than a few cherry-picked ones. For example, he discusses the success of certain lawyers and law firms in New York City, but does not examine every firm (or at least every decent-sized firm) in a given time period.

Therein lies the rub: what makes the book interesting from a commercial standpoint is its breeziness and readability, and the insertion of more analysis--even quantitative--would quite possibly dry it out. But if this were someone's dissertation and they brought for their defense, it would be ripped pretty well. He even notes that there are plenty of exceptions to his rules (see p. 67) but he never takes a look at them.

Nonetheless, I had a good time reading it and will likely get his other two books at some point.

* She also makes the good point that the second half of the book is more about culture than about outliers per se.


Saturday, January 03, 2009

What Mexico will get

Marvin King links to a WSJ article about a Russian professor who is predicting the break-up of the United States by 2010. It is entirely nonsensical but highly entertaining. Mexico apparently will get a big chunk of the southwest and southeast. It is not quite clear, however, why Georgia becomes part of Mexico while we in North Carolina become Europeans. It seems that in a few short years I will be a citizen of the EU. My parents in California, however, will be Chinese. Go figure.


Nationalization in Venezuela

Some time ago, I wrote a series of blog posts about Hugo Chávez's threats about nationalizing, wondering whether the threats would become reality. In fact, they did, as in 2007 and 2008 he announced a range of different state takeovers.

For a time I followed the cement industry (see the last post here) which he claimed was essential to the national interest. However, it is an extremely hard issue to follow, because inevitably there is a lot of media attention when the announcement is made about a particular company, and then it disappears afterward. Even the Venezuelan state news agency stops bothering.

Therefore, I was interested to see this story in El Universal, reporting that the Venezuelan government has not paid for anything it has nationalized, including cement, but also a number of other different companies. This runs into billions of dollars. This is particularly important because Hugo Chávez has consistently noted that his government pays fair compensation (e.g. here about cement). Given that he has already acknowledged the negative impact of the global financial crisis and the drop in oil prices, I have to figure these companies are not going to see payment anytime soon, if ever.


Friday, January 02, 2009

50 years of the Cuban revolution

I can't help but comment at least briefly on the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban revolution. A number of academic journals, including mine, will have entire special issues on the topic, which will be examined from every conceivable angle. The revolution's effects--both domestically and internationally--are truly staggering given how small the island is.

But taking a look at the Cuban state's official account of Raúl Castro's speech, with its references to Fidel's greatness and how "today the Revolution is stronger than ever, and it has never ceded one millimeter in its principles," I could only think about how terribly long 50 years is to be ruled by one person who never cedes one millimeter.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Bringing in the new year

A tradition in Ecuador is to burn images as a way of destroying what was bad in the past year and purifies the spirit for the next year. A sign of conflicting ideology in the country is the fact that for 2008 the two images that sold the most for burning were George W. Bush and Hugo Chávez.

So I suppose a question for the entire region in 2009 will be: in one year whose image would be burnt the most? I'll try for an answer in another 364 days.


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