Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Zelaya and exile

Spiriting Zelaya out of Honduras has turned out to be a bad move. Perhaps more than any other single action, it screams out "coup" (though storming his house is right up there). Army General Romeo Vasquez, who was in charge of the operation (despite being officially fired), has an interesting take. He actually says he likes Zelaya personally, and claims taking him out of the country was intended to avoid bloodshed:

''He is an excellent boss. He is a good person. I tried to have a friendship with him, but the friendship ends with duty,'' Vásquez said. "We had to get him out of the area to avoid worse things. We felt that if he stayed here, worse things were going to happen and there would be bloodshed.

I've studied the Latin Americna military for a long time. I do not remember any general making such a statement, discussing personal friendship alongside his perceived duty as he overthrew him. It is another unusual part of a highly unusual story.


U.S. aid and Honduras

The question of whether to call the situation in Honduras a coup keeps popping up. In comments to a previous post, Matthew Shugart mentioned seeing the importance of the term "military coup." The specific wording comes from section 508 of the Foreign Operations Appropriation Act (see here for a U.S. embassy site discussing it). Anyone can call it a coup, which makes no difference. Apparently adding "military" is the key. I suppose someone could argue it is not a "military" coup if the military does not rule, even if the military was responsible for the physical act of overthrowing the president.

"None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree: Provided, That assistance may be resumed to such government if the President determines and certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office: Provided further, That the provisions of this section shall not apply to assistance to promote democratic elections or public participation in democratic processes: Provided further, That funds made available pursuant to the previous provisos shall be subject to the regular notification procedures of the Committees on Appropriations."


The World Bank and Honduras

The World Bank has announced it has "paused" its lending to Honduras. In these situations, especially with Honduras' weak economy, money talks, though the amount involved ($80 million for development projects this fiscal year) may not hurt the coup government. Notably, the U.S. government has not initiated any such "pause."


Jail vs. exile

The "replacement government" (the BBC puts it nicely) has said that Zelaya will be jailed if he returns to Honduras, as he says he will on Thursday. If that is the case, why was he not simply jailed on Sunday? There is still no evidence of any legal avenue for forcibly exiling him.


Zelaya at the UN

President Zelaya is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly today at 11 a.m. EST. Let's see what tone he strikes. Right now he has everyone condemning the coup, but he needs to maintain that support, so he has to strike a balance between showing outrage while not being inflammatory.


Obama and Honduras

Here is Obama's statement about Honduras:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me first of all speak about the coup in Honduras, because this was a topic of conversation between myself and President Uribe.

All of us have great concerns about what's taken place there. President Zelaya was democratically elected. He had not yet completed his term. We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras, the democratically elected President there. In that we have joined all the countries in the region, including Colombia and the Organization of American States.

I think it's -- it would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections. The region has made enormous progress over the last 20 years in establishing democratic traditions in Central America and Latin America. We don't want to go back to a dark past. The United States has not always stood as it should with some of these fledgling democracies, but over the last several years, I think both Republicans and Democrats in the United States have recognized that we always want to stand with democracy, even if the results don't always mean that the leaders of those countries are favorable towards the United States. And that is a tradition that we want to continue.

So we are very clear about the fact that President Zelaya is the democratically elected President, and we will work with the regional organizations like OAS and with other international institutions to see if we can resolve this in a peaceful way.

It is nice at least that he openly calls it a coup, and is clear about not recognizing any other government.

The U.S. has been careful not to call for Zelaya's return, however, which keeps the options open for some sort of negotiated solution that does not involve him remaining president. It is very hard to see how that work in practice. Update--see comments, as this is not accurate.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Zelaya returning to Honduras?

According to the Guardian:

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya says he wants to return to Honduras this week accompanied by the head of the Organization of American States.

Zelaya says he will accept an offer by OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza to return to the Central America country with him. Zelaya says he wants to make the trip Thursday.

He spoke Monday in Nicaragua during a meeting of Latin American leaders to discuss Sunday's coup in Honduras.

Insulza had made the offer moments before Zelaya spoke.

Now this would be interesting. Obviously Zelaya would claim to return as president, whereas the powers that be in Honduras claim him as ex-president. Not sure how Insulza would navigate that...


Honduras and legality

Roberto Micheletti and other coup supporters insist everything was legal. If their actions could be deemed legal by virtue of specific laws, that would bolster their assertion that Zelaya's removal was legitimate. Yet the coup is now about 36 hours old, and to my knowledge no one has explained what law was followed, who issued the court order for picking up Zelaya and flying him out of the country, and what legal basis the new government has for remaining in power until the next presidential election.

Why is that?


Honduras and non-recognition

From Lula:

“We can’t accept or recognize any government other than Zelaya’s,” Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in his weekly radio program today. “If Honduras doesn’t reverse its position, then it’s going to be totally isolated in the middle of an enormous contingent of democracies.”

That could start having practical consequences in terms of trade, investment, participation in international organizations, etc.


The OAS and Honduras

Not surprisingly, there are protests in Tegulcigalpa, and roadblocks. The longer this government insists on remaining in power, the more likely it is that violence will ensue.

So can the OAS do anything useful? Let's see. Chris Sabatini at Americas Quarterly has a good post on the topic, concluding with:

In the case of Honduras, President Zelaya passed over the head of the Congress to call for vote on June 28 that would have allowed a national referendum in October on a series of unspecified-constitutional reforms, including the removal of term limits to allow him to run for re-election. President Zelaya’s plan was constitutionally questionable from the beginning, bypassing the Congress and opposed by the Supreme Court. When the head of the army expressed his disapproval he was removed, even though the Supreme Court called for his restoration.

Each of these actions to tear down checks and balances and consolidate executive power should—in theory—have triggered the consideration of the OAS under the Democratic Charter. But they didn’t. And now we’re left with an OAS that is—rightly—condemning a coup that could have possibly been averted and forced to call for the return of a President who himself had done little to respect his own constitution.


Zelaya and the law

So what does Honduran law say about what Congress and the courts should have done if they believed Zelaya was breaking the law? (I mean, besides kidnapping him in his pajamas.)

The answer is not clear--both Matthew Shugart and Steven Taylor take a look, and get to the point of finding reference to a decree that derogated a relevant part of the constitution, but they cannot find the text of the decree in question. I can't either, and now a Google search for the text of the decree brings up Steven's post that he can't find it!

Here is the constitution itself. I have been critical of the constant constitution writing/amending in Latin America, but I must say this one is ripe for rethinking. It is one of the most confusing constitutions I have read.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

OAS response

So how long will the Micheletti government exist? The OAS makes clear that no one will recognize him and that Zelaya must be returned to office:

REITERATING the principles established in the Charter of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Democratic Charter on the strengthening and preservation of the democratic institutional system in member states, andRECALLING CP/RES. 952 (1699/09) of June 26, 2009, relative to the situation in Honduras,RESOLVES:

1. To condemn vehemently the coup d’état staged this morning against the constitutionally-established Government of Honduras, and the arbitrary detention and expulsion from the country of the constitutional president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, which has produced an unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order.

2. To demand the immediate, safe and unconditional return of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales to his constitutional functions.

3. To declare that no government arising from this unconstitutional interruption will be recognized.


Obama and Honduras

According to the Guardian, U.S. officials are working to get Zelaya back into the presidency and believe there will be consensus in the OAS to say the coup "cannot stand."

President Barack Obama called Sunday for "all political and social actors
in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the
Inter-American Democratic Charter" as the Central American crisis unfolded.

For those conditions to be met, Zelaya must be returned to power, U.S.
officials said.

Knowing trouble was brewing in Honduras over several weeks, the Obama
administration warned power players there, including the armed forces, that the
United States and other nations in the Americas would not support or abide a
coup, officials said. They said Honduran military leaders stopped taking their


Diplomatic recognition in Honduras

Diplomatic recognition is now one of the obstacles to the proclaimed presidency of Ricardo Micheletti. As yet, no government has recognized him as legitimate, and condemnation has been the norm. I would be shocked if any Latin American government recognized him, which means his chances of remaining in power very long are not good.


Honduras update

Check out Laura Carlsen from the Center for International Policy live blogging about the OAS discussion of the Honduran coup at The Huffington Post. For example:

* Roberto Micheletti has been sworn into office as president by the military coup.
* OAS countries refuse to recognize him or to negotiate in any form with coup leaders.
* OAS countries issue calls for the immediate return and reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya in his legitimate functions.

Secretary General Insulza reports that Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan ambassadors attempted to accompany Honduran Foreign Minister when she was forcibly abducted by military coup leaders, but were violently pushed away from the vehicle. They are not being held captive. As others discuss diplomatic actions--clearly needed and appropriate--these ambassadors provided a lesson in real solidarity, by putting their own lives on the line.

As far as I can tell, this coup has no support anywhere. I cannot imagine any government recognizing Micheletti.


Obama administration response to Honduran coup

Short and sweet from Hillary Clinton. I am glad to see this type of response and hope the administration is working from behind the scenes to put pressure on the coup participants. It makes no difference what you think of Zelaya--no freely elected president should be overthrown.

The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all. We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the constitutional order and the rule of law, to reaffirm their democratic vocation, and to commit themselves to resolve political disputes peacefully and through dialogue. Honduras must embrace the very principles of democracy we reaffirmed at the OAS meeting it hosted less than one month ago.
UPDATE: From the BBC, Zelaya said in an interview that he knew of a plot against him, which was foiled only because the U.S. embassy refused to back it:

In an interview with Spain's El Pais newspaper published on Sunday, Mr Zelaya said a plot to topple him had been thwarted after the US refused to back it.

"Everything was in place for the coup and if the US embassy had approved it, it would have happened. But they did not," Mr Zelaya said.


Coup in Honduras

Honduran President Zelaya was arrested by the military, apparently by a court order (it is not clear what court or what judge) and is now in Costa Rica. If it was a regular court order, it makes no sense for him to be removed from the country, which is one reason why I am already using the term "coup." I have not yet seen who is currently chief executive.

There are many troubling aspects to this situation, but in particular it is discouraging that the Honduran courts, legislators, etc. still turn to the armed forces to act as political arbiters.

This is going to make the situation far, far worse than any other solution the opposition could have devised.


Vote in Honduras

Hondurans go to vote today on the non-binding "public opinion poll" about whether to have another vote to rewrite the constitution. Opponents (including some in President Zelaya's own party) are asking people not to vote, so turnout will be a key factor in determining how binding the non-binding vote should be viewed.

If you can read Spanish, it is instructive to take a look at the lead articles in different Honduran newspapers--there is nothing like a crisis to bring out the slant of each paper.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Crisis in Honduras

Honduras continues moving toward open conflict, as President Zelaya pushes for a vote on the constitution, which both the Supreme Court and Congress have indicated is illegal, and the military does not support. See Matthew Shugart for an analysis of the numbers in the legislature (and whether to call the vote a plebiscite or referendum--he opts for the former). And Boz has background here and here. It is an unusual situation, with Zelaya insisting that it is just a "public opinion poll."

Hugo Chávez has expressed his strong support for Zelaya, though interestingly in a statement he even acknowledged that "everybody is against it."

“In short, what is happening in Honduras is that the Congress is against the electoral consultation, the Supreme Court too, the General Attorney, the Church and the bishops are against it, the bourgeoisie is against it; that is to say, everybody is against it, any resemblance with our reality is not a coincidence.

Presumably someone is for it, though his approval rating is only about 30 percent.

Regardless, this is yet another example of constitution-itis in Latin America. There has been a slew of entirely new constitutions written in recent years (though this is by no means a new phenomenon). Honduras is currently on its 16th constitution, from 1982. It is a poor country based largely on agricultural exports (e.g. coffee and bananas) controlled by foreign investors and constantly beset by natural disasters. A new constitution will not change those realities, just as previous constitutions did not.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Conventional weapons sales in Latin America

The Bolivian government has given an arms wishlist to the Russians, who are providing credit for the purchase. This comes on the heels of the Chileans buying F-16s from the Netherlands on top of anti-submarine planes from France. Maybe now Bolivia will have to buy the submarines for the Chileans to fight. Or maybe the Chileans think Venezuela will send its brand new Russian subs southward?

It is depressing to see more and more countries circling around Latin America, looking for good conventional weapons markets. There just aren't real threats--even when Hugo Chávez blustered about sending tanks to the Colombian border, no one took it seriously. In addition, the global economic crisis is hitting developing countries quite hard, and this money should be channeled elsewhere. In the Chilean case, proposals to reform the copper law keep popping up, but have yet to gain traction.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Language and politics in the immgration debate

The latest push for immigration reform is just getting underway, and Senator Chuck Schumer is in the thick of it. He notes various things Democrats must do in order to get the necessary conservative votes.

Apparently one is to use the term "illegal" rather than "undocumented" immigrant.

I've told the advocates we have to come down hard on illegal immigration," Schumer said. "I say illegal immigrants. Two years ago Democrats said undocumented workers, which made people say, 'Hmm, maybe Democrats don't think it's bad to be an illegal immigrant."

I am trying to think of any other policy example where dispute over naming something became part of the debate, and using your opponents' choice of language became a strategy for passing the bill.

It strikes me as an example of how the politics of symbolism trump substance all too often in the debate over immigration reform.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

McCaffrey and Cuba

Barry McCaffrey published an op-ed in the Miami Herald about U.S. policy toward Cuba, advocating the scrapping of just about everything, including handing the entire Guantánamo base back to Cuba. It is a very well-written piece that pulls no punches (referring, for example, to the "regimented dullness of that Marxist state") and concludes, very reasonably, that "the status quo is a loser."

Modifying punitive economic and travel policies should not be viewed as making concessions to an authoritarian regime. Instead, they should be viewed as a belated recognition that our past policies were ineffective and will not promote democratization in Cuba.

Such ideas won't likely be translated into policy anytime soon, but conventional wisdom is slowly transforming.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Odem and Lacy's Latino Immigrants and the Transformation of the U.S. South

I read Mary E. Odem and Elaine Lacy's edited volume Latino Immigrants and the Transformation of the New South (2009) and put it on the sidebar.

The book provides an excellent descriptive account of Latino immigration to the U.S. South. In an introduction that provides a very useful overview, Odem and Lacy lay out the book’s purpose: to “present in-depth analyses of how immigration from Latin America is changing the U.S. South and how immigrants adapting to the southern context” (p. ix). It focuses on five very broad themes: immigrant transnationalism, economic incorporation and impact, place-making and community building, changing racial dynamics, and southern responses to Latino immigration.

One of the book’s strengths is that seven of the nine chapters are state-specific, thus providing geographic nuance. Combined they contain a rich collection of information that should prove valuable for researchers. At the same time, the chapters address a wide range of issue, including religious expression, refugee politics, union organizing, economic impact, which at times reduces the coherency of the collection.

One of the critical questions that arises—though not always explicitly—in the chapters is the degree to which the southern experience with Latino immigration is different from other regions of the country.

In his chapter on Alabama, Raymond Mohl concludes that “Dixie appears to be on the cusp of a long-term process of Latinization, mirroring what has already happened in other parts of the United States” (p. 65). Similarly, James H. Johnson Jr. and John D. Kasarda argue that changes in North Carolina are “[p]aralleling national trends” (p. 70). But is it necessarily a mirror?

Angela C. Steusse, for example, notes the importance of progressive churches for organizing social movements in the South, something far less common in traditional gateways. Even here, though, the comparison may need to delve into the differences between different religions. For example, Mary E. Odem shows how the Catholic church in Atlanta did not necessarily embrace the Latino population, whose style of worship was quite different from the suburban middle class.

Further, virtually all of the chapters note the importance of race, which takes a unique form in the South. Race has always been viewed in Black-White terms, and desegregation is still very much in recent memory. It is worth exploring whether the racialized discourse in the South takes a different form than, say, in Los Angeles.

Overall, then, the volume offers much to ponder. It would work very well in a classroom, as it raises a number of interesting and important questions that scholars have only begun to explore.


Faculty and the media

Just yesterday I wrote about the professional benefits of blogging, which included more contact with the media, which universities like. Today Mike Munger links to an article he just published in the Chronicle of Higher Education about why faculty should come out of their shells and talk to the media more. And he has some tips.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Blogging Latin American politics and academia

At the blogging workshop I organized at LASA in Rio, we talked quite a lot about blogging and academia. I made the point that blogging does not provide professional benefits because it will not be noted for tenure, promotion, merit pay, etc. It falls into none of the three academic categories (research, teaching, and service) for which we are judged professionally. However, I think I defined "benefit" too narrowly because our conversation made clear that there are a number of positive professional effects, whether direct or indirect. (These are not ranked in any order.)

--providing links in blog posts to articles, reports, books, etc. on research-related topics makes it easier to find them later. It can also help to organize your thoughts.

--blogging improves your writing because it forces you to make your ideas understandable to a broad audience. For example, jargon is sometimes necessary in academic writing for precision, but is too often used excessively and can obscure your argument. Blogging forces you to articulate the argument without the jargon.

--it can make your ideas available to people in government, think tanks, etc. who are interested in the same issues, and they will contact you. This will take time, and varies depending on the topic you cover and the works you have already published. It is even more relevant if you are in the field and therefore offering firsthand accounts of politics.

--it gets you quoted in the mainstream media, which colleges and universities appreciate and often list publicly to show the expertise of their professors. Further, it can lead to invited articles (such as op-eds) or talks.

--the more posts you publish, the more you come up on Google, which increases your exposure. This is relevant even in strictly academic terms, because people researching similar topics will find you more quickly and be exposed to your work (even if they are not bloggers). It is therefore also important to have a link to your professional website with CV and even article PDFs (and/or links to your books).

I would also like to point readers to Sebastian Chaskel at Latin American Thought--he attended the LASA workshop and has an extensive post about his own perceptions of it. From a mixed professional/personal perspective, I must say that I have met--in person and/or electronically--many people I otherwise never would've come into contact with, from all walks of life.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Alvaro Uribe and human rights

Last month I noted how the English-language media was no longer quite so enamored of Alvaro Uribe. In particular, even small news items now often conclude with a list of human rights problems. Now, for example, we hear that the Colombian Congress is balking at a bill required to allow a referendum on whether Uribe should be allowed to run for a third consecutive term. The article concludes with:

But his government has been plagued by scandals in which allied lawmakers have been linked to right-wing death squads and soldiers have gunned down innocent civilians to pass their bodies off as rebels killed in combat.

It's like a signature put at the end of every email, summed up as "he's very popular but his government has massacred countless people."


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Lula and Iran

We continue to wait and see how Iran's election aftermath shakes out. Lula believes there is no fraud, with logic that does not show him at his best.

First, you can't have fraud if you win by a big margin. "It's too big a vote for anyone to imagine that there may have been a fraud."

Second, it is not fraud if the winners don't believe there was fraud. "I don't know anyone, other than the opposition, who has disagreed with the elections in Iran."


Friday, June 19, 2009

Chile CEP poll

The Centro de Estudios Públicos released its national public opinion study, which has all sorts of interesting bits. For example, Chileans are much more optimistic now about the economy than they were in Nov/Dec 2008. That will work on the Concertación's favor. 53% believe the government has taken effective measures to deal with the economic crisis. In fact, 49% of those who self-identify as "right" or "center-right" approve of the job Bachelet is doing.

Yet the number of people who do not identify with a political party has remained fairly constant, at 46%. The big question is this--where do they lean? There are many people in the U.S. who register as "independent" or "unaffiliated," but typically they lean in a certain direction. Given the electoral results of the past 20 years, one would think they lean in the Concertación direction, but I'd love to see those numbers broken down more. Overall (that is, not just the "no party" category") 38% claim to have no ideological orientation at all.

Meanwhile, 47% think Sebastián Piñera will be the next president (regardless of who they support) compared to 45% for Frei and 3% for Enríquez-Ominami. In a first round, Piñera would get 37%, Frei 28% and Enríquez-Ominami 15%. In a second round, Piñera gets 42% and Fre 39%, with 19% undecided. Interestingly, over 20% believe that Enríquez-Ominami's votes would go to Piñera.

Overall, these numbers pretty much confirm trends I had been discussing with fellow Chileanists at the Latin American Studies Association conference. The Concertación is facing internal schisms, but Piñera's huge lead is gone and this race is up in the air. One question that remains unanswered (and which I tried to start getting at in my conference paper) is how so many Chileans feel disconnected from the political system, but more or less content and not anxious to get rid of the long-time ruling coalition. I am not sure there is another similar example in Latin America.

For another take, see Robert Funk. The English-language MSM focuses on Piñera's narrowed lead.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iran's peeps in Latin America

Daniel Ortega sent a letter of congratulations to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his "victory," while the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry took the time honored road of blaming all domestic dissent on foreigners, as it "expresses its firm rejection of the ferocious and unfounded campaign to discredit, from abroad, that has been unleashed against Iran, with the objective of muddying the political climate of this brother country." Chávez might even believe that.

The outcome of the political conflict in Iran may well determine its policy toward Latin America. If Ahmadinejad comes out strong, then he will likely continue the high-profile trips and trade with a thick layer of revolutionary rhetoric. If reformers emerge victorious, then the trade will continue (which Lula is already actively pursuing) but within a framework of relative moderation that emphasizes mutual economic benefit rather than revolutionary zeal against the empire. There may be some wariness toward Nicaragua and Venezuela for supporting Ahmadinejad, but Latin America is far away and profit will likely trump everything else.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Border Patrol and apprehensions

The Border Patrol released data on apprehensions from the 2005-2008 period. News stories have focused on the fact that the number is the lowest since 1973, a combination of the economy and enforcement (in particular, enforcement raises smuggler fees).

However, there were a few other points that caught my eye.

First, the share of Salvadorans of the total apprehensions has dropped, from 3.3 percent in 2005 to 1.8 percent in 2008. A similar dynamic holds for Honduras and Brazil. The report claims this is due to the end of the "catch and release" policy for non-Mexican immigrants. But if that is the case, why do other countries (especially Guatemala, the numbers for which have remained largely constant) not experience similar drops?

Second, given the rapid growth of the Latino population in the U.S. South, I found it interesting that the Border Patrol lists only three geographic categories: Southwest, North, and Coastal. I suppose the entire South is coastal? Given the changing settlement patterns, they should update that to provide a more detailed picture.

Third, the age of the people being apprehending is slowly getting older. Those who are 24 and younger are going down, while age groups over 24 are going up. This reflects the demographic changes in Latin America, where fertility has been decreasing.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Alianza also has problems

I've been writing all the time about how the Concertación is facing serious problems with the lackluster Eduardo Frei campaign and the rise of Marco Enríquez-Ominami as an independent candidate.

This must mean the Alianza (that is, the coalition of the right) and its candidate, Sebastián Piñera, must be advancing toward victory, right? Actually, no. As usual, at least for now the Alianza cannot take advantage of Concertación weakness.

In fact, the two parties (UDI and RN) are fighting over the question of whether Piñera is supporting their legislative candidates equally. In a scene that is remarkably similar to two children competing for their father's attention, both parties says Piñera made phone recordings for the other party and not for them in particular districts.

And so I will keep saying this until it is clearly untrue--despite all its problems, the Concertación is not out yet. The odds are not good, but the Alianza is not landing a knock-out punch.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Blogging Latin American politics

I organized a workshop (conference-ese for "discussion without conference papers") on blogging Latin American politics, which I enjoyed a lot. When I have time, I will write a post trying to summarize some of the main ideas regarding the benefits of blogging. In particular, we talked quite a bit about how blogging can help you professionally. I talked about how generally a professor does not get professional credit for blogging, so you have to think about what other rewards it provides, but I am rethinking that (Patricio Navia, who blogs on Chilean politics at Referente, in particular made a lot of really interesting points on that issue). There was a lot of food for thought.


Thursday, June 11, 2009


I am now in Rio for the Latin American Studies Association conference, so blogging will be light. I have two presentations (one on Chilean politics and one on blogging) so am now going over those while drinking a Brahma. Quickly looking it up, I find it was first produced by a Brazilian company, which then merged with InBev, which in turn is a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch Inbev. All of which is not as fun as just thinking I am drinking Brazilian beer.

Maybe it's time for a caipirinha.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Michael Grow's U.S. Presidents and Latin American Interventions

The Cold War is ripe for rethinking, and so I enjoyed Michael Grow's U.S. Presidents and Latin American Interventions: Pursuing Regime Change in the Cold War (2008) even though I think it poses more questions than it answers. When re-examining a well-worn topic, though, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Grow takes on the idea that U.S. intervention was based primarily on national security or economic interests, which was what he originally thought as well. But as his research project got underway

it soon became apparent that the factors of national security and economic self-interest provided an inadequate framework for explaining U.S. interventionism. Instead, it became increasingly evident that three entirely different factors--U.S. international credibility, U.S. domestic politics, and lobbying by Latin American and Caribbean political actors--consistently combined to exert decisive influence on presidential decisions to intervene (p. xi).

Each chapter outlines a case study (Guatemala 1954, Cuba 1961, British Guiana 1963, Dominican Republic 1965, Chile 1970, Nicaragua 1981, Grenada 1983, Panama 1989). There is a lot of interesting material. For example, it is easy to forget how much Ronald Reagan was floundering early in his first term, with very low approval ratings and a need for an "easy win." Or the intensity of the media blitz orchestrated by anti-Noriega Panamanians. Or how every single president from Eisenhower to Bush talked constantly, sometimes obsessively, how their actions in Latin America would be perceived at home and abroad.

So we have a great kernel of a hypothesis, but it would be good to take it further. I had three main questions:

First, the three explanatory variables are not constant in each case. What is the effect, let's say, if there is less lobbying by Latin American actors?

Second, every case ends in intervention. What about cases where the U.S. was challenged but did not intervene (I think of nationalization in Mexico and Bolivia, for example)? Examining those cases could explain the relative importance of the three main variables.

Third, there are different types of intervention. How do the three variables explain why the U.S. chooses covert action versus invasion?

Obviously, teasing all that out would not be an easy task, and I don't blame Grow for not doing it. In general, I think his book offers a fresh take, and could be a springboard for further analysis of causation.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Frei and the Concertación

You have to feel sorry for Eduardo Frei. In April he became the Concertación presidential candidate. In May he had to remind everyone of this fact. Now fellow Christian Democratic Senator Soledad Alvear says that his campaign will really get going after the Concertación decides on its legislative candidates. She said then it would become a "collective project" rather than just this one really boring old white guy (well, no, she didn't say the last part).

And the quality of that collective project? The Socialist Party is tearing itself up over the attempted candidacy of Marco Enríquez-Ominami, as the president of the party (Camilo Escalona) called him a "fraud" because he is collecting signatures to run as an independent rather than as a Socialist, which Escalona says is tricking people who are asked to sign. Enríquez-Ominami came back rather lamely with the argument that he had checked with a lawyer and his actions were not illegal.

So for now perhaps that is his campaign slogan: "I am not doing this illegally."

You can see his website here. The word "socialist" is nowhere to be found.

The funny thing is that the Concertación still has a perfectly good chance of winning the election.


Monday, June 08, 2009

Cuba and the OAS

Cuba has refused to join the OAS, which is no big surprise. What does Fidel think of the OAS?

I should add that I honestly have no faith in the OAS...It decides nothing, the whole thing is a lie, it is all fiction, it fundamentally does not fill any role, it has perhaps intervened in some little wars as the solver of some problems but it really has not rendered any service to the people, to the countries of America.

He's been saying this for a while. This particular quote is over 50 years old--February 19, 1959.


Brazil's plot and other news

Reading columns by Mary Anastasia O'Grady is educational because you can learn something new. Not something technically true or accurate, but certainly new. From today's column I learn that:

  • Brazil is on an "eternal quest to reduce U.S. power in the region."
  • Latin America has an axis of evil--she suggests that Chile is evil too, or at least Bachelet
  • Venezuela has a military government
  • Hillary Clinton is not a "big proponent of freedom" because she talked about poverty and inequality at the OAS
  • There is now a dichotomy of "liberty" and "tyranny" in Latin America
There is plenty of other stuff in there as well about Venezuela. In a way it seems like nostalgia for the Cold War. It is so much easier to see the political world in black and white terms because it requires very little thinking. Or at least it is fair to say that very little thinking went into the column. Nuance can be very annoying.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama

In the Washington Post, Robert Kagan argues that Barack Obama is acting like Woodrow Wilson.

Like Wilson's, Obama's foreign policy increasingly seems to rest on the assumption that nations will act on the basis of what they perceive to be the goodwill, good intentions or moral purity of other nations, in particular the United States. If other nations have refused to cooperate with us, it is because they perceive the United States as aggressive or evil.

Kagan even uses Latin American examples to prove this point, but seems to have no idea at all what Wilsonian foreign policy meant in the region. Wilson's concern was not perception of goodwill, but rather whether he believed a given government or leader was sufficiently "civilized" and "Westernized" to meet his specifications.

If they were not, then his response was invasion or some other means of removing the leader by force--ask all the countries he sent troops to and/or occupied (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, etc.). In his view, their moral failings required action by the most upright and righteous country in the world, no matter what they thought about it.

In other words, like Obama, Wilson did talk about how he wanted to improve upon the record of past presidents. The big difference, though, is that Wilson invaded more and intervened more than most of his predecessors. It is very hard to see that happening with Obama.


Saturday, June 06, 2009

King Tiger 5K

We ran the King Tiger 5K this morning, and I am very annoyed. Last year we won both baby jogger divisions, but now the race is suddenly popular (almost 800 runners) and so we have no hope of winning. What happened to the nice small races with no competition that give me an inflated sense of accomplishment?


Friday, June 05, 2009

More immigration tea leaves

From Harry Reid (via The Hill):

“As far as I’m concerned, we have three major issues we have to do this year, if at all possible: No. 1 is healthcare; No 2 is energy, global warming; No. 3 is immigration reform,” Reid said.

“It’s going to happen this session, but I want it this year, if at all possible.”

Quite a tall order. Maybe they could fit in ending poverty and reforming education while they're at it.

Let's see what happens. Way back in May 2006, Reid announced he and Bill Frist had a workable deal in the Senate.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Joining the OAS

"I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member"

--Groucho Marx

I recently wrote about the Castro government's latest scathing remarks about the OAS, which I still think is getting too little press in all the hubbub about Cuba's re-entrance into the OAS. But Dan Restrepo, one of Obama's senior advisers on Latin America, makes a good point:

Today has been a historic day for the inter-American system. You’ve seen two things occur in a resolution passed by consensus by the organization, one that leaves without effect the 1962 suspension of the current government of Cuba from participation in the OAS, and second that establishes a path forward that has multiple steps to it, beginning with whether the Cuban Government asks to come back to the organization or not, a question that may be complicated for that government given what it has been saying about the organization in recent weeks and actually throughout the last 40 years...

Indeed, Fidel Castro's response to the decision was to say the OAS was a "Trojan horse" and had no reason to exist.


Reading more tea leaves on immigration

When the economic crisis hit last year, many people (myself included) figured that meant immigration reform would be even more difficult than before. As the recession goes on, however, a new poll (via the Mexico Institute) suggests the downturn now has led people to support reform because it will increase the tax base.

It may be true, but I am a bit dubious and would really like to see the wording of the poll. It is intended to become part of the White House meetings on immigration that will occur on Monday, and so has a clear political goal.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Op-ed on the Latino health paradox

I have an op-ed in today's Raleigh News & Observer on the Latino health paradox. It's part of my work with the Institute for Emerging Issues.


The Chilean campaign and the economy

For a number of reasons, the Chilean presidential campaign is different from any other in the region. One is that the candidates actually struggle to define how their economic programs would be different. For this reason, a adviser to Eduardo Frei felt compelled to write a column in the magazine Qué Pasa explaining the difference (the main argument being that the right makes social democratic promises but really wants to dismantle the state--he uses The West Wing to illustrate, which he refers to as the "I Ching" of the center-left). The Concertación will have to keep battling the popular view that Sebastián Piñera would not change things all that much.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

El Salvador's new era

Mauricio Funes is now the president of El Salvador, and in his inauguration speech maintained the highly conciliatory tone that was the hallmark of his campaign.

I am quite sure that Gabriel Serrano was there to watch it all. He is the new mayor of San Julián, a Salvadoran town in the department of Sonsonate (you can see him here giving a speech). He is also a former student of mine, and I had the pleasure of having coffee with him a few months ago to chat about his campaign and all the challenges he faces. He defies all stereotypes, as he is unabashedly leftist but also a successful businessman with very strong ties to the U.S. He is absolutely passionate about helping to fix El Salvador's many ills. The more like him El Salvador has, the better.


James Church's Hidden Moon

I read James Church's Hidden Moon, from a mystery series set in North Korea. Church is the pseudonym of a " Western intelligence officer" who has spent years in Asia and has been to North Korea some 30 times.

His main character is Inspector O, who works for the Ministry of People's Security, and who has the strange habit of sanding different types of wood to relax (and he always describes the personality of each type). This novel beings with a bank robbery, the first ever in Pyongyang, and unfolds from there, leading to murder and political intrigue, including someone from Scotland.

What makes these mysteries so interesting is that Church clearly feels a lot of empathy for North Korea--this is especially apparent in the fact that Inspector O, despite his grumbling, has no interest in leaving. What high-ups (the "Center") want is always unknown, and many cases go unsolved by order of higher authorities--they even make up a term, "muscular resonance," to put in the paperwork for bodies that appear for political reasons. Despite all this, North Korea is his home.

That sympathy allows Church to explore North Korean realities in a nuanced manner. The bureaucratic infighting is intense, yet bizarrely silent:

Silence never meant quiet, not on these sorts of cases. It meant a frantic, ferocious struggle in officers I never visited, on phones I never called, in places I had no wish ever to see (p. 152).

Further, you have to be careful about what you say:

Speaking of a nonperson who had died in a nonevent wasn't wise (p. 80).

It even gets down to ground level, as Inspector O sneaks into the back door of his apartment building to avoid the block community discussion about who wasn't doing their fair share in the apartment's vegetable garden.

In short, Church is very successful in creating a particular mood of suspicion, all the while laced with many different examples of camaraderie. Life is difficult in North Korea, but it is not entirely hopeless. It is worth reading for that mood, but the story is also good, much easier to follow than A Corpse in the Koryo. But, fittingly for North Korea, some things remain unknown and unresolved--do not look for every story thread to be nicely tied up.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Cuba and the OAS

There has been much handwringing about whether Cuba should re-enter the OAS, with an accompanying explosion of op-eds (check out Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) arguing against it.

Lost in the noise is the fact that Granma has just published its third and last installment of a series excoriating the OAS and claiming that Cuba is not interested in re-joining because it will not accept conditions, most prominently free elections (there seems to be no "stay in power 50 years without free elections" clause). Instead, he is in line with Hugo Chávez, who has suggested that a new organization should be built that excludes the United States. Is it a ploy? I don't know, but the last paragraph doesn't allow much wiggle room:

As for Cuba, it does not need the OAS. It does not want it, reformed or not. Blood and infamy ooze out of every one of its pores. We will never return to that old run-down old house of Washington, witness to so much selling-out and so many humiliations. Raúl expressed it with the words of Martí: Before we enter the OAS, the North Sea would have to unite with the South Sea and a snake will be born from an eagle’s egg.

If that is true, then all this OAS talk is moot.


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