Sunday, February 28, 2010

More on the new regional institution

As I've noted, the Rio Group's expansion into a formal organization is a very interesting development, but we have to think about what the potential practical implications will actually be.  Along those lines, it is important not to confuse analysis with what you want.  This is what Mark Weisbrot does.  With no evidence whatsoever, he proclaims:

Latin America, once under the control of the United States, is increasingly emerging as a power bloc with its own interests and agenda.

Latin America is not a "power bloc" to the extent that such a phrase even has any real meaning.  Plus, Latin America is not an "it" with a unified stance on much of anything.

Can this new organization have significant regional and global influence?  Maybe so, but many factors weigh against it.  Seeking to forge unity in a formal manner on critical issues without U.S. meddling is a positive step for the region, but it will be a tough row to hoe.  Then moving from unity on an issue to actual use of power will be yet more problematic:

An organisation without the US and Canada will be more capable of defending democracy, as well as economic and social progress in the region when it is under attack.

Again, maybe, and it would be nice.  But evidence is sorely lacking.  We should not confuse "absence of U.S." with "unified action."


Saturday, February 27, 2010

No more (por ahora) for Uribe

Regarding the Colombian Constitutional Court's decision not to allow Alvaro Uribe to run yet again:

First, it is good for Colombian democracy.

Second, it would have been better for Colombian democracy if he had just said he wouldn't run and stopped the circus.

But this is like Hugo Chávez's famous "por ahora" speech:

"I heed and respect the decision of the honorable Constitutional Court," Uribe said. "I have one wish: The wish to be able to serve Colombia from whatever trench, under whatever circumstance, until the last day of my life." 

Unfortunately, unlike Vladimir Putin he has no PM position to shift into.  How Uribe shifts out of the presidency will be really fascinating, because he wanted to stay there.  Really bad.



I spent yesterday at North Carolina Central University for the NC Political Science Association meetings, which was fun.  I got to hear what people stick on Mike Munger's windshield in crayon, shepherd six papers in rapid-fire succession in an hour and 15 minutes (with very poised graduate students) and hold forth in a roundtable on Obama's foreign policy toward Latin America, thus educating the unwashed masses (to be fair, everyone seemed washed).


Thursday, February 25, 2010


We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virtual border fence does not work.  Now we also know that E-Verify does not work.  Or at least unacceptably poorly.

An evaluation of E-Verify carried out for DHS by research group Westat found the program couldn't confirm whether information workers were presenting was their own, and, as a result, "many unauthorized workers obtain employment by committing identity fraud that cannot be detected by E-Verify," Westat told the department. Westat put the "inaccuracy rate for unauthorized workers" at about 54%.

I wrote about this sort of stuff last year.  It doesn't really change.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Discussants at conferences

Mike Allison has a post on panel discussants.  I have really come to think that discussants are usually not very helpful.  I say this as someone who has to act as a discussant at a small conference (NC Political Science Association) in two days.  I would suggest the following guidelines:

1.  Do not try to tie the papers together artificially.  There is no point.

2.  Keep your comments as brief and focused as possible.  No preambles or tangents.  The audience did not come to listen to you, unless you are very clearly an expert on the panel's topic.

3.  Don't whine about how long it took someone to get their paper to you.  We're all busy.

4.  If time is short after the last presentation, give it up to the audience Q&A and give the authors your comments privately.  Interested audience members very often have better insights.


Latin American Studies Conference on April 16

This is aimed in particular at those readers in this general area, but is open to everyone:

UNC Charlotte’s program in Latin American Studies is calling for papers to present at the 5th annual William Wilson Brown, Jr. conference.  The conference theme is “Independence: International, National, and Local Perspectives.”  The conference is multi-disciplinary, so we welcome paper proposals on any aspect of Latin America.  It will take place on Friday, April 16 on the campus of UNC Charlotte, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The guest speaker for the conference will be Lars Schoultz, William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He is past president of the Latin American Studies Association and author of many books and articles, the most recent of which is That Infernal Little Cuban Republic: The United States and the Cuban Revolution, published by UNC Press in 2009.

Please send a paper proposal of no more than 150 words to Greg Weeks, Department of Political Science, UNC Charlotte ( by Wednesday, March 31.


Quote of the day: Immigration

"It turned out to be a harder technological problem than we ever anticipated," Borkowski said. "We thought it would be very easy, and it wasn't."

--Mark Borkowski, executive director of the electronic fence program at the Homeland Security Department, unintentionally defining groupthink and showing how it leads to policy failures.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New regional organization

Latin American foreign ministers say they are on the brink of creating a new regional organization that would exclude the U.S. and Canada.  Right now, the Rio Group consists just of meetings rather than a formal institution.

There has been a mini-explosion of new regional political and economic institutions in recent years, most notably UNASUR (with its banking and defense offshoots) and ALBA.  Especially after the OAS froze in the headlights of the Honduras crisis last year, however, it is worth asking how new political organizations will bring new results.  Excluding the U.S. is a symbolic move, but what practical implications will it ultimately have?

There aren't actually that many IR specialists focusing specifically on Latin America, but it would be interesting to see a comparative analysis of the development of all these institutions and their effectiveness.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Sylvester Stallone is evil

Because he wants the US to invade Venezuela.  Read all about it at the Venezuelan state paper, and feel informed.  I know I do.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cohen and DeLong's The End of Influence

I read Cohen and DeLong's The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money (2010), which is a fairly brief but useful primer on how the U.S. became massively indebted and what the effects have been, and likely will be.

The book offers a more optimistic view than its title would suggest.  Other countries have the money, but that is not necessarily disastrous because they cannot afford for the U.S. economy to tank. I agree with Matthew Yglesias, who sums up their conclusion as follows:

As a result, we’re going to have to transition to a very different-looking world economic order—one in which self-conscious government planning is going to play a bigger role, one in which US living standards will decline relative to our major trading partners, and in which American cultural and ideological influence is likely to wane.

In many ways, though, the book feels too much like a rough draft.  It would have benefited from a tighter argument (it sometimes becomes repetitive), inclusion of sources (which they say are online) and the writing seems almost entirely unedited.  For example, I had to reread this mixed metaphor to figure out what they were trying to say:

Defensive industrial policy--lemon socialism--can have a similar growth-shifting effect.  Think of American football.  The helmet was defensive at first, to protect player's brains.  But it then developed into the hard-shell helmet, an offensive battering ram.  Distressed traditional industries do not consist entirely of petrified wood (p. 126).

Nonetheless, the book is worth reading.  The U.S. will not necessarily come crashing down, but the sooner we accept the new reality, the better off we'll be.  But we won't be as well off as we were.



“Progressivism is a cancer in America,” said Beck, “and it’s eating our Constitution — and it was meant to eat our Constitution.”

--Glenn Beck speech in in 2010


"Only by destroying the old order, by rejecting liberal democracy in its Chilean variant, by purging the politicians and 'extirpating the Marxist cancer' could Chile be saved from the brink of disaster and create a new institutionality to guarantee political stability, economic recovery, and growth."

--Augusto Pinochet speech in 1979*

* from Brian Loveman, "Antipolitics in Chile, 1973-94."  In Brian Loveman and Thomas M. Davies, Jr. (eds.).  The Politics of Antipolitics, 3rd Edition (Lanham, MD: SR Books, 1997): 269.


Friday, February 19, 2010

More on immigration and crime

via Slate: Ron Unz just published a lengthy analysis about the myth of immigrant crime, specifically Hispanic, in American Conservative.  Unz is part of the pro-immigrant wing of the Republican Party.

The evidence presented here powerfully refutes the widespread popular belief that America’s Hispanics have high crime rates. Instead, their criminality seems to fall near the center of the white national distribution, being somewhat higher than white New Englanders but somewhat lower than white Southerners. Taken as a whole, the mass of statistical evidence constitutes strong support for the “null hypothesis,” namely that Hispanics have approximately the same crime rates as whites of the same age.

This confirms what academic studies have already been arguing.  Will this penetrate through to the base of the party?  Probably not, but Republican leaders are licking their lips for the 2010 midterm elections.

Regardless, we are all better off when myths are debunked, especially when those myths lead directly to discrimination and fear.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Politics and earthquakes

Following up on my previous post about the politics of earthquakes, my colleague Jim Walsh showed me some research that has been done on the topic.

Dawn Brancati, "Political Aftershocks: The Impact of Earthquakes on Intrastate Conflict," Journal of Conflict Resolution 51, 5 (2007): 715-743.  Gated link here.


Although many scholars, policy makers, and relief organizations suggest that natural disasters bring groups together and dampen conflicts, earthquakes can actually stimulate intrastate conflict by producing scarcities in basic resources, particularly in developing countries where the competition for scarce resources is most intense. Capitalizing on a natural experiment design, this study examines the impact of earthquakes on intrastate conflict through a statistical analysis of 185 countries over the period from 1975 to 2002. The analysis indicates that earthquakes not only increase the likelihood of conflict, but that their effects are greater for higher magnitude earthquakes striking more densely populated areas of countries with lower gross domestic products as well as preexisting conflicts. These results suggest that disaster recovery efforts must pay greater attention to the conflict-producing potential of earthquakes and undertake certain measures, including strengthening security procedures, to prevent this outcome from occurring.

This is not really surprising, but highlights the need to address potential sources of conflict right away when starting the rebuilding process.  And really, that description fits the 1972 Nicaraguan case very well.  Unfortunately, it also fits Haiti.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cuba and migration

Good news from the State Department:

Today, U.S. and Cuban representatives will meet in Havana to discuss implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. The discussions will focus on how best to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly will lead the U.S. delegation, which includes representatives of the agencies involved in managing migration issues.

This commonsensical decision made a number of lunatics unhappy (see The Havana Note on that) but we are all fortunate that they do not run the asylum.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Colombia video

The Guardian has a really good, concise (12 minutes) video about the drug war in Colombia.  It is the first of three installments from a film maker who spent two years examining the drug trade.  It provides great visuals of how cocaine is made, how aerial spraying works (and how it misses it targets), how manual eradication works, and how the FARC sees its role.


The Piñera cabinet

Sebastián Piñera isn't even president yet, and he is getting a taste of the fun to come.  The composition of his cabinet has been critiqued from all angles, including from the center-right (Andres Allamand, who might just be feeling left out).  So now we have this mini-spectacle of criticisms, criticisms of the criticisms, and even repudiation of the criticisms of the criticisms from his own future cabinet members-to-be.

Patricio Navia examines the entire cabinet and notes that few of the members know much about how a state operates.  Fair enough, but they would need experience under the military government to have that qualification, at least for the executive branch, which is where the action is.  Plus, at the moment polls show an incredibly small percentage of Chileans have confidence in the government, so the Concertación's experience didn't always translate into positive outcomes.  Indeed, Michelle Bachelet shuffled her own cabinet multiple times, even shortly after promising gender parity.  She brought in more experienced people and then confidence in the coalition dropped even more.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Earthquakes and politics

Glenn Garvin at The Miami Herald writes a lengthy and very worthwhile article about the 1972 Nicaragua earthquake, raising some points I just made in class last week, including this critical one:

Since the early 1960s, a small band of Marxist college students calling themselves the Sandinista National Liberation Front had been stumbling around in the jungle, continually betrayed by the hostile peasants they hoped to lead in revolution.

But the widespread animosity toward the government following the earthquake provided the Sandinistas with an immediate infusion of money, guns and troops. Within two years, the Sandinistas had brought their war into the cities; within seven, they had toppled Somoza.

There are many differences between Haiti and Nicaragua, but the central point is that the response to natural disasters can have critical long-term consequences.  That seems obvious, but in the immediate term tends to get ignored.  Somoza took economic advantage of the earthquake, and made poor decisions on rebuilding to boot.

When Nicaraguans talk about Haiti, as they often do these days, they feel a little bit like the Ghost of Christmas Future in A Christmas Carol, warning about shadows of things that might be if their warnings aren't heeded. The most important, they all agree, is that corruption is potentially poisonous, coloring every public perception. ``Even a little bit will grow giant in the public eye after a disaster,'' says broadcaster Sacasa.

It would be interesting to see an analysis of the political impact of natural disaster response.  We tend to focus on the negative cases (even Katrina) but in what ways have successful responses bolstered a government or even democracy itself in the longer term?  I think measuring the positive effects would be much more difficult.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Piñera and platitudes

Only time will tell how Sebastián Piñera will differ from Concertación presidents in terms of dealing with Venezuela and Cuba.  Andres Oppenheimer interviewed him, quotes very bland platitudes, and takes these vague pronouncements to mean Piñera will "push" Venezuela when in fact he never says anything remotely like that.  Actually, Piñera makes a huge point about non-interference.

I can have my opinion, but I won't interfere with other countries' internal affairs. But I will always defend, very forcefully, the values of democracy, freedoms and human rights.

What does that mean?  Anything you want.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

8 is enough

Unless you're Alvaro Uribe.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Crime and Support for Coups in Latin America

Orlando Pérez, "Crime and Support for Coups in Latin America." Latin American Public Opinion Project "Insights" Series n. 32 (2009).

Using public opinion data, Pérez shows the troubling connection between the rise of violent crime (especially homicides) in Latin America and growing support for coups.

We find that individuals living in large cities, with lower levels of wealth, less than university education and women are more supportive of military coups. These results parallel those found by José Miguel Cruz (2009) reported in an earlier Insights series, for perceptions of insecurity. The conclusion to be drawn is that individuals most affected by levels of insecurity also are most prone to support extreme measures, such as a coup, to combat crime.

He also looks at the fact that coups are more likely when citizens trust their military just as crime is becoming worse.  This is particularly relevant at a time when, for example, the Mexican military is deeply involved in domestic law enforcement.  In fact, there has even been debate in Argentina in doing the same.

This is an old, old debate.  And the answer does not change--it is a very dangerous game.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Venezuela's Talker-in-Chief

At first I thought this came from The Onion because it is so hilariously self-reverential and caricaturish.  Hugo Chávez has created a new radio program that has no schedule and whose sole purpose is to allow him to broadcast whatever he's thinking about 24/7.

Called "Suddenly, With Chavez," the show on state-run Venezuelan National Radio doesn't have a schedule and can be aired at any moment.

In the first program Monday, Chavez said it could be broadcast "at midnight or at dawn."

"We have many things to report," he said.

This is really only providing some sort of formal face to what he already does.  Kirk Hawkins has done work on the rhetoric of populism in Latin America (and is publishing a book on Venezuela) and this makes me wonder whether certain types of presidents talk more when they're under fire.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The FARC and Panama

From Semana: the FARC is ticked because they wanted freedom at the Panamanian border and yet are being attacked by Panamanian forces.  This was "unjustified" and "inexplicably aggressive" because they had agreed not to attack the armed forces of other countries as long as they were allowed to traffic drugs, camp out, and do whatever they wanted.

This may well be the whiniest message I've read from the FARC.  Here is the entire thing.  It's all about how Panama has been mean and they wish Omar Torrijos was still around.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Blogging in the Political Science Classroom

I got the latest issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, and found an article by Michelle Dion (who hasn't been blogging for a while, cough, cough) and Chris Lawrence (of Signifying Nothing) on blogging in the classroom.  The abstract:

Weblogs (or blogs), as a form of communication on the Internet, have recently risen in prominence but may be poorly understood by both faculty and students. This article explains how blogs differ from other online communication tools and how political science faculty can make use of blogs in their classes. The focus is on using blogs as part of class assignments to reinforce important skills, including critical thinking, political engagement, and essay writing. We also discuss existing academic and professional blogs that may be models for student blogging in political science.

I am flattered that they included this blog in there, and thus far have demanded nothing in return.

Strangely enough, I have not tried to use blogs in the classroom, but they set out some interesting ways of doing so.  I may have to give it a shot at some point.


Monday, February 08, 2010

Costa Rica election

It looks like Laura Chinchilla of the PLN will win the Costa Rican presidential election.  Chrissie Long and Sara Miller Llana have a good article in the Christian Science Monitor about the almost total absence of the left in the election.  I also like it because it makes no mention of Hugo Chávez, as I expect to see media attention on Chile and Costa Rica as some sort of rightward trend even though the political contexts of the countries are very different.

Regardless, it is nice to see the election of female presidents as something rather commonplace in Latin America.


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Immigration tea parties

I suppose it was inevitable.  Take an inchoate conservative movement and it will soon latch onto immigration.  New American Media discusses how the Tea Party movement is taking on immigration, though as yet it has no unified view.

However, the organizer of the Tea Party convention praised Tom Tancredo's speech, in which he said the following:

"People who could not even spell the word 'vote' or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House."

The racism there is obvious, given that literacy tests were long used in the U.S. to prevent African Americans from voting.  And it is now merged into xenophobia into a single message: the poor uneducated and Latinos (sometimes one and the same) are destroying the United States.

The only bright side to this ugliness is that it does not play well amongst the general public, and is a loser electorally, so it will likely remain fringe despite the media attention.  Some Republicans understand this--for all her gaffes, Sarah Palin has been careful not to ramp up immigration rhetoric.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

Obama and FTAs

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that the Obama administration "absolutely" plans to pass free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama (in addition to South Korea) this year after mentioning them in the SOTU.

Obama is currently close to admitting failure in his bid for health care reform, which is frustrating the Democrats he needs to pass either FTAs or immigration.  Once health care is either passed or scuttled, everyone turns to the midterm elections and refrains from sticking their necks out too much.

With regard to FTAs, he may get the worst of all worlds.  He supports them rhetorically, which annoys Democrats concerned about human rights abuses in Colombia.  But then he will be unable to match the rhetoric with action, which will make him look weaker and annoy pro-market Democrats.


Friday, February 05, 2010

Venezuelan stories

The new English-language paper on Venezuela is looking for submissions.  Given the content of this edition, it seems they prefer stories on the glories of coup attempts, the wonders of media crackdowns, and how student protests are fake.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Rebuilding Haiti

Jim Arkedis and Mike Derham at the Progressive Policy Institute offer up some ambitious ideas for rebuilding Haiti.  Some of the ideas are to get U.S. troops out (and shift emphasis to the State Department), get a UN police force in shape, get France to kick in more money, facilitate remittances, ensure access to U.S. markets for Haitian goods, and even consider moving the capital to Cap Haïtien since it emerged in much better shape than Port-au-Prince.

Reconstruction will have to mean thinking big while remaining constantly aware of the distrust that exists on so many levels--both between Haiti and the other countries (most prominently the U.S.) and within the country.  Alone those lines, the NYT also has an interesting article about the problems expatriates have had in contributing to development back home in Haiti because of lack of trust.  It is hard even to wrap your mind around how immense this task is.


Chocolate and coca

Years ago, after reading confused student papers, I started taking a moment in classes related to Latin America to remind everyone that violence in the Andean region is related to coca, not to cocoa.  They aren't fighting over hot chocolate (I also have to remind students that those doing the fighting are guerrillas, not gorillas).  So this story in Time caught my eye immediately.  A small agricultural cooperative in Peru has produced high quality cacao beans that are much sought after and profitable.

[C]acao exports were up over 400% in the past decade, and production this year will be around 35,000 metric tons, putting Peru close to the top 10 biggest producers. The U.S. program invested more than $110 million in alternative development plans in Peru in the past decade. The program involves nearly half of the 150,000 acres (60,703 hectares) of cacao planted in the country. The goal is to expand not only in San Martin but throughout the country's tropics. 

Crop substitution has had only sporadic success, so it is nice to see an example of it working.  The real trick is getting into high-yield niche markets, which is no easy thing--such programs also receive far fewer funds than military solutions.  Without such a specialized market, the programs only work when food (or cotton, or whatever) prices happen to be high.  What the story also does mention is the very common strategy of growing legal crops, then also growing coca illicitly as protection against potential problems.

That said, at the very least it's a good thing to have major media outlets emphasize non-military approaches to the so-called "drug war."


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Hait and U.S. policy

The story of Americans taking Haitian children out of the country illegally struck me as a parallel to the worst aspects of U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean in general (and globally).  We are divinely guided to interfere in other countries, and their laws are irrelevant if we believe the cause is just.  If those in other countries do not understand, that is not our problem because we believe we meant well.

“I can’t at all question where they went and what they did because I’m really convinced it was at God’s direction,” he said. “They were acting in faith. That may sound trivial, but they were acting not only in faith but God’s faith.”

Self-reflection, analysis of consequences, long-term costs, and even the essential question of legality are thus rendered moot.


Monday, February 01, 2010

Special issue on Mexican independence/revolution

Please forward to anyone who might be interested:

The Latin Americanist, a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary, and international Latin American Studies journal published by Wiley-Blackwell in cooperation with the South Eastern Council of Latin American Studies (SECOLAS) solicits submissions for a special issue commemorating the bicentennial of the beginning of the Mexican independence movement and the centennial of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.  Published both in print and online, the special issue will feature some of the best new work done on these two major upheavals, as well as studies of the legacy and memory of both events in contemporary Mexico.

The co-editors of this special issue solicit submissions (complete article-length manuscripts of 20-30 double-spaced pages) in either English or Spanish by March 31, 2010.  The submissions should be formatted according to the standards of the respective discipline.  Submissions or inquiries should be sent electronically to the co-editors at and  Decisions will be made in mid-April, and the authors of the selected articles will be given two months to revise their manuscripts, if necessary.  Publication of the special issue will occur in October 2010.


The co-editors:

Jurgen Buchenau
Professor and Chair
Department of History
UNC Charlotte

Gregory Crider
Professor and Chair
Department of History
Winthrop University


Piñera and the military

J.C. Arancibia brings up the interesting point that although it would seem logical that Sebastián Piñera's election in Chile would be beneficial to the military (as generally is the perception of more conservative governments) there is a tension because he wants to a) privatize part of Codelco; and b) derogate the copper law that funnels copper money to military acquisitions.  The latter reform has been attempted many times since 1990 (and Bachelet claimed it was a priority for her), but always unsuccessfully.

My impression, though, is that the military leadership has gradually come around to the idea, if only recognizing that some parts of the right are starting to accept it, which means it will happen eventually anyway.  The Concertación--especially the Socialist Party--has also done a very good of establishing trust with the military, which also helps.  As always, the devil of the reform will be in the details.

In general, it will be interesting to see what the military reaction is to a Piñera government.  The historical record is one of relative disinterest by both the left and right.  The last elected president of the right, Jorge Alessandri, certainly followed that trend.  As Fred Nunn has noted, his presidency was "noted for its hostility toward heavy military expenditures."*

* Frederick M. Nunn, The Military in Chilean History (Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1976): 189.


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