Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Arturo Pérez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste

I have to give a quick shout out to Arturo Pérez-Reverte, even though his books focus on Spain and not Latin America.  To like these books, you must enjoy good writing, with a rich social class texture of Madrid under the reign of Philip IV (they take place in the 1620s) but also a male-oriented swashbuckling theme with sometimes thin plots (fyi, he does also write contemporary mysteries that take place in Spain).  I just read Captain Alatriste, which is actually the third I've read, but perhaps the best of the three.

Aside from just fun reading, what I always enjoy about the books is their richly detailed examination of the severe decline of the Spanish Empire, political, economically, and culturally, with a view from the bottom run of society.  Pérez-Reverte is absolutely unsparing:

Aragonese and Catalans were shielded by their laws; Portugal was patched together; commerce was in the hands of foreigners; finances were the purview of Genoese bankers; and no one worked except the wretched, exploited by the tax collectors of the aristocracy and the king.  And in the midst of this all that corruption and madness, moving against the course of history, like a beautiful, terrifying animal that still slashed and clawed yet at the heart was eaten by a malignant tumor, our poor Spain was worm-eaten inside, condemned to an inexorable decadence that did not escape the clear eyes of don Francisco de Quevedo (p. 60).

You see a Spain in full-fledged political and economic decline.  The court is corrupt, the priests of the Inquisition have seemingly unlimited power, and industry is disparaged, yet even the mercenaries view themselves in nationalist terms.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

We got computers, we're tappin' phone lines

There are no concrete sources, but an "unidentified Colombian intelligence officer" says that Colombia has been tapping the phone of Rafael Correa and others in Ecuador.  Given everything that the DAS does, it is entirely plausible.  It all started after the Colombian attack on the FARC over the border in Ecuador, presumably in the belief that Correa knew about and perhaps even was complicit with the FARC.

I would take this also to mean, though, that if they've tapping phones for two years and have said nothing, they have found no such link.

It is also plausible that someone in Colombia wants to help scuttle the slowly thawing relationship between Ecuador and Colombia by angering Correa.  Even if not, what accounts for the timing of the revelation?


Monday, June 28, 2010

Congress and immigration

A few days ago, eight Republican senators sent a letter to President Obama in the face of rumors that he would issue an executive order stopping (at least temporarily) the deportation of undocumented immigrants with no criminal convictions.  I found the following particularly absurd:

`We understand that there's a push for your administration to develop a plan to unilaterally extend either deferred action or parole to millions of illegal aliens in the United States,'' the letter reads. ``While deferred action and parole are Executive Branch authorities, they should not be used to circumvent Congress' constitutional authority to legislate immigration policy, particularly as it relates to the illegal population in the United States.''

Three thoughts come to mind:

First, this is coming from senators who adamantly refuse to exert their constitutional authority on the matter.

Second, they did not write a letter complaining about states like Arizona circumventing their constitutional authority.

Third, this sort of thing helps you understand why Congress is so abysmally unpopular.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Larry McMurtry on Arizona

The novelist Larry McMurtry has a take on Arizona in the New York Review of Books that is worth a look.

But the sadness I feel at the border is not because of the violence: it’s the eternal struggle of poverty with plenty, a struggle that humiliates and degrades both parties. The only winners are the franchises of McDonald’s and Taco Bell in Douglas or Nogales, Arizona. If we capture those poor people—as we do by the thousands—it’s mandated that we have to feed them, before we send them back across the border.
I don’t see this changing. The ridiculous fences won’t change it. As former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano crisply remarked: “Show me a forty-nine-foot fence and I’ll show you a fifty-foot ladder.” True. The Arizona legislature is basically spinning its wheels. Observe the increasingly Hispanic midwest, where more and more middle-class Latinos are now bringing in their poor cousins to care for their gardens and milk their dairy cows. And the Anglos can’t stop it with laws. For every Mexican deported two or three more will make it through. The numerical edge is with the “brown ones” from the south.
Tucson has always felt like an easygoing Sonoran city, which is one reason I like it. Phoenix has become a portal for just about anything bad. Senate Bill 1070 fails to deal with problems that have been there since the 1850s, when John Russell Bartlett, the New Englander who was responsible for establishing a border between the US and Mexico, drew a line in the desert where, for numberless centuries no line had been. Confusing to the native people, it has led us, inexorably, to the tragic place where we are now.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Brewer and immigration

I can't help but comment on Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's following statement:

I believe today, under the circumstances that we're facing, that the majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming into the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels and they are bringing drugs in," Brewer said.

Her argument is ignorant, fact-free, and irresponsible.  There is no, and I mean no, evidence to support it.  We do know that as immigration has gone up, crime has gone down.  We also know that recent immigrants are less likely to commit crimes.  In sum, the opposite of what she claims.

This leads me to wonder, does she really believe it?  If so, it shows an alarming lack of interest in understanding immigration.  If not, it is potentially a) a political bone for her base; and b) a message to the Obama administration that it needs to help her politically with enforcement.  A letter she sent to Obama at least suggests the possibility of the second option:

I want to assure you that I am looking to develop a solution, not a standoff with you and the federal government.

Feigned ignorance is not good, but slightly better than the real thing.

For more on this, see also Steven Taylor at OTB.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Toledo on US-Latin American Relations

Former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo has some remarks about Barack Obama's Latin America policy, which really left me scratching my head.  He notes the huge problem of discontent with the status quo as being a major issue the U.S. must acknowledge: "one can hear the sound of 200 million poor and excluded women and men who were unable to taste the economic fruits of prosperity prior to the global financial meltdown."

Pot, meet kettle. David Scott Palmer, who has done research on Peru for years, writes the following:

Amidst violence and property damage, promises were made and not kept, decisions reached and reversed, and new programs announced  but not funded.  The president's disorganization, his libertine personal life, his assertive if talented Belgian wife, and the controversial personal advisors and family members who surrounded him all contributed to growing popular disillusionment with his administration.  Toledo's popularity declined to single digits for much of his five-year mandate, even in the context of renewed and sustained economic growth, and rumors were rife of an early resignation.*

So what we have is a former Latin American president unwittingly criticizing Obama for things he himself already badly failed at.  I come back to the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  There is research to be done there somehow.

*David Scott Palmer. "Peru: Authoritarian Traditions, Troubled Democracy."  In Howard J. Wiarda and Harvey F. Kline (eds.). Latin American Politics and Development, 6th Edition (Boulder: Westview Press, 2007): 234-267.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

UN World Drug Report 2010

If you want a sense of how difficult the "drug war" is, take a look at the UN's World Drug Report 2010.  It makes a game effort at optimism, but the numbers are a vivid reminder of how high demand is and how high potential profits are.  For example:

Since the 1960s, and in a context of rapid and deep socioeconomic changes throughout the world, the international drug control system has succeeded in containing the spread of annual illicit drug use to around 200 million people, or 5% of the world population aged 15-64.

Can this really be considered a "glass half full" situation?  That only 200 million people use drugs?  As the report also notes, this amounts to a global $88 billion industry (that just deserves to be in bold).  And profit prompts innovation:

According to the scientific studies conducted by the DEA, in the last decade, there has been an increase in the efficiency of the clandestine laboratories employed in the three Andean countries, which has resulted in different conversion factors from leaves to cocaine. These changes are mainly due to the higher percentage of traffickers using more efficient methods to extract the cocaine.

I like optimism as much as anyone, but I don't see much to celebrate in this report.


Piñera's (dis)approval

A new poll from CERC has Sebastián Piñera's approval at 54%.  CERC's director, the political scientist Carlos Huneeus, emphasized to the press that this was the lowest initial approval for any postauthoritarian president.  He also argued that the low approval was largely due to the fact that RN and UDI don't have the same mobilization capacity as the parties of the Concertación.  That set off a brief firestorm of comments from members of different parties interpreting it in a way favorable to them.  Patricio Navia argues that each president has started with lower numbers than his/her predecessor, simply reflecting a population becoming more critical about their presidents.

In the short term, though, I would argue that starting numbers mean little and so should not be over-analyzed.  Michelle Bachelet started fairly high, then plummeted (and then recovered).  There is still a lot of room for movement in either direction.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More on Calderón and Arizona

Now this is wading into new waters--the Mexican government has filed a challenge to Arizona's immigration law, saying it is unconstitutional:

Citing "grave concerns," Mexico said its interest in having predictable, consistent relations with the United States shouldn't be frustrated by one U.S. state.
Mexico also said it has a legitimate interest in defending its citizens' rights and that the law would lead to racial profiling, hinder trade and tourism, and strain the countries' work on combatting drug trafficking and related violence.
"Mexican citizens will be afraid to visit Arizona for work or pleasure out of concern that they will be subject to unlawful police scrutiny and detention," the brief said.
It will be to a U.S. District Court judge to decide whether to accept the brief along with similar ones submitted by various U.S. organizations.

Governor Jan Brewer is mad and without providing specific examples argues that Mexico has expressed "false assertions and factual inaccuracies."  Her main point seems to be that there will be no racial profiling so the Mexican government is lying.

This is an amicus curiae brief, so although the word "challenge" is being used, it is not a lawsuit.  Instead, the Mexican government is just making sure that its side is legally heard, and ensuring it gets some press.  That decision should be viewed primarily in terms of Mexican domestic politics.  President Calderón can score a lot of points at home by standing up to the United States, and that is useful at time when the media is focused on the government's failures in the war against cartels.  There will be a certain amount of backlash, as there was when he addressed the U.S. Congress last month.  However, Calderón may figure there is not much more to lose--restrictionists can't really get any more mad.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

U.S.-Colombian relations

A Washington Post editorial keeps up the long-standing argument that Latin American governments are either friends or enemies.  The overall argument is to pass an FTA with Colombia as a way to show Juan Manuel Santos that we like him and to counter Hugo Chávez, even using the word "friends," "ememy," "scorn," and "disdain" to paint a black and white picture of U.S.-Colombian relations.  It also suggests that we could show our friendship by increasing military aid.

There are many valid arguments about ratifying the free trade agreement, though editorials tend not to explore them.  An FTA with Colombia will have little or no effect on Venezuela or other countries in the region, and so should be evaluated by other criteria.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Dunning-Kruger Effect in U.S. policy

There is an article in the NYT about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which refers to the idea that incompetent people are too incompetent to know they're incompetent.

Dunning and Kruger argued in their paper, “When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.  Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.”

This is crying out for application to U.S. policy toward Latin America, which is loaded historically with unintended consequences, blowback, and persistent application of policies despite their obvious failure.  Most of the people making key decisions know little or nothing about Latin America, and in fact know so little that they are unaware of how little they know.

Explanations of the Cuba embargo, for example, often focus on how visceral hatred of Fidel Castro along with domestic constituencies cloud rational thinking (along these lines, see Morley and McGillion book Unfinished Business).  What if we added the hypothesis that many policy makers continued to believe the embargo would work, and their own incompetence precluded awareness not only that they weren't working, but that they couldn't?


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Santos, Piñera and García

Juan Manuel Santos says he feels close to Alan García and Sebastián Piñera.  Does this mean he feels unpopular and rich?


Nicaraguan land mines

A mere twenty years and over a thousand victims later, the last land mine in Nicaragua has reportedly been removed.  The Contra war was a gift that just keeps on giving.

Here is a good, brief video on the topic.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

R. Dwayne Betts' A Question of Freedom

R. Dwayne Betts' A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (2009) is a compelling and often poetic (he is in fact a published poet) memoir of a very young African American man who was put in prison for carjacking in Virginia in the mid-1990s.  He was 16 at the time and served nine years.

It is a scattered book, and it moves back and forth chronologically.  He plead guilty, was guilty, but dances around it:

The old head wanted to blame it on rap music, and often we wanted to blame it on racism, on the society that birthed us or on the streets that gave us the language of violence.  The blame didn't work (p. 60).

But when talking about his own specific crime, he never examines the moment, why he was there, and exactly what happened:

"Talking to him gave me the chance to realize that there are people willing to judge me by who I have become, and not by a moment of insanity" (p. 236).

This may be petty, because he suffered tremendously and for no particular purpose.  He never denies the guilt, only the disproportionate nature of the punishment.

The main message of the book is that prisons are set up in a way that creates failure.  Redemption is hard, and over the years Betts--a very smart guy--has to work diligently to achieve it.  Prisons make virtually no effort at rehabilitation, or even describe what that might look like.  Betts goes through excruciating years of trying to figure himself out, and to improve himself in spite of the obstacles prisons put in front of him.  It is so difficult to rehabilitate yourself that the vast majority of prisoners simply never will.

But, at least, he did.  And how he did so is worth reading about.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Isolation of Cuba hardliners

Via The Havana Note: if you want a sense of how hardliners in Miami are increasingly isolating themselves, then check out their response to a letter from Cuban dissidents.  That letter, signed by such prominent opposition leaders as Yoani Sánchez, supports the right of Americans to travel to Cuba.

This prompted one Miami talk show host to actually call one Cuban dissident currently on hunger strike on the air to harangue him, telling him that he did not understand what he was doing.

This is an excellent opportunity for a policy shift, as this type of incidence demonstrates that there is support for it even amongst those within Cuba who oppose the Castro regime.  The logic of either ignoring them or telling them they're wrong entirely escapes me.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Immigration: WWRD?

Peter Robinson, a former speech writer for Ronald Reagan, asks "What Would Reagan Do?" on immigration in the Wall Street Journal.  This is a silly question, because we already know what Reagan did, namely push for and sign the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, then announce the problem was solved.  The amnesty part of the bill made good sense, and he deserves credit for that.  Yet he also supported provisions that let businesses off the hook and thereby created a massive black market for fraudulent documents.  The net effect of IRCA was just to punt and let future administrations try to deal with the issue.

Most of the article is pretty vapid.  Reagan loved people and would done good things.  Nonetheless, it is a reminder to those who consistently invoke Reagan that he was a strong advocate of immigration reform.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Elections and horse races in Latin America

There has been a lot of talk in the political science corner of the blogosphere about how the media wants to portray elections as horse races, whereas political scientists show how short term swings matter little to the ultimate outcome--see The Monkey Cage, Christopher Beam, Daniel Drezner, Matthew Yglesias).

This is also relevant for Latin America.  Check out Andres Oppenheimer's really bad article on how the World Cup will affect presidential elections in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico.  


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More on why Bush was unpopular in Latin America

At the Weekly Standard, Jaime Daremblum from the Hudson Institute provides a conservative critique of Obama's Latin America policy.  There are two main parts.  First, the definition of a "coherent" strategy is one that pushes hard for free trade:

Unfortunately, the Obama administration still lacks a coherent strategy for the region. Each of the four U.S. presidents who immediately preceded Obama launched at least one major initiative in the Western Hemisphere. Under George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, trade liberalization became the lodestar of U.S. policy, resulting in NAFTA, an expansion of the Caribbean Basin Initiative trade programs, CAFTA, and several bilateral free-trade pacts, including agreements with Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Panama. 

There are, apparently, no other possible coherent policies.

Second, Obama needs to hate Hugo Chávez, and he currently does not hate him sufficiently.  Daremblum offers exactly zero specific ways in which Obama should change his current policies, but in general he should "be standing up" and "confront."  What those would entail is left to our imaginations.  Daremblum basically argues that Chávez is destabilizing Venezuela, so we need to destabilize the country further in order to stabilize it.

I think it is fair to sum it up as "keep doing what George W. Bush was doing and expect different results."  In other words, yet again we get Einstein's definition of insanity.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Why Chávez loves what he hates

In an interview, Hugo Chávez blames Venezuela's recession on "rampant, irresponsible capitalism" and asks President Obama to "forget his country's imperial pretensions," without acknowledging that the very high oil prices Chávez depends upon are the direct result of global capitalism and U.S. imperial pretensions.

As Erasure puts it so succinctly, "I love to hate you."  Love and hate, what a beautiful combination.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

The latest on Venezuela and Mercosur

Venezuela has been waiting four years to be approved for entry into Mercosur.  After considerable delay, Brazil approved it in December 2009 and is now lobbying Paraguay, which is the last remaining holdout.  Mercopress has an interview with the leader of the Senate, who compares Hugo Chávez to Alfredo Stroessner:

“It is very difficult to dissociate Venezuela from Hugo Chavez. It makes us remember our own dictatorship: indefinite re-election, parental authority over children in the hands of the state, elections that are won with 90% of the vote. It all sounds too similar...”

Interestingly, President Fernando Lugo says he will not push the legislature:

The Paraguayan president said he would not lobby for such an initiative since “that is up to Congress and the people, but I have also stated and I told Senator Carrizosa that Paraguay must seriously address the issue of Venezuela’s Mercosur incorporation”.

Considering this is foreign policy, a president is front and center, though I could think of any number of reasons he does not want to stick his neck out.  I went to see what the Paraguayan newspapers had to say, and found the lead story in one (La Nación) was that some opposition governor heard rumors that Lugo was gay.   Not finding that too helpful, I moved on to Ultima Hora, where I found the Venezuelan Ambassador making diplomatic statements in favor of his country:

El embajador Arrúe de Pablo manifestó que fue sumamente positiva la reunión que mantuvo con el vicepresidente de la República Federico Franco, cuya posición personal no está a favor de que Venezuela ingrese al Mercosur porque cuestiona la falta de cumplimiento de las cláusulas democráticas. 

El diplomático fue consultado sobre las críticas que existen contra las medidas tomadas por Chávez, como el cierre de medios de comunicación. Respondió que más allá de los cuestionamientos para conocer a fondo la realidad de su país hay que ir hasta allá. 
"Lo importante es ir a comprobar; no puedo hablar y convencer estando a cuatro o cinco mil kilómetros de una realidad que se vive allá. Les invito a que vayan (a la prensa). El término de realidad es amplio. Yo no digo qué ocurre o qué no ocurre. Lo que quiero decir es que para saber lo que ocurre en Venezuela hay que estar en Venezuela y comprobar; hablar con la gente", insistió. 

I apologize to non-Spanish speakers, as I don't feel like translating all that.  The basic idea is that he met with critics in the Paraguayan legislature and invites them to come to Venezuela and see for themselves.

So this is still developing, with no obvious end in sight.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

U.S.-Brazilian relations

The L.A. Times has an editorial about U.S.-Brazilian relations, which I found a bit curious.  The argument is that we can't let differences over Iran damage the relationship.  OK, good idea, but who really thought that would happen?

What it demonstrates is that over time we've simply become accustomed to foreign policy that punishes countries who do not agree with us 100% of the time (as a matter of fact, I just blogged about how that pervasive that is).  So when we have a disagreement with Brazil, we assume it will blow up everything else.

Maybe one major goal for the Obama administration's policies toward Latin America is to get everyone accustomed to having allies with differences.  From a strictly realist point of view, it will serve U.S. interests far better.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Latin American Policy

There is a new policy-oriented academic journal called Latin American Policy, published by Wiley Blackwell.  Its editorial team comes from Latin America (particularly Mexico and Brazil).  From its initial editorial:

So, why a new journal, and why on Latina America? More information to the Web? More data and signs into the flow of the hypertextual message? Indeed, the birth of this journal will add more buzz to the information stream, but this time the buzz comes from a region that traditionally has spoken through the language of literature and music. Although Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries have articulated a sort of modern discourse in the realm of social sciences, most of this discourse remains fragmented in local or national debates, in spite of the fact that many of these countries share Spanish as a common language. Furthermore, the social sciences debate within LAC countries traditionally has been a dialogue with or a criticism of scientific Western thought but rarely among the LAC community of academics and practitioners. In the informational and global age, it is time for LAC academic and policy communities to talk to the world and among themselves. A lot is being written and debated in this region of the world, but it remains fragmented and confined to local or national debates, in Spanish or Portuguese, with few possibilities for building an interconnected, networked community.

To build that transnational community, the Policy Studies Organization—a society of the American, Midwest, Southern and International Political Sciences Associations and the International Studies Association—joined efforts with the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM)—a leading university in Mexico and Latin America—to launch this new journal: Latin American Policy (LAP): A Journal of Politics and Governance in a Changing Region. Marketed and distributed by the famous editorial house Wiley-Blackwell, its main field of research, discussion, or diffusion will be any crosscutting issue situated in the interface between the policy and political domains concerning or affecting any LAC country or group of countries, but LAP's primary focus is intended to be in the policy arena (any issue or field involving authority, although not necessarily clustered on governments), agency (governmental, from civil society or both), and the pursuit or achievement of convenient or specific outcomes.

Very interesting--it does fill a niche.


Piñera and the military

Interesting article in El Mostrador about how retired military officers are angry at Sebastián Piñera because he has shown no signs of pushing for an end to arrests and trials related to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.  They are publicly calling for the Bicentennial later this year to be the appropriate time.  Piñera had indicated in rather vague terms during the campaign that he supported such an idea, and now the officers talk in terms of him being a "traitor."  This is further stoked by the firing of Miguel Otero, now former Ambassador to Argentina, who praised Pinochet and said most people didn't suffer during the dictatorship.

Over time, the military has gone from saying the transition was over in 1990 to saying that the transition will not be over until the trials stop.  They figured Piñera, despite his long-standing distance from the dictatorship, would finally be the one to do it.  But he has strong incentives not to, as there is little to gain and much to lose politically because of the controversy it would spark.  He would find it much harder (at least in the short term) to work with the Concertación.

Nonetheless, he will be pressured, from within his own party and coalition, from the military, and apparently even from the Catholic Church, which has been meeting with the retired officer organizations.  Although the military has not been in power for a long time, and is much less politicized than it used to be, we should not underestimate its influence.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Colombia interpreter

I recently complained that the State Department needed an interpreter, because no one knew what Rafael Correa had to say.  Apparently they got one for Alvaro Uribe.


World Cup diplomacy

One of the more unique, and really fun, blogs I read is by Rengaraj Viswanathan.  He is the Indian Ambassador to Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay (and he is a former Ambassador to Venezuela and Consul General to Brazil as well).  His most recent offering explains his World Cup dilemma, as all countries want him to root for their team:

In this supercharged atmosphere of no-holds barred rivalry, I found the only way to survive is to practise the old-world diplomacy. In the olden days, much before people got into Twitter troubles, there was a saying, “a diplomat is someone who thinks twice before saying nothing”.

He has another observation that I found especially funny:

World Cup time in South America is low season for work and business. My Argentine colleagues in the embassy are converting the office into a sports bar stocking it with the essential liquid and solid necessities to last for a month.

In all, it's a great post.


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Why foreign policy fails

If you really want to understand why the Bush administration was so unpopular in Latin America, look no further than José Cárdenas at Foreign Policy's Shadow Government blog.

The administration has its work cut out for it in trying to create momentum in the service of the shared interests we still do have with a number of countries in the Americas. But that will not be created in visits to Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and other precincts currently infatuated with the anti-American fad. Instead, it will come with continuing to work with like-minded governments unabashed about identifying with our vision for the hemisphere of prosperity for all through free peoples and free markets. 

The basic idea is this: you should only work with governments that agree with you 100 percent, and any government that is not 100 percent with you should be labeled as "anti-American" and insulted as much as possible.  When that inevitably backfires, blame them.


Clinton and Correa

Rafael Correa had some nice things to say to Hillary Clinton, and it seems their three hour conversation might be able to demonstrate that there is no reason the U.S. and Ecuador can't have good relations.  I would like to see the full text of Correa's comments, but am disappointed to see the State Department cannot bother hiring an interpreter.  From the State Department's website:

MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)
QUESTION: (In Spanish.)
MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)
QUESTION: (In Spanish.)
MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: I will certainly take the material and thank you very much for raising these issues.
MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

U.S. military aid and Honduras

As reported by El Heraldo, U.S. military aid to Honduras is resuming.  The Deputy Commander of Southcom is visiting to celebrate and discuss future interchanges.  One of them will be, wait for it, human rights.  It would be far more useful for the Obama administration to acknowledge the continued abuses of human rights in Honduras rather than engaging in a debate over whether the country should be readmitted to the OAS.


Sudhir Venkatesh's Gang Leader for a Day

Sudhir Venkatesh's Gang Leader for a Day (2008) is a thought-provoking and well-written book.  He is a sociology professor at Columbia, and the book chronicles his graduate student experience at the University of Chicago in the late 1980s and early 1990s as he spent an enormous amount of time in the Robert Taylor Homes housing project in Chicago.  He gets very close to a gang leader, J.T., and studying the urban poor there becomes his dissertation.

There are a lot of great angles in this book, once you get past the author's self-proclaimed "rogue" status and his "who me?" stylized naivete.  Part of the problem is that he published the book a full twenty years after the events occurred, so he has to recreate his "non-tenured, non-Harvard-Fellow-non-Columbia-endowed chair" self.  Yet even two decades ago he was 100 percent establishment, which he sometimes acknowledges behind the "rogue" self-label.

Either way, his basic argument is that to understand urban poverty, you must immerse yourself in it.  Periodically, then, the story moves to methodology as he criticizes social scientists who crunch numbers without even seeing the people they're studying.  For Venkatesh it is not merely an academic debate, because he also argues that such studies end up advocating policies that won't work (though it is worth pointing out that he does not really suggest any policies that would work).  Instead, he spends years examining and probing the complex web of relationships in the Robert Taylor Homes.  Residents, gang members, building leaders, prostitutes, mothers, the homeless, the unemployed, the underemployed, not to mention the police, are all interacting in ways that aren't immediately visible.  They are all, as one woman put it, hustling.

All of them also try to rationalize that hustling.  J.T. is insistent that his gang is really a community organization, providing services that otherwise would not exist.  He would go around trying to recruit teenagers to join, telling them they could become "black businessmen."  That many people in the building are addicted to the crack he sells seems not to bother him.  Ms. Bailey, the building president, demands kickbacks for all sorts of things, yet sees herself as the one person who can get things done when the housing authority refuses to act.  All of those relationships were fascinating--they got beyond the stereotypes and highlighted how tightly bound together all of these people were.

The book ends with welfare reform and the demolition of all the buildings.  Given how long ago that was, it left me wondering how much had changed.  The downside of studying one group of people (really, one building in particular) is that we don't know how generalizable the results are.  Venkatesh notes that not all gangs are run like J.T.'s, so are residents of all buildings--of all densely populated urban poor areas--embedded in the same types of relationships?


Monday, June 07, 2010

Cuban oil

Journalist Anne Louise Bardach, who has written a lot on Cuba, guest blogs at the Washington Post and gets a little carried away.  Here is her chain of thought:

1.  The BP disaster has opened lines of communication regarding oil with Cuba.
2.  There will be oil drilling soon in Cuba
3.  Cuba could become an oil exporter
4.  That could make Cuba more independent of Venezuela
5.  So the U.S. should pursue oil diplomacy with Cuba

This is not a particularly persuasive argument.  Does anyone truly believe Cuban oil will "spew forth" (her phrase) to such a massive extent, and quickly to boot?  Just a cursory Google search comes up with stories like how Petrobras can't decide whether it wants to pursue drilling because profits just aren't assured.

Further, the Venezuela reference seems almost like a non sequitur.  The Castro-Chávez relationship is based on ideology, not oil.  If Cuba no longer needs Venezuelan oil, the relationship won't likely change much.

A more reasonable argument would simply be that oil diplomacy could lead to other types of diplomacy that might be beneficial both to U.S. interests and to the Cuban people.


Sunday, June 06, 2010

Latin American military spending and the U.S.

A few days ago I noted that SIPRI reported increases in military spending in Latin America (7.6 percent from 2008 to 2009) and that in the past decade such spending had increased significantly (72 percent growth since 2000).

Yet in advance of Hillary Clinton's trip to Latin America, Arturo Valenzuela argued the following in a press briefing:

What I said was – the question was – had to do with how we see Latin American in terms – is there an armaments race? And my answer to that was that, in fact, we don’t see this as a problem in Latin America – that, in fact, if you look at the statistics, the data, that there has actually been a significant decline in expenditures on armaments in most of the countries in the region.

This seems patently wrong unless maybe we parse the word "armaments."  Military spending includes many things that aren't weapons, but it is hard to see how a 72 percent increase in that spending can lead to "a significant decline in expenditures on armaments in most of the countries."


Friday, June 04, 2010

U.S.-centric blog debate

Very interesting coincidence.  First, bloggers in the U.S. discussing whether political scientists can have any impact on journalists, or whether we're irrelevant.

Here are some links for that:

Greg Marx at Columbia Journalism Review says there is an opportunity to get together.

Henry Farrell responds at The Monkey Cage.

Ryan Powers (blogging for Matthew Yglesias) weighs in.

Jonathan Bernstein brings it up.

The coincidence is this.  Just as this American debate goes on, in Chile the new president, Sebastián Piñera, had a lunch meeting that included political scientists who--gasp--also have written many political columns for Chilean newspapers in addition to their academic publications.  It is taken for granted that political scientists should contribute to public debate.

It seems that everyone who blogs about the issue focuses on American politics, and does not consider looking at it in a comparative context.  Why do some other countries not have the politician/political scientist/journalist divide?  Indeed, what are American political scientists doing (or not doing) to make journalists and politicians to feel some measure of disdain?


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Defense spending in Latin America

Via MercoPress: SIPRI put out a press release for its annual report on military expenditures, which will come out next month.

Depressingly, the region is spending more on the military than last year and much more than a decade ago.  It is a recession-proof.  At the same time, the increases are by no means uniform.  For example, Mexico accounts for almost all of the increase in the "Central America and Caribbean" category.

Strangely enough, Uruguay had the highest relative increase in spending from 2008 to 2009 (24 percent).  Brazil had the highest absolute increase ($3.8 billion) and now has the 11th highest defense spending in the world.

Probably the most newsworthy tidbit is that defense spending in Venezuela decreased 25 percent from 2008 to 2009, the biggest drop of any country in Latin America.  Meanwhile, Colombia increased 11 percent, and a Santos victory would suggest that won't be going down.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Some Latin America blog links

Support Latin Americanist blogger authors by reading Jon Beasley-Murray's new book, Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America.

Honduras Culture and Politics on the confusing issue of how Mel Zelaya might return and the legal questions surrounding it.

Luis Ramírez on the sensation of failing your Ph.D. exam and being told you're only going to get an M.Phil.  Yikes! (In Spanish)

Steven Taylor analyzes the Colombian presidential election.

Miguel Centellas looks at pacted democracy in Bolivia.

Sarah Kate Kramer at Feet in 2 Worlds examines how crime has dropped as a result of immigration


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Piñera numbers

New Adimark numbers for Sebastián Piñera have him holding pretty steady with a slight uptick.  His approval is at 53 percent, up two points, while disapproval is at 30 percent, down one point.  Approval of the government as a whole is at 55 percent, up four points.

One thing I found intriguing is the high level of support he receives from the 18-24 year old cohort, in which 64 percent approve of him.  Conventional wisdom has that cohort either voting null or becoming independent.  Perhaps after twenty years of the Concertación, young people simply like the idea of something new.  Let's see if it holds, since Piñera's policies have not yet diverged significantly from the Concertación's.


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