Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks Bolivia

"Instead of weakening themselves by domestic dissensions the Spanish race in these Republics have every motive for union and harmony.  They nearly all have an enemy within their own bosoms burning for vengeance on account of the supposed wrong of centuries, and ever ready, when a favorable opportunity may offer, to expel or exterminate the descendants of their conquerors...In Bolivia it is understood that three fourths of the inhabitants belong to the Indian race.  How unfortunate it is that, under these circumstances, the Spanish race there should be weakening themselves by warring with each other."

Secretary of State James Buchanan to U.S. Chargé John Appleton, June 1, 1848

Quoted in William R. Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Inter-American Affairs, 1831-1860 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1932): p. 4.

How different will a 2009 cable be?


Venezuela and Mercosur

Venezuela reportedly will now get admittance to Mercosur, after waiting four years for member legislatures to approve it.  Brazil had been a hold out until recently, and the last is now Paraguay.  A few thoughts:

First, wow.  Has horse trading ever been this open?  The Liberal Party crows about the ambassadorial, etc. positions it gets in return.  You don't see that in public too often, though obviously it still happens.

Second, this sentence really sums up one of Fernando Lugo's problems, particularly in a system as oligarchic as Paraguay's: "Lugo has three votes that respond to him."  That is out of 45 in the Senate.

Third, although Hugo Chávez has been wanting this for quite some time, I don't think it gives him any more of a platform than he already has.

Fourth, there is a pot/kettle dynamic with some Colorado senators saying Chávez is too anti-democratic to join.


Blame for economic crisis

From the Latin American Public Opinion Project, some curious numbers.  The global economic crisis came as a result of serious problems in the developed world, particularly the United States.  But Latin Americans who believe there is a crisis tend to look inward.

Attributions of Blame for the Crisis, Among Those Perceiving a Crisis

Previous administration: 21.5%
Current administration: 18.9%
Country's economic system: 13.3%
Ourselves, citizens of this country: 12.7%
Do not know: 11.5%
Rich countries: 7.8%
Rich people of our country: 7.4%
Problems of democracy: 4.3%
Other: 2.6%

Looking inward is a natural instinct, though no Latin American government created the crisis, and certainly the citizens of a particular country did not either.  Governments may be praised or blamed for their responses, but may be getting unfair criticism in terms of creating the crisis in the first place.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Honduras Wikileak

From Wikileaks, here is a July 24, 2009 cable from Ambassador Hugo Llorens in Honduras to Washington with an outline of the developing coup.  I think it is a good analysis, looking at both sides and concluding without a doubt that Mel Zelaya's removal was both illegitimate and illegal.  (I wonder, though, why it took almost a month to write the report--why not just read my blog?)

No matter what the merits of the case against Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and Micheletti's ascendance as "interim president" was totally illegitimate.

This only reinforces what we already knew.  The Obama administration believed there was a coup and it was totally illegitimate, but chose not to press the issue too hard and to remain publicly vague about its interpretation of the facts.


Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars

I read Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars.  I am a sucker for this type of light, insider scoop book (e.g. see Game Change) but this one was disappointing even for the genre.  It can be summed up as follows: there were meetings, lots of meetings, with lots of arguing about troop numbers and periodic leaking.  Quite often, these meetings were long and dull.  After months of such meetings, President Obama decided on the troop levels.

I should note, though, that in a way Woodward has done the public a service in the sense of showing that policy making is not always an exciting West Wing experience.  Instead, it is a grinding experience with major players elbowing each other for influence.  Some of the more human interest stuff was already evident in places like the Rolling Stone interview with Stanley McChrystal so I didn't feel I learned much new about the internal divisions in the White House.  Now the Wikileaks cables will be even juicier about the diplomatic side.

Interestingly, my impression is that the book is the most positive about Joe Biden, who was always skeptical about questionable claims (such as the ability to quickly train 400,000 Afghan security forces) and willing to do so openly, then offer alternate suggestions.  On the other hand, the broad wlllingness by everyone to stand by goals that everyone seemed to know were unrealistic is a depressing reality.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Peru and sadness

From Peruvian President Alan García, the strangest argument yet about why a president might be unpopular:

Garcia tells Radioprogramas that an inbred national melancholy must be to blame for his low approval ratings at a time when the economy is booming.
Garcia tells the radio station Saturday that "We are what we are: sad, distrustful ... We have a natural lack of trust." He says that in contrast, Brazilians "have another sort of nature, joyful and sunny." 

The idea that the positive effects of economic growth in Peru are not felt much by a majority seems not to occur to him.  Conversely, Chileans loved Michelle Bachelet even as the economic tanked, but I don't think many Chileans would ascribe that to their innate national bounciness.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Americans and DREAM

There are a number of issues I come back to over and over again.  One of them is that Americans do not care as much about immigration as politicians and the media claim (also discussed in my forthcoming at any second book, Irresistible Forces).  Right now the DREAM Act is being debated, and through CNN we have this nugget from a Gallup poll:

Similarly, the country is less concerned with Congress acting on the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. who were brought to the country as children. Thirty-eight percent say it is not too/not at all important.

Immigration restrictionism is not as popular as it appears, or at least it does not rile people up quite as much as portrayed.  That increases--albeit minimally--the chances of passage.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Electoral reform in Chile

A new poll in Chile shows support for some electoral reform, particularly for voting to be voluntary (77%).  Meanwhile, 60% support making registration automatic once you become 18 years old.  The same percentage supports allowing Chileans to vote from abroad.  These are all reforms currently under discussion, though voting abroad has been opposed by the right, on the assumption that a majority of Chileans living in other countries fled the military government and therefore would vote for the Concertación.

Unfortunately, the poll does not seem to specifically address the binomial system, which as I've noted before seems more open to discussion than in the past.  It is not at all clear to me that Chileans have a strong preference about it.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Obama interview

The Spanish paper El País interviewed Barack Obama, and there was a Latin America question that he proceeded to dodge, though the interviewer blew it by asking two questions at once.  Obama apparently didn't want to talk about Cuba.

P. Desde su perspectiva, ¿qué papel le ve a España en el futuro de Cuba y, en general, en las relaciones de Estados Unidos con América Latina?
R. Dados los profundos lazos históricos, culturales, económicos y familiares que tanto Estados Unidos como España tienen con los países de América, existe una amplia gama de oportunidades de que nuestros dos países trabajen juntos en objetivos compartidos. España es un aliado valioso en asuntos fundamentales de América Latina, como la defensa los valores democráticos, el diseño de un futuro de energías limpias o la seguridad de los ciudadanos en su día a día. Hemos trabajado con el presidente Zapatero en estos asuntos y esperamos seguir haciéndolo.

And how is Spain involved in the "day to day security" of Latin Americans?  If anything, it shows he is barely thinking about the region.


Friday, November 19, 2010

I was only DREAMing

Harry Reid wants to force a vote on the DREAM Act, so that either a) it will pass; or b) Republicans will have to be on record again as defeating it.  Two thoughts:

First, a pet peeve of mine.  Senator John Cornyn complained that Reid was "playing politics."  I always get annoyed when I read that, because politicians are elected precisely to play politics.  We have certain goals, and we elect them to achieve those goals.  Someone who refused to play politics would not get much done.

Second, I see this as potentially more harmful for Democrats than Republicans.  As I've written over and over, there are only so many times Democrats can introduce losing immigration bills before people lose faith in their willingness to push successfully for passage.  The stance of Republicans is clear, to the point that another vote on the DREAM Act won't make them look worse.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Arizona and Latin America

An article in USA Today highlights a certain of confusion about immigration and federalism.  In this case, the main argument is that the Arizona immigration law is straining U.S.-Latin American relations.  But a closer look suggests that countries with already strained relations (quoting an official from Ecuador) feel that way, while countries with smoother relations (a Brazilian is quoted) disagree.

A senior official with the Brazilian Embassy who was not authorized to be quoted by name said that country's relationship with the United States has not been harmed because the Obama administration has not only spoken out against the law but initiated the lawsuit that halted its implementation.

The Obama administration has fought the Arizona law, so it is hard to see a country changing its position vis-a-vis the administration as a result.  What would more likely fall into that category is continued unwillingness to push for immigration reform.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mexico and the military

In March I wrote I was feeling optimistic because the U.S. and Mexican governments were accepting the fact that a military-centric approach to the drug war was not working very well, and so they needed a broader policy that included strengthening civilian law enforcement.  Now the Mexican government is doing an about face and is going to deploy the army again in Ciudad Juárez, while the police will merely do "some things" (algunas cosas).

Since the government already conceded that using the army did not work well before, it is not surprising that thus far it has offered no real justification.  If it did not work as intended before, why would it do so now?


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Colombia and Venezuela

President Juan Manuel Santos has a drug trafficker, Walid García, wanted both by Venezuela and the United States, and is extraditing him to Venezuela.  Fascinating move, and obviously he feels convinced that he will face justice there.

Also of note is the fact that the drug trafficker himself, as well as many opponents of the Chávez government, argues that Chávez is by extension tied to drugs.

On my payroll I had [government] ministers, the siblings of ministers, generals, admirals, rear admirals, colonels and five deputies from the National Assembly, each of whom I gave a late-model car to," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
"If I am a narcotrafficker, the whole Chavez government is a narcotrafficker.
Makled also has said he contributed $2 million to Chavez for a political campaign.

True, drug-related corruption is deeply entrenched in a number of Latin American countries.  Extrapolating to the entire government, and to the administration itself, is not nearly so clear.  Few, for example, would accuse Felipe Calderón (or Alvaro Uribe, for that matter) of complicity.  The overall point, though, is that clearly Santos feels comfortable, and that is a very different turn for Venezuelan-Colombian relations.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Rox Ghosh's Nineteenth Street NW

I read Rex Ghosh's Nineteenth Street NW, which is a financial thriller and perfect for a long trip.  The plot revolves around a group of people from an unnamed developing country who use both violence and a sophisticated plan to bring down the economies of the developed world.  Ghosh himself has an Economics Ph.D. from Harvard and has worked with international financial institutions.

The plot is very well paced, but the book has the added benefit of going into issues like how economists at the IMF view countries as sources of analysis, unconcerned about the effects their policies have on average people.  They disguise the policies with terms like "fiscal retrenchment" and "labor market flexibility," and are concerned mainly with academic publications.  On the flip side, he also examines the mindset of terrorists who are fighting against those policies, but with similar disregard for human life.  The main character wants to use economics rather than bombs because she does not want to kill anyone, but ultimately it is clear this is a cop out.

The book also has an afterword where Ghosh explains the economics behind the action in the book, and how the economies of developed countries are very vulnerable in a number of different ways.  Attacking the economy can actually be far more devastating than a bomb.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Paper presentation

Today I will be presenting my paper, "Consensus with Conflict: The Rise of President Bachelet and the Fall of the Concertación," co-authored with Silvia Borzutzky.  This is currently a topic of much debate in Chile, as everyone tries to figure out exactly why the 2009 election turned out the way it did.  Along these lines I recommend a brand new edited volume by Mauricio Morales and Patricio Navia, El sismo electoral de 2009: Cambio y continuidad de las preferencias políticas de los chileno (Santiago: Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales, 2010).  The last chapter in particular discusses how Chileans like individual candidates but not parties.

Thus, we end up with a political context in which electoral laws require parties to form coalitions and stay together, but people don't like them.  One lesson from Bachelet is that no matter how popular Sebastián Piñera gets, that will not necessarily translate into momentum for the presidential candidate of the right.

On a related point, I have heard multiple times here about how the Concertación's leadership simply doesn't know what to do next.  Strangely enough, that doesn't mean they can't win the next election.  The right was similarly clueless but Piñera won.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Chilean political science

At the ACCP, I attended an interesting round table on the state of Chilean political science.  One of the most interesting points coincides with the ongoing academic debate in the U.S. about what political scientists should be doing.  In the past because of the dictatorship, Chilean political scientists were activists, almost by definition.  They had particular political points to make.  Now, the model has changed dramatically, so for example when there are presidential commissions to examine certain political issues, very few members are political scientists.  They are increasingly being seen as too narrowly focused to contribute to debates on public policy.  They are "professional" rather than "political."

This issue has been raised so many times with regard to the United States, but this is the first time I've seen it elsewhere.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chile and globalization

When I first came to Chile fourteen years ago, I was struck by the number of American chain restaurants and businesses in the middle class area where I lived (Nuñoa).  In the past, say, 5-7 years, however, I have not noticed any more growth in that respect but rather a drastic increase in the number of Asian restaurants, particularly sushi but also Chinese.  Some are hole in the wall places, not just high-end.

I admit freely that this is a Thomas Friedamesque post in the worst sense, where I generalize from observations based on chatting with friends, taking long walks, and/or riding in taxis.  But I am not aware of an increase of migration from Asia, so it would seem more related to the concerted efforts the Lagos and Bachelet governments made to connect economically and diplomatically to Asia.  Chile and China even recently had high level naval talks.  Globalization in Chile is not just about Big Macs and Pizza Hut.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010


I leave later today for the Chilean Political Science Association conference, where I will be presenting a paper on, surprisingly enough, Chilean politics.  I will ponder important questions such as, "Do they still play muzak in the pedestrian shopping area downtown?"


Monday, November 08, 2010

Civil-military relations in Venezuela

A Major General in the Venezuelan army says the institution will not accept the victory of an opposition candidate in the next presidential election.  It is the sort of statement that should immediately result in the forced retirement of the officer.  It is, in fact, a statement that goes contrary to the Venezuelan constitution.  From article 328 about the military's role:

En el cumplimiento de sus funciones, está al servicio exclusivo de la Nación y en ningún caso al de persona o parcialidad política alguna.

It should go without saying that the job of the armed forces is not to pick and choose what president its leadership wants (though, depending on the country, they may cast their own individual vote for whomever they want).  It most certainly should not be issuing threats about refusing to accept the results of democratic elections.


Immigration backlog

I bring this up periodically, and wish the debate on immigration enforcement addressed it, but it so rarely does.  There is currently a backlog of 261,083 cases.  The Las Vegas court alone has a 2,080 case backlog, and a case right now would not come before a judge until around July 2011.  Anecdotally, I know that the Charlotte immigration court has a very similar situation.

From a normative perspective, this is cruel.  Even people who feel their case is very strong must have this hanging over their heads for months and months, causing tremendous stress on them and everyone they know.

From an enforcement perspective, this is a disaster.  The system is simply not currently constructed to handle it.

From an economic perspective, a well-functioning system will cost a lot.  A lot.

From a policy perspective, "enforcement" is a deceptive term.  Policy makers seem unwilling to acknowledge the fact that an expanded ICE presence means more removal proceedings.  The public has the false idea that undocumented immigrants are simply picked up and shipped off.


Sunday, November 07, 2010


Language matters in politics.  In particular, it is useful from a strategic point of view to connect policies or people with demonized words.  If you make that connection well enough, then you can start changing public perceptions.  That came to mind when I saw this op-ed in the Houston Chronicle calling on Latin America to legalize drugs--or at least marijuana--as a way to reduce violence.  The very first sentence uses the word "prohibitionist" and then uses term two more times in a short article.

Prohibition, of course, refers to the period between 1920 and 1933 when alcohol was made illegal in the United States.  The term is now pejorative and conjures up images of expanded criminal activity and widespread flouting of the law.  So it is useful for those who want legalization of drugs to try and connect current laws with prohibition.  You thereby pave the way to make such a policy seem less shocking.

Popular support, both in the United States and Latin America, remains weak.  But I do not remember any time when the issue was discussed this widely.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Immigration in the new House

This could get ugly quickly.  It may serve to start answering the question of whether Republicans care about the Latino vote.

A newly empowered House GOP lawmaker said he hopes to advance legislation to end the right of U.S. citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants who are born in the United States. 
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a staunch opponent of illegal immigration who will become chairman of a key subcommittee handling immigration rules, said that he thinks he'll be able to pass a bill out of the House to end the Constitution's birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.
This is unlikely to play well to the non-Latino general public, which is generally not eager to mess with the constitution, and since this issue is tangential to issues that polls show are of most concern.


Friday, November 05, 2010

To golf or not to golf?

The Cuban government decided over two years ago that it wanted more golf courses, then offered up 99 year leases for luxury golf development.  The idea was to bring in revenue and provide security for foreign investors.  So it is interesting that now, Hugo Chávez wants to seize golf courses in Venezuela because of their association with the rich, then build public housing on them.

Sport has so often been connected to ideology.  In these particular cases, golf is really symbolic of the divergent paths Cuba and Venezuela are taking.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Approving of Piñera

This is why Sebastián Piñera milked the mining disaster.  Adimark has his approval rating jumping from 53 to 63 percent, while disapproval fell from 32 to 26 percent.  The days of talking about his stagnant numbers are over, at least for now.  Plus, 64 percent approve of the way he is handling the economy, though numbers are much lower for crime and health care.

What the mining crisis also did was drastically increase public recognition of cabinet members.  This could bode well for the right as it can use the rest of Piñera's term to groom potential new candidates.  The Concertación really stumbled in that regard when it put Eduardo Frei up as a candidate.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The midterm elections and Latin America

Current numbers for Congress show a Republican majority in the House and a Democratic majority in the Senate.  Here are some initial thoughts on how this may affect Latin America.

First, U.S.-Latin American relations won't change drastically.  Many issues, such as Cuba or immigration, were not being reformed by Democrats even when they had the majority.

Second, immigration reform faces a very uphill battle for the next two years.  Success hinges largely on Republican perceptions of the long-term impact of anti-immigrant rhetoric on current and future Latino voters.

Third, the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements will possibly get new life.  The Obama administration has shown signs it is willing to sign them, and this could be a carrot the administration could use to gain Republican support for other issues.

Fourth, Venezuela is a wild card.  Particularly with its relationship with Iran, there are hawks in the House that would like sanctions of some sort.  It seems unlikely they would pass, and in fact our main regional ally, Colombian President Santos, is moving in the exact opposite direction.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Arizona and immigration myths

The Arizona law is being heard in a San Francisco federal appeals court.  I repeat myself endlessly about immigration myths, but they are so pervasive.

From the Los Angeles Times:

John J. Bouma, who represented Arizona in the case, told the court that the border state was suffering from serious crimes committed by illegal immigrants who, once in the country, are never sent back.

Wrong on both counts.  First, research shows that undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes.  Second, deportations are at an all time high.  So they don't commit crimes, but are still deported.


Monday, November 01, 2010

Calderón's drug policies

In my post from Friday, Pablo from The Cross Culturalist pointed to this poll in Milenio to counter the argument that Felipe Calderón's anti-drug policies are unpopular.  Here is the relevant question:

Aprueba o desaprueba la lucha contra el narcotráfico que se está dando ahora en el país?

My translation: Do you approve or disapprove of the fight against narcotrafficking that the country is currently undergoing?

With that question, 69.3 percent approve and 24.7 disapprove.  So if 69.3 percent approve, why is the Calderón administration so concerned that no one approves?  At least for this particular poll, I would argue that the question is too vague to tell us much.  That an overwhelming percentage believe "the fight" is a good thing is not necessarily an indicator that "the specific measures of the Calderón administration" are equally popular.

Otherwise we have a situation where a president grossly underestimates the popularity of one of his major policies. That, as you might guess, is not very common.


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