Friday, December 31, 2010


The dispute between Venezuela and the United States over ambassadors borders on childish.  Larry Palmer made disparaging comments about Venezuelan politics, which included asserting a link between the Venezuelan government and the FARC.  It should be obvious to everyone that someone who made such comments publicly would never be able to work with the Venezuelan government, and therefore should not be ambassador.  But once that poor choice was made, the Obama administration does not want to look like it is backing down, and so instead has upped the ante by taking away the Venezuelan ambassador's visa.  But let's face it, you cannot cram an unwanted ambassador down a country's throat.

Now the Venezuelan government says the whole thing is about imperialism and aggression, with typical bluster.  I would argue that it is more about hegemony and exceptionalism than anything else.  Being the predominant power for so long has fostered the pervasive belief that our decisions are best, and that the views of Latin American governments are unimportant.  Take our chosen ambassador and shut up.

But this needs to get sorted out.  Larry Palmer is not going to work, while in my opinion Bernardo Alvarez Herrera has been a good ambassador (and for quite a long time), articulate and measured.  The Obama administration will take a political hit from Republicans who will say he is caving in to their second favorite hemispheric nemesis.  That result is far better than needlessly escalating a conflict that originated in Washington.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gasolinazo part 2

Some prominent Bolivian labor and environmental activists have written a highly critical open letter to Evo Morales and Alvaro García.  From Narco News:

Did the people send you to impose such a brutal, irrational, arrogant and neoliberal “gasolinazo” (an 82 percent hike in gasoline prices) that will make the people, who barely survive if they have the luck to have a stall in the market or a job, even poorer?
You always said that neoliberalism has failed. Is the gasolinazo a revolutionary and popular measure? Or is it that your economic model has failed?

Evo Morales decreed a 20% wage hike in the areas of health, education, police, and the armed forces (of course!) as a cushion.  But still, at least some Bolivians are getting nervous, and lines at banks are getting longer.  However, the wage hikes go into effect in 2011, i.e. a few days, so will that calm things?

My previous post on the topic (with the government's rationale) here.  Boz speculates on how Evo Morales might well get through it based on past experience.


States and immigration

The National Immigration Forum just published a report on the potential copying of Arizona's SB 1070.  It is aimed at state legislators who are contemplating such a law, with detailed discussion of several states.  It is hard to argue with the following conclusion:

Thus, Republicans are presented with a choice: Will they use their newfound political clout to pursue harsh immigration enforcement legislation that is prohibitively expensive, endangers public safety, will result in costly lawsuits, undermines local economies, and turns off a key and growing voting demographic? Or, will they use their new power to lead states to practical solutions, court a powerful new Latino and immigrant electorate and pave a way for their party to make even more gains in 2012?


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Latin America and Palestinians

Ecuador and Bolivia have joined the swelling ranks of Latin American government that are recognizing the Palestinian state (here is my previous post on the topic).  Brazil is already at work constructing a Palestinian embassy. Latin American support will not be decisive, but this will give the Palestinians a bit more diplomatic momentum as they seek to a) halt Israeli settlements; and b) get UN recognition of a state.

Meanwhile, the Israeli response really continues to boggle the mind for how consciously insulting and demeaning it is.  From the Deputy Foreign Minister:

"Facebook is the 'like' state, and so is the Palestinian state recognized in Brasilia and Buenos Aires," said Ayalon. "Irresponsible governments are quick to 'like' the Palestinian state without actually checking out its profile: an authority without sovereignty, with no borders or territorial continuity, no economic ability or democratic culture."


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Judging Obama policy

Andres Oppenheimer writes about President Obama's promises to Hispanics and to Latin America.  With regard to Latin America, his analysis is generally solid but I disagree on two points: one, the Obama administration did not "stand up for democracy" in Honduras; and two, Latin America is not waiting with bated breath for more FTAs.

But I agree completely with his assessment about immigration policy, as I have been making the same point over and over:

He may be right in thinking that Hispanics will not migrate to the Republican Party, which over the past two years has increasingly come across as the party of Hispanic-allergic, anti-immigration zealots. But Obama may be forgetting that Latino voters may do something just as harmful to his re-election chances in 2012 – stay at home.


Monday, December 27, 2010


We had the first white Christmas in Charlotte since 1947, and it continued to snow yesterday.  Though it will be gone soon it has been fun.



The Bolivian government drastically increased taxes on fuel, by over 70%.  It did so for rational capitalist reasons, namely that higher prices in neighboring countries had fostered a thriving black market.  However, the official reasoning leaves something to be desired:

"We can no longer subsidize either smugglers or the powerful who have five or six cars.  What we want to do is to use the money for fuel subsidy for the benefit of the Bolivians, for the neediest," he argued.

It is hard to justify a regressive tax by explaining how it will help the poor.  Bolivians themselves know a regressive tax when they see one, and are protesting the "gasolinazo."

It is good that the Bolivian government recognizes the negative consequences of a well-intentioned law and does not simply stick to it.  Nonetheless, without some sort of cushion the tax hike will hurt the poor the hardest, and Evo Morales will take a political hit (though he was conveniently in Venezuela at the time of the announcement).  The "powerful who have five or six cars" will still do just fine.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

My holiday book pick has to be Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Yes, I am late to this fictional fad, but I loved it.  An old man in Sweden wants to find out what happened to his brother's granddaughter, who disappeared in 1966, which has haunted him ever since.  He hires a financial reporter who edits a magazine and who has recently been prosecuted for libel (that fact also becomes central to the story).  Soon he is joined by a unique young woman (with a dragon tattoo on her shoulder) with a talent for computers.

I was absolutely sucked into this novel, and remained so when the story become even darker than I had realized it would be.  This is not a story for the faint hearted.  But it is an intricate, fast paced narrative that not only comes to a satisfying conclusion but also leaves some threads open for its sequels.

P.S. Here is a question that only people who have read the book will understand.  Do they really drink that much coffee in Sweden?


Friday, December 24, 2010

Chewing gum has nutritional value

Why don't U.S.-imposed sanctions work?  In part, because we don't respect our own sanctions.  This New York Times article is hilarious for the hypocrisy it reveals about U.S. trade with Cuba and other "state sponsors of terrorism."  Click here for more details on all the companies and products that U.S. companies are selling under the category of humanitarian exemption.

This is the best quote:

Take, for instance, chewing gum, sold in a number of blacklisted countries by Mars Inc., which owns Wrigley’s. “We debated that one for a month. Was it food? Did it have nutritional value? We concluded it did,"

Willy Wonka would be proud!  A skim through the products shows we sold essential items like croutons, NutraSweet, mircrowave popcorn, weight-lifting supplements, hot sauce, Coca Cola, Pepsi, weight loss supplements, mayonnaise, cigarettes, and food coloring.

Also hypocritical is the fact that Fidel Castro rails on the evils of capitalism, yet seems to be perfectly content with the massive business presence of Bank of America, Citigroup, Bank of New York, JP Morgan Chase, etc. that finance all of these transactions.  Viva la revolución!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

China and Latin America

R. Evan Ellis, a professor at CHDS, just published a level-headed and interesting article on Chinese soft power in Latin America in Joint Forces Quarterly (he also published a book on China in Latin America).*  The intriguing part is how Latin American countries and China court each other.  China is careful not to antagonize the United States, but lets Latin American governments view it as a development model, a market, a source of investment, and/or as an anti-imperialist ally.  China can be anything you want, and so its influence has grown.

Yet Ellis also addresses what is always missing from more shrill op-eds on the topic, namely that there are limits to Chinese soft power.  Unlike the United States, China is viewed as an outsider, with a completely different culture; few people speak Chinese; there is little expertise in China on Latin America, and they are seen as poor corporate citizens, which is really saying something because labor conditions in Latin America were never great.

This means China is not a threat, but obviously the regional context is changing:

For analysts focused on the "rise" of China in Latin America and elsewhere, the issue is not whether China is a threat, or whether it has the right to pursue its national interests in Latin America and other parts of the world. Rather, it is important to recognize the dynamics that this reemergence creates in a region with close human, geographical, and economic ties to the United States, and to prepare to mitigate the risks, meet the challenges, and rise to the opportunities that China's entry into Latin America makes possible.

* It is worth noting that after many years of reading DoD-funded journals, I often find them more level-headed than others.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Obama and Latin America

Jaime Daremblum at the Hudson Institute lays out a conservative agenda for U.S. policy toward Latin America.  It is deeply flawed for two reasons.  First:

Nearly two years have passed since his inauguration, and President Barack Obama has yet to unveil a major policy initiative for Latin America. Regional officials are hoping Obama ends this neglect in 2011 and increases U.S. engagement.

Some flowery policy initiative is most certainly not necessary, and the "Regional officials" are conspicuously left unnamed.  It has really struck me how so many people seem to think that big announcements are the only way to engage.

Second, the overall thrust of the proposals are copies of the 1980s.  In short, be more aggressive and attack perceived enemies as much as possible, without any thought to the potential consequences.  He even wants a new Kissinger Commission, which in the 1980s justified U.S. military intervention.  We definitely do not want to copy anything Henry Kissinger did, and in any case the Council on Foreign Relations already wrote a report that, if imperfect, would do the job.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Latinos and the South

The Census is already confirming what we know about Latinos and the South.  The mention of Charlotte, of course, is no coincidence!

The U.S. Hispanic minority is rapidly expanding across the country from its traditional base around the Mexican border region and will nearly triple to about 130 million by mid-century, census data shows.
"For a long time Latinos were a fact of life in the American Southwest, and that was it," said John Weeks, a professor of geography and director of the International Population Center at San Diego State University.
"But over the last 20 years, there has been just a mushrooming of migrants into places like Charlotte (North Carolina), originally brought there to do construction."


Monday, December 20, 2010


For some entertainment, I recommend EcuRed, the Cuban government's alternative to Wikipedia.

There is, for example, an entire article on what a great athlete Fidel Castro is.  And on how the Soviet Union pushed humanity closer to more just forms of social organization.  And you don't scare me, you nasty OAS!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

DREAM Act and Republicans

Senate supporters for the DREAM Act could not get the necessary 60 votes to invoke cloture, so once again it has to wait.

Matt Barreto (and anyone interested in Latino politics should look at the Latino Decisions blog) argues that immigration is so important to Latinos that this will definitely hurt Republicans who voted no, given 1) the fact that they need Latino votes to win elections; and 2) that immigration--and the DREAM Act in particular--is extremely important to Latino voters:

While much of the last two years was spent addressing the issues of health care reform, and the economy, to Latino voters a third issue loomed as being equally important for the President and Congress to address – immigration reform.

I am not entirely convinced.  An October Pew Hispanic poll (which I discussed here) had Latino registered voters ranking immigration as only the fifth most important issue for the 2010 congressional elections.

I would also argue that an entirely likely scenario is that Latino voters will stay home rather than punish Republicans.  After all, plenty of Democrats are also voting against immigration reform, and the Obama administration is showing itself as incapable of doing much beyond enforcement.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ley Habilitante

Hugo Chávez got the Enabling Law he wanted, which allows broad decree power for 18 months, and thereby reduced horizontal accountability in Venezuela even further.  He even claims that initially he only wanted 12 months, but the people affected by the floods wanted more.  Of course, this law is only intended to help those affected by the rain, and so are limited to...well, actually there is basically no limit.  Here are the nine areas where Chávez will have the power to ignore the new legislature.  Altogether they comprise everything, the world we live in, and life in general:

*Atención a las necesidades vitales que se han generado por las lluvias: Modos de proceder de entes públicos y privados ante desastres naturales, con la participación de las organizaciones populares.
*Infraestructura, transporte y servicios públicos: Dictar o reformar normas que regulen la actuación de entes públicos y privados en la construcción y optimización de obras de infraestructura. Igualmente, legislar en torno al sector de telecomunicaciones.
*Vivienda y hábitat: Construcción de viviendas en general y acceso de las familias a mecanismos que faciliten adquisición, ampliación y remodelación.
*Ordenación territorial, desarrollo integral y uso de la tierra urbana y rural: Diseñar una nueva regionalización geográfica del país, con la finalidad de reducir los altos niveles de concentración demográfica en algunas zonas del territorio nacional. Dictar o reformar normas para regular la creación de nuevas comunidades y la conformación de comunas, atendiendo la realidad de cada espacio, especialmente en los territorios habitados por pueblos indígenas.
*Financiero y tributario: Creación de fuentes y fondos especiales, a fin de atender la contingencia por las lluvias. Modernizar el marco regulatorio de los sectores tributario, impositivo, monetario y crediticio del mercado de valores, de la banca y los seguros.
*Seguridad ciudadana y jurídica: Habla de los sistemas de seguridad ciudadana, policial y de protección civil, además de los procedimientos relativos a identificación y control migratorio.
*Seguridad y defensa integral de la Nación: Normas relativas a la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana (FANB) y al sistema de protección civil; disciplina y carrera militar y atención integral a las fronteras.
*Cooperación internacional: Competencias del Ejecutivo Nacional para la celebración de contratos de interés público de carácter bilateral o multilateral, destinados a desarrollar sectores estratégicos y a atender las consecuencias de desastres naturales.
*Sistema socieconómico: Todo lo relativo al título VI de la Constitución (sistema socioeconómico, fiscal, monetario y presupuestario). Menciona el interés por erradicar desigualdades que se derivan de la especulación, usura, acumulación de capital, monopolios, oligopolios y latifundios.

Even Al Jazeera is skeptical, and sums up the situation well:

With Chavez able to make laws without opposition approval, opposition plans to put a check on the president's powers now lie in tatters.
The move comes as polls show support for the former paratrooper slipping, and critics have expressed fears that he could use the new powers to marginalise opposition parties ahead of the election.
Lucia Newman, Al Jazeera's Latin America editor, said that the timing of the decision was telling.
"The justification for being able to rule by decree is that it will allow the president to quickly pass new laws to deal with the emergency that the country is facing because of weeks of floods," she said. "But clearly the timing here is very suspect. In three weeks he will no longer have a two-thirds majority, and now he will be able to pass by decree laws dealing with just about everything."


Friday, December 17, 2010

The politics of FTAs

There is an editorial in The Wall Street Journal about the ATPDEA, which then leads to what is really the main argument about Colombia:

Of course none of this would be happening if the Colombian free trade agreement had been ratified in 2008. But Democrats have been instructed by their union supporters that FTAs are off limits.

If this argument were valid, then it would mean no FTAs could be advanced under the Obama administration.  Oh wait, it already did push for one, and some unions supported it!  It is true that union leaders in the U.S. are not particularly happy that their Colombian counterparts so often end up dead, but bashing unions is a simplistic and sometimes fact-free enterprise.  So, oddly enough, the unions are blamed for the fact that three Republican senators are intentionally holding up the ATPDEA.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wikileaks and authoritarianism

There is quite a lot about the response to Wikileaks that annoys me.  One example is when the most closed governments are the ones applauding it the most.  This struck me as I read Fidel Castro criticizing the U.S. government reaction to the leaks.  I think a debate in the U.S. about what constitutes espionage (or even what should be classified) and what to do about it would be beneficial.  However, it is hypocritical for dictatorships to make such criticisms.

You tell me how Raúl Castro would respond if a member of the Cuban army leaked classified documents and then handed them off to a foreigner.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Latin America and commodities

Much has been made of the UN's (or, more precisely, ECLAC's) prediction that Latin American economies will grow next year by 6 percent.  But tucked toward the end of the press release is this little nugget:

According to Alicia Bárcena "The region's main challenge is to rebuild its capacity to implement countercyclical actions and to create the conditions for productive development not based solely on the export of commodities".

I find myself coming back to this quite a bit recently.  These economic numbers are great, but when "based solely on the export of commodities" they should point toward desperate need for diversification rather than self-congratulation.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Presidents and parties

This post at Tim's El Salvador blog about Mauricio Funes' popularity and the parties' lack of popularity looked so much like Chile.  The two countries obviously are different in many ways, but in both a situation is developing where presidents can enjoy quite high approval ratings while long-standing political parties are well below 50 percent approval.  In both countries many people (in Chile a majority, in El Salvador almost a majority) do not identify with any party at all.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Wikileaks Chile

With virtually all of the cables on Latin America, we learn relatively little but get a fairly discouraging confirmation of what we already know.  In this 2007 cable from then Ambassador Craig Kelly in Santiago (the specific Chile connection was his suggestion to push Chile into being the anti-Chávez model for the region), he argues that the U.S. can work to isolate Hugo Chávez by emphasizing the great things the U.S. does, having U.S. officials meet with marginalized groups, and advocating for free trade.  There's nothing shady or nefarious; instead, the overall effect is one of cluelessness.

The specific recommendations:

A more muscular USG presence in the region that builds on high-level visits, underscores the strengths of viable, successful alternatives (i.e., Brazil and Chile) to Chavez's brand of socialism, targets enhanced resources to regions and populations beyond the elites, and which uses public diplomacy to make our message loud and clear - democracy, freer trade and investment, work and that along with that come active and effective programs to address social ills and the needs of the region's youthful population. Enough said.

This is the type of argument that the Bush administration made many times--we just need to improve our message and let markets work, then people will automatically like us.  Even the mentions of anti-poverty programs seem aimed primarily at promoting the message.  It is just vague and empty, with the unfounded notion that we can so easily drive public opinion.  I always think of the article by William LeoGrande on the Bush administration's policy toward Latin America, entitled "A Poverty of Imagination."  To quote Kelly, "Enough said."


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Santiago Roncagliolo's Red April

Santiago Roncagliolo's Red April: A Novel is a creepy yet engrossing mystery set in Peru in March-April 2000.  It focuses on the fight against Sendero Luminoso in Ayacucho.

Félix Chacaltana Saldívar is a prosecutor put in charge of investigating a particularly grisly murder he thinks should be attributed to Sendero, and he starts to unravel a series of killings for which he ultimately starts to feel responsible, because all the people he talks to end up dead.  Chacaltana himself is really odd, a combination of Norman Bates and Inspector Clouseau, fastidious but often clueless and with skeletons in his own closet.

The narrative takes place just before and during Holy Week, obviously a time of death and resurrection (and there are interesting points made about the intersection of Catholicism and indigenous beliefs).  Within that, Sendero and the military's fight against it engulfed everyone in death, even while the presence of violence is denied:

"You think too much Chacaltana.  Get one thing into your head: in this country there is no terrorism, by orders from the top.  Is that clear?

Everyone is focused on trying to make sure that as few people as possible know that any violence is occurring at all, or that Sendero still exists.  That gets more difficult--though not impossible--as the number of dead increases.  From the perspective of plot, the book keeps you guessing until the end.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Playing with immigration numbers

Although I share his indignation, I disagree with Mike Munger's conclusion here and my indignation is a bit different.  The story is that ICE officials used very dubious means (just read the Washington Post article, which is depressing) to reach "record" numbers of deportations.*

But each successive revelation about how ICE "broke" the record is more preposterous and outrageous. Have we completely lost respect for the basic rule of law? And then to have these bureaucrats just LIE....Wow. I mean, the guy who outed the administration's fibs is the head of their own union. The admin lied about changing the rules, and artificially decreed that the year would be longer, on both ends. Good lord.

WaPo is hardly some right wing blogger. There actually appears to be something moving, where fair-minded people on the left are sick and tired of the Obama shenanigans.

But here is the point I think Mike misses.  Even without the fake counting, the Obama administration is deporting people in truly massive numbers, with a commitment that exceeds the Bush administration even if a "record" is not achieved, which in any case was very close.  The tinkering is therefore at the margins.  That deportation commitment--which is very expensive but very easy to get funding for--greatly exceeds its own professed commitment to immigration reform.

In other words, I think it is fair to say that many people, myself included, are tired not so much of shenanigans, but of policy.

* Obsession with records is a pet peeve of mine.  I've written before about how how pervasive that has been in drug interdictions.  Trying to reach artificial record numbers also helped create the false positives scandal in Colombia.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Latin America links to look at

I try to remember and do this every so often, as my blog roll had major problems and ultimately seemed rather long and unwieldy anyway.

--Pablo at The Cross Culturalist on the Republican DREAM Act defectors

--Aguachile on the latest poll for Mexico 2012

--Americas Quarterly on the poor (read, U.S.) Chilean diet

--Boz on Latinobarómetro and the relevance of crime

--Francisco Toro at Caracas Chronicles on potential crackdown on the internet in Venezuela

--Mike Allison has a series of posts on El Salvador Wikileaks

--RNS at Honduras Culture and Politics on militarization in Honduras


Disappeared in Colombia

Vanessa Kritzer at the Latin America Working Group called my attention to their new report, Breaking the Silence: In Search of Colombia's Disappeared.

As of November 2010, Colombia’s official government statistics list over 51,000 disappearances, a figure that includes missing persons who may be alive, while the Attorney General’s office speaks of over 32,000 “forced disappearances.” More than 1130 new cases of forced disappearance have been officially registered in the last three years. However, the full total remains unknown. Many cases have yet to be entered in the database, and many disappearances are not registered at all. Earlier claims by associations of families of the disappeared of some 15,000 forced disappearances, far from being an overestimation, now look to have vastly undercounted the tragedy’s enormous scope.

It is entirely positive that the government is taking the issue seriously, though obviously sobering that doing so actually reveals the problems to be even worse than previously believed.  Even knowing how violent Colombian has been, those numbers are staggering--similar to Argentina's Dirty War.

As the report notes, one of the key problems now is that it is extremely difficult to prosecute anyone, and many family members are stigmatized as FARC sympathizers.  Plus, many cases end up in military courts.

The report concludes with specific recommendations for both the Colombian and U.S. governments, and is well worth a look.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

DREAMing in the House

So the DREAM Act passed the House (216-198), but as everyone notes, it is hard to see how it could pass the Senate.  Senate Republicans have already indicated they won't allow it to come to a vote.

Since the DREAM Act is one of the least controversial elements of immigration reform, the response (and resistance in the Senate) emphasizes two points.

First, the Obama administration's dramatic increase in enforcement measures will not translate into votes for immigration reform.

Second, the status quo is becoming more and more attractive to many people, which makes mustering votes for reform even more difficult.  For example:

Many of the House Republicans who condemned the bill most forcefully Wednesday referred to the act as a nightmare, not a dream, and argued it would unfairly harm U.S. citizens who would face more competition from newly legalized immigrants in college admissions, federal loans, work-study programs and the workforce.

In other words, it is preferable to keep people in the illegal economy without higher education, where they can continue to provide the rest of us with cash-based services for low wages.  To be fair, these arguments are coming from members of the House who would never vote for reform anyway, but I can see this type of logic appealing to others.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Presidential approval in Chile

I've written before about presidential approval in Chile, and UDI Senator Pablo Longueira is also trying to figure it out.  He criticizes the way in which Sebastián Piñera has handled his image.

“Porque la forma en que trabaja el gobierno es en torno a una figura personal, individual, no ha habido ningún cambio por hacer algo más institucional que finalmente haga que esto tenga una estabilidad en el tiempo”, indicó Longueira.

The problem with this argument is that there is an increasingly strong incentive for presidents not to identify with institutions, by which he means party coalitions.  The two main coalitions in Chile are extremely unpopular, whereas presidents have achieved high levels of personal approval even in times of economic downturn.  Piñera has every incentive to 1) emphasize his individual achievements; and 2) blame institutions for any failures.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Latin America and a Palestinian state

Argentina has joined Brazil and Uruguay in recognizing a Palestinian state (and thanks to J.F. String in comments to a recent post for noting that Uruguay had preceded Brazil).  The Israeli response is striking, particularly because it unwittingly shows in part why Latin American countries are doing so in the first place.

"Such a declaration today only harms the peace process, because it merely encourages the Palestinians to keep digging in and hoping the miracle will somehow descend from the heavens or from the international community, that will impose some kind of accord on Israel," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said.

"And what is important is that the Americans don't accept this either," he told Israel's Army Radio.

First, I think it is fair to say that these Latin American governments do precisely want to be part of an accord forged by the international community, but obviously they do not consider that harmful to the peace process.

Second, emphasizing what the U.S. wants will virtually always have the opposite effect of that desired.  If anything, berating Latin America in that regard will encourage more countries to follow suit.  And anyway, Brazil's position is intended to be a counterpoint to the U.S.


Monday, December 06, 2010

Latin America and debt

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at economic problems in Europe and examines how Latin America provides lessons, particularly in terms of restructuring debt.  Two thoughts:

First, the article dances around but does not focus on the fact that it is helpful if you sell commodities that China, India, and other major countries are currently paying a premium for.  If you don't, the recovery may will be more difficult.

Second, it is interesting to see how Argentina's default and then Néstor Kirchner's debt strategy in 2005 are getting some respect, whereas at the time both received quite a lot of criticism.  But now:

Argentina's debt load shrank by one-third after the default, and it shifted into high growth. Part of the reason for that is the surge in demand for Argentine wheat, meat and other commodities, thanks to China. But partly, it's because the economy's growth wasn't stalled by overly burdensome debt payments.
"Aggressive debt defaults mean you'll be classified as a rogue debtor, you'll be excluded from capital markets—but there's the possibility you might solve your problems more quickly," says Mr. Powell.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Venezuela documents

Boz pointed out on Twitter that the State Department has declassified a bunch of documents related to Venezuela.  Interesting stuff to look through, and there are lots of them.  The very first document was the emphatic statement by the Defense Minister in February 1992 that there was no coup attempt.  No one really believed that, and there are tons of documents showing how the U.S. was trying to figure out what was going on (and seemingly doing a pretty good job of doing so).  Then there are more going all the way up to 2004, and you can see what I would call cautious alarm turn to more pointed criticism over time.


Saturday, December 04, 2010

Brazil and the Middle East

Brazil has recognized the Palestinian state, based on the borders right before the 1967 Six Day War.  A quick search suggests that in Latin America only Cuba and Nicaragua recognize the Palestinian state (though I am happy to be corrected if that is wrong).

This is all part of Brazil's (and especially Lula's) effort to be a player in the Middle East.  The last effort (with Turkey) did not work out so well, but Brazil is placing itself in counterpoint to the United States because it wants to mediate but from a more pro-Palestinian perspective.  At the very least, whatever one thinks of it, Brazil is harder and harder to ignore in the Middle East.

Aside from the diplomatic questions, there is also the unknown of whether Dilma Rousseff has the same level of interest as Lula in the Middle East.


Friday, December 03, 2010

Mexico Wikileaks

Malcolm Beith has a take on the Mexico Wikileaks that is worth reading.  I agree with his assessment that the media portrayal is overblown, with headlines about "lost faith" or "fear."  There is certainly concern, but I would be much more alarmed if there was no concern. Corruption, bureaucratic infighting, connections to narcotraffickers, and an army ill-equipped to fight a domestic enemy are all serious--and well known--problems.   I am glad U.S. officials are talking about it openly, and I doubt this will have much of a negative impact on Mexican officials, who are even more acutely aware of those problems.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Miner crisis is fully milked

From Adimark: remember that approval bump Sebastián Piñera got from the miner crisis?  Poof, it is gone, and he is back to where he was prior.  His November approval was 50%, down from 63% last month.  Conventional wisdom is that he fell because of a scandal regarding his intervention in the election of the president of the National Association of Professional Football (ANFP).

Approval of the coalitions are still low, though the Coalition for Change (center-right and right) is at 43%, which is not too bad given the numbers in recent years.  The Concertación is at 31%.

Understanding presidential approval in Chile is difficult, in large part because it does not follow the economy in the ways predicted by the academic literature.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wikileaks Argentina

Is it just me, or is the quality of cables to and from Buenos Aires particularly erratic, which is ironic because some of the cables discuss the erratic nature of the Kirchners?  The State Department wants to know about Néstor Kirchner's gastrointestinal problems, and the embassy writes about how the government is going to fall (even before Kirchner's death).  The embassy also writes a gossipy note with a misspelled title.  Then we get a balanced, detailed discussion of Cristina Fernández's view of the economy.

What struck me about these cables as well is that they provide almost no context.  They cite people with very clear political agendas without making them explicit, which will only confuse those who are trying to make sense of them.  From an academic point of view, I also wish there was some--even just a tiny bit--of national context in terms of, say, polling data.  So a former ally of the Kirchners makes a prediction, but does that jibe with current polls?


Wikileaks Venezuela

From the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, a great quote:

A plain-spoken nuclear physicist told 
Econoff that those spreading rumors that Venezuela is helping 
third countries (i.e. Iran) develop atomic bombs "are full of 
(expletive)." He said Venezuela is currently unable to 
provide such assistance particularly as the Chavez 
administration "does not trust scientists."

Interestingly, this is rather like the long cable on Honduras, where diplomats contradict extravagant claims yet are mostly ignored.


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