Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Presidents, Parties, and Democratic Breakdown

Carlos Pereira and Marcus André Melo, "The Surprising Success of Multiparty Presidentialism." Journal of Democracy 23, 2 (July 2012): 156-170.

Abstract (gated):

The common wisdom is that when presidential political systems coincide with multiparty systems the result is gridlock; parties squabble and presidents are not able to stitch together the majorities they need to move forward with the business of governing. Latin America’s presidential systems were supposed to have been a disaster. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, however, presidentialism and multipartism seem to work rather well. E pur se muove, to quote Galileo. Over the last decade or so, multiparty presidentialism has become the modal form of presidential democracy, especially in Latin America. Once thought to be a precursor of democratic breakdowns, no compelling explanations have emerged to account for its success in countries such as Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. The surprising sustainability of coalition-based presidentialism demands an explanation, yet political scientists are ill-equipped to answer this puzzle. 

I find this a bit problematic because it puts Latin American institutions in a vacuum. For studies on democratic breakdown, the critical issue is how institutions work in the context of crisis, not just how they function in the absence of crisis. For example, as Arturo Valenzuela wrote about Chile:

It is the principal thesis of this work that the main characteristic of the Chilean system by mid-twentieth century was a marked political polarization. Conflict and confrontation were mediated by a web of institutions and through the verdict of an electoral system which defined the power capabilities of political groups.*

So the problem is not presidents and parties per se, but how presidents and parties react to "marked political polarization." The record is not particularly good when you consider Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Paraguay, and Venezuela. The countries the authors note approvingly--Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay--have not seen that level of polarization. You could make an argument that political institutions are the reason for lower levels of polarization, but they only do so indirectly:

In multiparty presidential systems, even constitutionally strong executives may operate as perpetual formateurs, cobbling together a distinct voting coalition to support each important initiative. In such institutional environments, executives may assemble heterogeneous governing majorities using ideologically diverse political parties. Executives also must often use particularistic benefits (such as pork-barrel projects) along with political transfers (cabinet posts, other presidential appointments,12 and policy concessions) in complex efforts aimed at garnering needed votes in congress.

This suggests that presidents can put something together to enact policies intended to reduce polarization. To be convincing, though, that needs a lot more evidence.

*Arturo Valenzuela, The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes: Chile (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978): xiii


Monday, July 30, 2012

Krugman on Latin America

Andres Oppenheimer interviewed Paul Krugman and came away with Nobel Prize genius platitudes. Do some good stuff, not too much bad stuff, and you may get a better outcome. So in Mexico you need to get rid of the bad things, and bring in some good things.

“The best thing you could do for the Mexican economy would be to control the drug trade and the crime wave, and hope that the re-shoring of production from China (to Mexico) finally generates the economic miracle we keep waiting for,” he added.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/28/2916440/latin-americas-challenge-the-boring.html#storylink=cpy

OK, thanks! Now I feel much more educated than I did before the 30 seconds it took me to read the insights in this article. What about Brazil?

I don’t think there is an easy policy explanation about why Brazil has done better. It just seems that there seems to be more of an entrepreneurial drive

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/28/2916440/latin-americas-challenge-the-boring.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/28/2916440/latin-americas-challenge-the-boring.html#storylink=cpy



Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chile's National Defense Strategy

Sebastián Piñera recently unveiled a new Estrategia Nacional de Seguridad y Defensa, which is getting some attention. It says that security is essentially everything: "seguridad ampliada." The document even includes equality of opportunity as security, then jumps to the need to keep the Panama Canal secure, and how Chile can help Africa.
Peru's La Republica was not happy that it was released before a decision came down on maritime borders, and sees it as too bellicose, but at least was glad it specifically mentioned respecting international tribunals.
Claudio Fuentes, who has long studied Chilean civil-military relations, was not happy that it brought the armed forces back into internal security. He ends with a call to the legislature, which historically has conceded defense to the executive branch.

Finalmente, la ENSD es concebida como una “política de políticas” que orienta la articulación de distintas políticas públicas sectoriales y define los intereses nacionales desde la perspectiva castrense. Senadores y diputados, así como la sociedad toda, deberían debatir la ENSD propuesta por el Gobierno, ya que por esta vía se redefinirían aspectos fundamentales de la función castrense, de la política exterior y de la institucionalidad democrática. 

I agree, though what is needed even more is constant work by the legislature, not just on a single document. There have been three Libros de Defensa published (the last in 2010) and now this document, but they are put together by the executive branch. The legislative role--especially increasing oversight--always gets short shrift.

Lastly, I've done work on Chilean intelligence, and was disappointed to see that it does not reduce military autonomy, but rather simply calls for putting more resources into intelligence.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Why Castro's Statement Doesn't Matter

This almost qualifies as a rant, but is more properly just confusion. Why does the media see Raúl Castro's statement of willingness to talk with the United States as equals as noteworthy, even "surprising"? The Cuban government says this every year. Every. Single. Year.

Raúl Castro said in an interview in 2006 that he would hold talks as equals.

Raúl Castro offered to hold talks in 2007.

Raúl Castro offered to hold talks as equals in 2008.

Raúl Castro indicated to the Obama administration that it would hold talks as equals in 2009.

The Cuban foreign ministry said it would hold talks on any topic as long as it was between equals in 2010.

Jimmy Carter brought a message that Raúl Castro wanted talks as equals in 2011.

This isn't new, and it will have exactly zero effect on U.S.-Cuban relations.


Drug flights

Check out this graphic on drug flights from the New York Times.

A picture is worth a thousand words, especially in the Honduran case, where the 2009 coup blew open the door to more drug trafficking. The Colombia-Venezuela border is a big fat mess, and Venezuela apparently is the friendly skies. The graphic comes from this story about the flights in Venezuela.

Keep in mind the note at the top, though. 80% of drugs don't come through flights.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Latin America and China

Rhys Jenkins, "Latin America and China: A New Dependency?" Third World Quarterly 33, 7 (2012): 1337-1358.

Abstract (gated):

Economic relations between China and Latin America have grown rapidly over the past decade. This paper documents the growth of trade, foreign direct investment (fdi) and other financial flows between China and Latin America and identifies the interests of China in the region as a source of raw materials, a market for exports of manufactured goods and an area of diplomatic competition with Taiwan. It points to the asymmetric nature of the relationship in terms of the relative importance of bilateral trade to each partner, the composition of trade flows, and the balance of fdi flows. It shows that these show many of the characteristics of centre–periphery relations. However, China is far from becoming a new hegemonic power in Latin America and the latter's relations with the USA and Europe continue to be more significant than those with China.
Not terribly surprising, but useful in particular as a reminder that the economic relationship is similar to that outlined by dependency theory, but that the United States is not exactly being displaced.

The China-Latin America connections is a really hot scholarly topic at the moment.


Kropf & Kimball's Helping America Vote

I recommend Martha Kropf and David Kimball's Helping America Vote: The Limits of Electoral Reform (2012). Martha is a friend and colleague down the hall here at UNC Charlotte, so I'm biased, but this is a nice, succinct look at the mess left in the wake of the 2000 presidential election and the unintended consequences of the 2002 Helping America Vote Act. Basically, our system of voting is even more messed up than you thought.

They discuss the issues of access (making sure there are as few barriers to voting as possible), favored more by Democrats) and integrity (making sure there is as little fraud as possible, more favored by Republicans) and how they came together in 2000 to make both political parties focus on voting technology as the main answer to the country's electoral problems. That did reduce residual votes, but the specific type of technology matters a lot and of course there is wide variation of technology even within states. Further, aside from technology, they show empirically how ballot design affects voting.

Another unintended consequences is the consolidation of polling places as a way to save money since the new technology is pricey (and keeps requiring updates). That, in turn, makes it harder for many people to vote because they have to travel farther to do so and/or because they don't know where to go. For this reason, consolidation leads to decreased turnout.

And finally, the individuals administering the elections matter. They have political preferences of their own, and how they are chosen varies considerably. As they discuss, that point has received far less attention than the machines.

Their discussion of the morass of local, state, and federal laws and regulations also reminded me a lot of immigration.  In both cases, you end up with a patchwork of confusion. States simultaneously want autonomy but also want the federal government to help fund reform.

A final point is that in the broad debate over the policy relevance of academia, the book shows how academic studies were important in defining problems of access and integrity.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Romney and Argentina

Here's an article in the Telegraph about Mitt Romney's criticisms of Barack Obama's relations with Great Britain. He's mad about all the bad things Obama has done. You read a bit more, and you see that the British are a bit peeved about Obama's neutrality on the Falklands/Malvinas. Then you read even more and you find out that Romney actually cannot--or will not--articulate anything he would do differently.

A change in tone was reflected by the enthusiastic welcome extended to Mr Cameron during an official visit and dinner in March. However, British diplomats remain frustrated by their “transactional” relationship with the Obama White House and lack of support on issues such as the Falkland Islands. 
Mr Romney has not made any commitments on the Falklands, but several in his foreign policy team favour backing Britain and publicly rejecting claims of sovereignty by Christina Kirchner, the Argentine president. Under Mr Obama the US remains neutral. 
The advisers could not give detailed examples of how policy towards Britain would differ under Mr Romney. One conceded that on the European crisis: “I’m not sure what our policy response is.”

With regard to Latin America at least, this follows a pattern. There are critics aplenty about Obama's stance with regard to Argentina, but also of course to Venezuela and other countries. Yet as I've written before, these criticisms never seem to spell out a real alternative policy solution.

h/t Erik Loomis, though he was focusing on the "Anglo-Saxon" part


Drought and Latin America

Both today and yesterday, NPR ran stories in the morning on my way to work about the drought in the midwestern United States, which has affected soybeans and corn in particular. That made me think of the fact that I often note the problem of Latin American economies relying on commodities, but rarely acknowledge when it works out well, at least in the short term. This drought will help Argentine farmers, who are chomping at the bit to increase corn exports. It will also help Brazilian soybean farmers, not to mention Brazilian corn farmers who are benefiting from U.S. companies needing animal feed.

The downside, of course, is that the average person in Latin America and everywhere else will see an increase in the cost of anything related to corn and soy, which are connected directly or indirectly to many different products. There was a lot of discussion about this type of issue back in 2007, when corn-based ethanol was all the rage, and it was making tortilla prices spike.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Plot to Kill Allende

From CIPER Chile, quite a post/interview. Meet the retired Air Force Captain, Jorge Silva, who was with General Alberto Bachelet when he died in prison. And why was Silva in prison in the first place? Because he was informed of an air force plot to assassinate President-elect Salvador Allende and chose to tell him about it, thus thwarting it.

Me sacaron. Por el tremendo pecado de haberle informado al Presidente electo de que intentaban asesinarlo. Por eso después del Golpe a mí casi me mataron, porque nunca entendieron que después de ese terrible episodio yo nunca más hablé con el Presidente Allende y tampoco con su secretario y con nadie de su entorno. No podían entender que no pedí ninguna prebenda y tampoco entregué nunca más información sobre la Fuerza Aérea. Y no tenían ninguna acusación en mi contra, porque nunca asistí a ninguna reunión de los contrarios al Golpe porque sabía que estaban infiltrados.
He was detained soon after the coup, tortured, spent three and a half years in prison, then left Chile in 1977.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Electoral authoritarianism

Jay Ulfelder notes Juan Forero's piece in the Washington Post on Latin American countries with democratically elected leaders who use a variety of non-democratic means to consolidate power. He notes that there is more than meets the eye.

In fact, I think the over-reliance on charisma and populism as explanations for the emergence of these regimes speaks to a common error in the way many U.S. observers think about the nature of the problem. I get the sense that many U.S. analysts and officials still view Latin America through a Cold War lens that conflates leftist and anti-American policies with authoritarianism. This bias causes them to err on the side of including leftist governments on this list of “bad guys” while excluding more conservative ones. Thus, Bolivia and Ecuador keep landing on the roster of “new authoritarians” in spite of their ambiguities while cases like Honduras are more often overlooked or explained away. In 2003, when Brazil elected staunchly a leftist president for the first time since democracy was restored in the mid-1980s, there was a lot of grumbling in Washington about the threat of an authoritarian turn without a shred of real evidence to support it. 
Until we do a better job distinguishing between these various dimensions of politics, we’re going to have a hard time understanding what’s happening—not just in Latin America, but also in the Arab world, Africa, Asia, and even in Europe nowadays. More generally, while I’m always happy to see journalists engaging in this kind of comparative analysis, I would be even happier if they would talk to fewer politicians and activists and more analysts when they do.

I would add that an additional problem is that in these putatively authoritarian countries, the opposition has either a) been too weak and disorganized to win recent presidential elections; or b) simply overthrown left-leaning presidents it does not like. In practice this means we don't actually see a truly democratic end game, which would be a leftist president losing an election to someone more right-leaning. All of these analyses seem to assume that the left would never let it happen, but we don't yet have a case study.*

In other words, consolidation of power is not solely a matter of using the machinery of the state, but also is tied to the failures of the opposition. In the countries most commonly cited--Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador--the right is in shambles, deeply discredited for past failed policies. In small countries with weak institutions like Honduras and Paraguay, the right refused even to wait for the next presidential election.

* Chile is a partial case, but the Concertación is much more centrist than the other cases, so the switch to the center-right did not entail significant change.


Romney in Spanish

Like John McCain in 2008, Mitt Romney is producing Spanish-language TV ads with a message on immigration that is much more conciliatory than what he says in English stump speeches and ads. Like McCain, Romney blames Barack Obama and Democrats for the failure of immigration reform. Like in 2008, there is not much truth to the ad, which is an attempt to grab some--any--Latino voters by appearing to sound reasonable. As with McCain, this strategy will not work. Currently, 70% of Latino voters are for Obama while 22% are for Romney, and there is no reason to believe that will change before the election.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Amanda Cross' Death in a Tenured Position

I knew nothing about Amanda Cross' Death in a Tenured Position except that it was a murder mystery set in academia with a really lurid title. I did not know, for example, that it served as a statement against the sexism and homophobia that characterized Harvard (the book was published in 1981 and takes place in 1979). I also did not know that Amanda Cross was a psuedonym for Carolyn Heilbrun, who was a prominent professor of English at Columbia and wrote a series of mysteries starring Kate Fansler, an amatuer sleuth and--naturally--an English professor.

The story (which is entirely fictional) centers on the persecution of the first full professor of English at Harvard. She is isolated from the patriarchal department yet also angry that other women want her to be a role model. Therefore there is resentment on all sides, so when she is found dead from poison there are plenty of possibilities.

It's a good read. My only quibble is that the characters sound English, using words like "beastly" and "dotty." Who knows, maybe everyone did sound like the law professor in The Paper Chase.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Conflict and intervention

Hugo Chávez says the Syrian conflict should be resolved peacefully and without foreign intervention. The former is nonsensical--the regime would never allow such a thing to happen--but in combination with the latter I wondered if Chávez would have made this argument for Nicaragua in 1979, for example.

Though he criticizes the U.S. all the time, his criteria for action are essentially identical. You determine your strategic interests and craft arguments accordingly that make no sense when viewed in a comparative context. So the U.S. argues that opening up to China is the way to bring capitalism and democracy, while in Cuba it is the opposite. Chávez does not care about conflict or intervention per se--he just naturally wants his allies to win. He applauded the fall of a tyrant in Egypt and railed against it in Libya.

This realist perspective is understandable, but for Venezuela, as with the U.S., it will erode the credibility of your purist rhetoric. Neither country is really for democracy all the time.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Crazy threats

If I ever made New Year's resolutions, one would be to stop blogging about crazy commentaries. Or maybe I could try a kind of blogging Lent every once in a while. But sometimes I can't resist. Just read this from José Cárdenas. He criticizes everyone who fails to understand Hugo Chávez's wild desires. Then he outlines a threat that's so bizarre that I don't even need to comment on it:

Anyone who has actually bothered to listen to Mr. Chavez would know he is a devotee of asymmetric warfare as practiced by radical Islam, a doctrine which holds that in the face of overwhelmingly unfavorable military capabilities, one is compelled to employ all manner of irregular methods (i.e., terrorism, guerrilla warfare and insurgency) to balance the odds. In other words, you take advantage of every opportunity to harm your opponent’s interests wherever and whenever you can.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Brazilian economy

I'm quoted in this story in the Rio Times about the Brazilian economy, with the main question being why is it slowing down, especially when compared to Mexico? This gets at my many posts on Latin American economies, China, and commodities. The more you rely on commodity exports to China, the more you will be hurt when China's appetite decreases.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Robert Grudin's Book

Robert Grudin's novel Book (1992) is great fun, even more so if you are in academia. What I love about it is that it skewers parts of academia, but the author is an academic, with a wide variety of serious scholarly works to his credit, even some with titles he tends to make fun of in the novel. It takes a special kind of novelist to poke at what he clearly actually likes. This book is damned funny.

A controversial and not particularly well-liked English professor at a mid-sized university has disappeared. His claim to infamy is a novel he wrote that was published by a small press and quickly went out of print. Then it seems that all the copies of that book are disappearing too.

The book even has footnotes and glossaries, ostensibly for the non-academic reader, but hilarious. So, for example, right after "deconstructionist" he lists "defication," which means "deconstructionist term implying a connection between writing fiction and defecating" (p. 62). There is a quote from an article in the International Journal of Failed Results. He has footnotes talk about themselves as footnotes, angry about the message they are footnoting, and calling for more footnotes to join a rebellion. Over and over, Grudin pokes at academic rituals.

There was an unexpected layer of pure and wonderful irony to my reading experience. I had heard about the book and bought it used online. The copy I received had been marked up in places, ponderous and pompous, with references to Nietzsche and copious underlining. At first I found it annoying, but then it somehow became an organic part of the book itself. That anonymous previous reader was taking very seriously a text that was specifically intended to puncture seriousness.

Every profession has its perverse elements: just read a novel about Wall Street, for example. But in academia we tend to revel in it. Arcane jargon, infighting, insecurity about publication, concern about where you are on various totem poles and, yes, copious use of footnotes to denote erudition (not to mention using words like "erudition"). Every so often, it's useful to step back and think about which parts of these rituals are just ridiculous.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nicaragua canal

Remember José Santos Zelaya? He wanted a Nicaragua canal over a hundred years ago. Daniel Ortega is trying to revive the dream, though hopefully not the outcome (Santos Zelaya was overthrown by the United States).

A key problem now, as back then, is that Nicaragua is broke so apparently is trying to cobble together a disparate group of interested governments. Very hard to see this going anywhere given the price tag and difficulty of coordination (not just for construction but for control).


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Google Play books

If you are interested in Latin American history and enjoy going down internet rabbit holes, then I recommend playing around with Google Play. There are tons of old, out of copyright books that you can download in seconds.

Just browse Google Books and use advanced search to do older dates and limit the search to free ebooks. I've been checking out Graham H. Stuart's textbook Latin America and the United States, published in 1922.

Books look great on an iPad with Google's Play Books app. On an iPhone, though, they are doable but hard to read.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Question of the day

How does the border fence actually still stand, given the fact that every inch of it seems to have a tunnel beneath?

Part of the answer, I guess, is that there is a booming business for engineers to make the tunnels structurally sound:

“I would suspect that professional engineers were cooperating with the builders, if not working on site,” said Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of the DEA's Phoenix field office. He said construction might have taken at least a year and cost an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million.
So all you engineering majors, maybe the job market doesn't look so bad after all.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chávez's campaign

I'm quoted in this Bloomberg article about Hugo Chávez. He has proclaimed himself cancer-free, and given everyone knows that cancer treatment is arduous, no one is expecting the same level of energy as before. If he can avoid another secretive Cuba trip before the election, then he will be in a good position because he will take the illness issue out of the equation. I do wonder, though, if he is truly free of cancer then why does he still refuse to tell the public any details?


More on Latin American dependence

Kudos to the MSM for picking up the obvious argument that the economic relationship between Latin America and China is characterized by dependence. I've been writing about this ad nauseum. Here is some reality:

Analyzing the breakdown of trade with China, Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists found that exports from most Latin American countries are concentrated in a few primary products, such as copper in Chile and oil seeds in Argentina. 
They are also more volatile in price than industrial goods, which are shrinking as a share of export revenue. 
Since 2001, exports of manufactured goods have dwindled as a share of total exports in Latin America's top seven economies as fuels and mining products have boomed. Brazilian manufactured goods made up more than half its exports in 2001, but accounted for 35 percent in 2010, according to WTO data.

What I don't get is why such analyses are presented as if they are new or surprising. It does not take a corporate economist to "find" that Latin America still relies heavily on the export of primary products. As one author wrote in 1922, "Agriculture and mining, of course, still constitute the main industries of Latin America." Ironically that book, published 90 years ago, was entitled The New Latin America. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Obama and Rubio on Venezuela

President Obama talked briefly about Venezuela in an interview, giving a statement that's pretty bland:

"We're always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe," Obama told a Spanish language television station based in Miami. "But overall, my sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.
"We have to vigilant," Obama said in the interview broadcast Tuesday. "My main concern when it comes to Venezuela is having the Venezuelan people have a voice in their affairs and that you end up ultimately having fair and free elections, which we don't always see."

Set aside for now the fact that Venezuelan elections have been free and fair, but that the opposition mostly loses. Obama's idea is that you pay attention but don't over-react. This made Marco Rubio mad, because he's firmly in the over-react camp.

It's never quite clear, though, what Rubio and others actually want. I am guessing sanctions, but if the national security of the United States is the goal, then we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot because oil prices would likely jump and Chávez would receive considerable sympathy. Or maybe just more money for the Venezuelan opposition, though that's not a terribly effective tool. Or covert ops, I suppose. But even if you support those, you have to know that the probability of discovery is very high, and that would create backlash.


Opciones políticas en una primavera cubana

The article I co-authored in Military Review has now been translated into Spanish for the Edición Hispanomericana as "Opciones políticas en una primavera cubana." Always nice to get as broad an audience as possible. In this case, it is particularly useful because so many in Latin America view U.S. policy toward Cuba with a mix of derision and perplexity.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Both Twitter and blogs are abuzz about Enrique Peña Nieto's CNN interview. He answers a question, then takes really long pauses in between sentences. The charitable interpretation is that he was waiting for pieces of his answer to be translated before continuing, though that's a weird way of doing such an interview. The cynical interpretation is that he had answers printed out, and someone was showing them to him. This even got to CNN, which felt the need to state that he was not using a teleprompter.

This is starting to remind me of the George W. Bush years, with the gaffes played and commented on endlessly.


Monday, July 09, 2012

Robert Caro's The Passage of Power

With Robert Caro's The Passage of Power you know what you will get. You receive a brick of a book that often reads like a novel, detailing how the use of power shaped Lyndon Johnson's transition from the senate to the vice presidency to the presidency--power is always what Caro focuses on. You get a feel for what it was like in the places where key events took place. I had waited years for it after reading Master of the Senate, and now will wait years for the next installment.

The beginning of the book shows how indecisive LBJ was about challenging JFK in 1960, then jumped in so late that he had no chance for the nomination. That too reflects power, or more specifically that Johnson did not want to be seen as lunging for power if there was a chance he might lose. The insecurities about his impoverished background (especially versus the Kennedy glamour) that came out in full force reminded me so much of Richard Nixon, and probably helps explain why they got along quite well after LBJ left office. Another Nixon echo is the bullying, as LBJ illegally pressured newspapers to support him. Power at that level very easily goes to your head.

Then the vice presidential years are characterized by an embarrassing lack of power. The Kennedys and their entourage openly made of him and excluded him from meetings. He almost literally had nothing to do. After Kennedy was assassinated, he worked quickly to put his own stamp on the presidency. He was able to do so because he knew how to get Kennedy's languishing legislation passed and hold his team together. Political scientists don't tend to like explanations based on individuals, but Caro provides a fascinating account of LBJ working to overcome the resistance of Senator Harry Byrd, who had everything tied up because he wanted a federal budget under $100 billion. Once LBJ found a way to do so, Byrd let legislation go to the floor. Overall, Caro notes how amazing the activity was in the weeks immediately after the assassination.

His first State of the Union address showed his commitment to civil rights and to poverty reduction, from a very personal perspective. It was positively Reaganesque: announce lots of new programs while proclaiming the benefits of reduced spending. By mid-1964, when the book leaves off, you see a president who is soaring, on the road to blowing away Barry Goldwater. With his prodding, poking, phone calling, lapel-grabbing, and threatening, he had dealt very successfully with Congress, the press, and public opinion. He had quieted the Kennedy crowd. In retrospect, it is remarkable how fast the fall came.

There is plenty on the split with RFK, which will move more toward center stage in the next volume. One point I didn't know regarding Latin America was that Robert Kennedy expressed his displeasure with the naming of Thomas Mann in the top post for Latin America. He believe, 100% correctly, that Mann would immediately dismantle the Alliance for Progress.

Caro has plenty of detractors. This is a popular biography, and so pays no attention to historiography. Previous books are noted only insofar as they add to his narrative. In fact, he makes no effort to insert himself into any broader debate at all. Take the series for what it is--a nicely written, well-documented effort to show how ruthlessly one of the most important politicians in U.S. history wielded power.


Sunday, July 08, 2012

Bolivia-Chile alliance

Drug traffickers can sometimes do things politicians could only dream of. Take, for example, the close and friendly cooperation between Chileans and Bolivians. Traffickers, that is.

En la operación, con la que culminó una investigación que se prolongó por seis meses, la policía decomisó 27 kilos de cocaína de alta pureza, tres vehículos de lujo empleados por la banda y algunas armas de fuego, dijo Villanueva a los periodistas. 
La policía calcula que antes de su captura los traficantes lograron vender al detalle unos 59 kilos de la droga. 
Además de Jacqueline Concha, fueron detenidos los chilenos Edmundo González, de 36 años, y Daniel Henríquez (27), y los bolivianos Martín Chura (46) y Pánfilo Choque (29).

Drugs transcend the Chile-Bolivia divide, the Venezuela-Colombia divide, the Central America divide, and the U.S.-Mexico divide, among others. What is the next historic Latin American division to be bridged by the mindless and violent pursuit of illegal profit?

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one.


Saturday, July 07, 2012

Media fairness in Latin America

Al Jazeera will have a discussion about whether the media in Latin America is fair. In a certain sense, I think it is the wrong question because it suggests there is some definable quality of "fairness." Instead, we can do a better job measuring bias, and in Latin America these are usually quite obvious.

I periodically have a comparative discussion in my Latin American politics class. In the United States, we are obsessed with journalistic objectivity, to the point that we pretend newspapers or networks are unbiased when they clear aren't. Fox News' slogan is a conscious mockery of this obsession.

In Latin America the media is different. You can buy newspapers with different ideological bents, and no one tries to make false claims of fairness. Further, it is much more normal to have state-owned media in the mix.

A better question, then, is how is the media biased in Latin America, and what types of ideological biases have more sway--more money, more circulation, more stations, what have you--than others.


Thursday, July 05, 2012

Uruguay and Yossarian

Nate Jones at the National Security Archive has a blog post about declassifying documents related to U.S.-Uruguayan relations in the 1970s. Not too surprisingly, the U.S. government is not anxious to provide much, and what it does provide is heavily censored.

At a minimum, declassification reviewers are required to complete a “line by line” review for segregability.  It appears DiPaolo may have attempted to save herself some time by simply censoring every paragraph marked classified (the entire comments section), rather than actually reviewing it for potential “identifiable and describable damage.”  This is a common –and incorrect– practice by declassification reviewers, government-wide.

Immediately this made me think of the novel Catch-22, where Yossarian's job is to censor soldiers' letters. He developed arbitrary ways of doing so as a way to amuse himself.

When he had exhausted all possibilities in the letters, he began attacking the names and addresses on the envelopes, obliterating whole homes and streets, annihilating entire metropolises with careless flicks of his wrist as though he were God. Catch-22 required that each censored letter bear the censoring officers name. Most letters he didnt read at all. On those he didnt read at all he wrote his own name. On those he did read he wrote, Washington Irving. When that grew monotonous he wrote, Irving Washington. Censoring the envelopes had serious repercussions, produced a ripple of anxiety on some ethereal military echelon that floated a C.I.D. man back into the ward posing as a patient. They all knew he was a C.I.D. man because he kept inquiring about an officer named Irving or Washington and because after his first day there he wouldnt censor letters. He found them too monotonous.

At least, though, I was glad to read in the blog post that the State Department actually has a good record of declassification, including this one.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Cocaine as currency

From Jim Wyss: some more evidence of the drug war's failure. Plenty of rural Colombians still use coca base as cash.

Don Antonio unscrewed a vitamin bottle and dumped a few chunks of coca base – a precursor to cocaine – in his hand. In this part of Colombia, along the Guayabero River that divides Meta and Guaviare, coca base, or mercancia, is as good as cash.  A gram is worth 2,000 pesos and might buy you a Coca-Cola. 
I just got back from a trip to the region with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Despite the decades-long war on drugs and routine fumigation flights in the area, locals said about 90 percent of the population depends on the shrub to make a living. Those who have tried to make the switch to legal crops say the costs of trying to get their yucca or corn harvests to the nearest town, where they might find buyers, make it unfeasible.

Years ago, a student brought me a fascinating National Geographic story about Colombian villages that used coca base rather than cash. Seeing this current story was a reminder of how some things haven't changed.

I soon learned that merchants all over the region accepted base as payment for purchases, weighing out the right amount and handing back the remainder of the base in change.

It is also a reminder, as if we needed one, of how difficult crop substitution is in practice. What incentive do people have to grow yucca?


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Venezuelan independence day

Am I the only one who detects a hint of snark in Hillary Clinton's message to Venezuela?

This year, the people of both our countries will be going to the polls to elect their political leaders. Holding free and fair elections is the best way to pay tribute to our founders, and reinforce the ideals of individual liberty and equality that our countries were founded upon. 

Does the U.S. send similar messages elsewhere?


Monday, July 02, 2012

The election and Pemex

An article in the Financial Times sees the Enrique Peña Nieto's election as a boost for oil.

Mr Peña told the Financial Times last year in an interview that Pemex “can achieve more, grow more and do more through alliances with the private sector”. He added: “Different mechanisms could be explored to ensure an involvement for the private sector in its alliance with Pemex . . . Brazil is one example.” 
The changes are unlikely to be radical. But Mr Peña is the first Mexican president to talk openly about the need to reform Pemex and bring in foreign capital.

But this isn't actually true. Felipe Calderón did the same, saying that Pemex needed to take on foreign partners for exploration. However, he could not get his legislation passed in Congress. We'll have to wait and see whether Peña will have enough votes to overcome the combination of nationalist and leftist opposition to anything that is perceived as privatization.


Sunday, July 01, 2012

Blame game

First, we get an op-ed wanted to blame the United States for everything in Paraguay. Now Andres Oppenheimer wants to blame governments that don't go after Venezuela.

Excuse my impertinence, but Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and several other Latin American countries deserve much of the blame for the recent forced exit of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo. 
They have remained silent before so many violations of democratic rights in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba in recent years that they have helped create a climate of “anything goes” in the region.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/06/30/2876575/region-shares-blame-for-paraguayan.html#storylink=cpy

Come on. I feel certain that Paraguayan leaders were not thinking about Venezuela when they planned Fernando Lugo's ouster. If anything, they thought about Honduras, where just waiting it out gets what you want. They also probably thought about Brazil, and figured Dilma Rousseff would not want to go to the trouble of reversing events.

At any rate, regime change and, say, attacks on the media are apples and oranges. Both involve democracy, of course, but someone plotting the former will not be considering the response to the latter.


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