Friday, May 31, 2013

Oppa Maduro Style

Here is a shift from Hugo Chávez to Nicolás Maduro, and not one that benefits the latter. He is going off on Juan Manuel Santos for meeting with Henrique Capriles. Now, being annoyed is understandable, but Chávez understood that keeping Santos on his side was important. In particular, he understood that Santos was moving away from Alvaro Uribe and so in many ways was more friendly with Chávez. Maduro seems not to care.

"Aquí hay bolivarianos, no se les olvide que somos hijos de Bolívar, de Chávez. No se metan con nosotros. Respeten para que se les respete", agregó el Jefe de Estado venezolano en una jornada del gobierno de calle desde el estado Carabobo. 
El 10 de agosto de 2010 en Santa Marta, Colombia, el presidente Hugo Chávez sostuvo una reunión con su homólogo colombiano, Juan Manuel Santos, donde se establecieron unas reglas, que hasta ayer se habían sido respetadas por ambas partes, relató Maduro, quien precisó que una de ellas había sido la no intromisión de los gobiernos en los asuntos internos de ambas naciones. "Una regla de juego básico para la convivencia y respeto".

I suppose he thinks he can get some short-term domestic boost just as Capriles is talking about the illegitimacy of the audit. He repeats Chávez's name over and over. But Santos is an important ally precisely because he is not a leftist. If Maduro is smart then he has already called Santos and told him to forget all the bluster that he put on for public consumption. If.

I tend to think that Santos met with Capriles as a way to blunt domestic criticism that he was too close to Chávez and is too willing to negotiate with the FARC. Plus, he can try to be friendly to both the Venezuelan government and opposition. As far as I know, he has made no recent statement about the situation, but in April he had congratulated Maduro on the win.

Maduro will be making a huge mistake if he lumps Santos and Uribe together, and from his statement he seems to come very close to doing so.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

More Bad Op-Eds

Op-eds these days on U.S.-Latin American relations are worse than they've ever been. the "U.S. is losing influence" theme, but there is also the "U.S. needs to do more" thing. Andres Oppenheimer has been all over this, but it's not restricted to him.

If you read, though, you discover that "doing more" boils down basically to "get some more trade ties." There is rarely anything of more substance than that, and this at a time when trade ties are very strong.

Instead, we get words like "active," "promote," and "improve," without any evidence about. Or the shudder-inducing phrase "grand plan."

If you want to write such an op-ed, be specific. And if you cannot come up with anything beyond platitudes, hit delete. Ditto if you cannot conjure up evidence for claims.

As I've written many times before, the default argument ought to be that "grand plans" don't tend to be good for Latin America, and so we should applaud a hands-off U.S. policy.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Financial Analysts and Latin America

This Bloomberg story helps sum up one difference between financial analysts and academics: the former seem surprised when historic trends don't go away.

Latin America is disappointing investors, economists and businesses with slower-than-forecast growth as waning commodity prices and strong currencies hit nations that failed to diversify and become more competitive.

The fact that Latin American economies are heavily dependent on commodities and have too little diversity is discussed, often in great detail, in every Latin American politics class in the country, and has been for many decades. It has been analyzed to death in too many books to count. It is essentially the starting point for any discussion of Latin American political economy.

So why are people surprised or disappointed?

I assume the people interviewed in the piece are paid very large sums of money to do their jobs. I would like to offer up my services--at a modest sum--to help you never be disappointed again by the strangely utopian views of Latin American economic growth that seem to pop up on a regular basis. A crash course in Latin American economic growth would help all these people tremendously.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Welcome Back, Communists

Michelle Bachelet has moved herself into a stronger position for the November 2013 presidential election by getting the endorsement of the Communist Party. This is some good old fashioned horse trading.

Since the end of the military dictatorship 23 years ago, the Communist Party has refused to be part of the Concertación, choosing a more militant but politically peripheral position. Interestingly, it had been more moderate than the Socialists during the Salvador Allende years, but the latter played an instrumental role in negotiating the transition whereas the Communists rejected it.

In recent years, the party has been central in the school protests. On Twitter J.F. String questioned whether endorsing Bachelet was--as I had suggested--a way to avoid being politically irrelevant. But you could argue that this is striking while the iron is hot. Generating protests is one thing, but getting the policy result you want is another. Doing this now gives the party more leverage to get legislative slots. Indeed:

In return for the Communist backing Bachelet is letting famed student activist Camila Vallejo run for Congress without a challenge from her centre-left bloc. Vallejo, who has expressed caution about backing Bachelet, is part of a push to expand Communist strength in Congress from three to 10 seats.

This matters in the binomial system, as the hope is that Vallejo can get all the Concertación votes rather than have them split. In addition, as John Carey and Peter Siavelis have argued, the Concertación provides appointed posts (if it wins the presidency, of course) to legislative losers. Thus, the Communist Party becomes a player in Bachelet's camp.

The right is already trying to capitalize, immediately mentioning Hugo Chávez (who remains the boogeyman of the day even in death). Will this endorsement make Bachelet voters stay home? That's difficult to imagine given her popularity. Plus, this is 2013, not 1973. Instead, this might give her the sort of margin she needs, especially in runoffs, which have been very tight: the Communist Party accounts for about 5% of the vote.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ernesto Mallo's Needle in a Haystack

Ernesto Mallo's Needle in a Haystack is a wonderful, terrible, tragic book. It is a police procedural--not to be confused with a mystery--and so we know who committed the crime and why, but not how the investigation will go.

The setting for the novel is Dirty War Argentina. Lascano is a police superintendent who becomes involved in a case where a body is dumped along with two others. The two were "subversives" killed by the army, but the third was planted there to make it seem like all three were together. Lascano quickly realizes they weren't, and investigates. This eventually gets him noticed by the army (particularly one Major Giribaldi, who has just adopted a stolen baby). Meanwhile, he is getting involved with a woman who is wanted by the government for her supposedly subversive activities.

It is a depiction of the corruption and impunity of the era. Ford Falcons are everywhere, with authorities doing absolutely anything they want to anyone they want. Lascano wants to follow clues and find out who killed whom--he is almost rigidly apolitical--but the politics of the situation make it very difficult.

Next time I teach Latin American Politics, I am going to give a lot of thought to using it. In a very engaging way, it lays out the fear and loathing of Latin American dictatorships during the Cold War. Right now I use Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden to evoke that period and its aftermath.


Republicans Immigrant Dilemma

This Ann Coulter column comes soon after I blogged about a Latino Republican abandoning the party. The internal conflict in the party is intense.

Her column is full of typical false assertions and racism, with the basic point that she wants more English migrants instead of Mexican because Mexican migrants breed lazy children who go on welfare and become Democrats. That's not new for her.

What's more interesting is the conclusion, which is widely shared in the Republican Party:

The nation’s plutocrats are lined up with the Democratic Party in a short-term bid to get themselves cheap labor (subsidized by the rest of us), which will give the Democratic Party a permanent majority. If Rubio’s amnesty goes through, the Republican Party is finished.

What this suggests is that defeating immigration reform is the only way to save the Republican Party. Yet the opposite is true. The demographic ship has sailed irrespective of immigration policy. It's like my dad and I argued in our book--you cannot expect policy to control demographic realities. The country looks a certain way now. Perhaps you do not like it, but you cannot wish it away. Either you adapt or die.

And this is the crux of the party's dilemma. Part of the party says we need to adapt and attract new members. Another party of the party says we need to stay as white as possible. Both sides say their way is the only one that will save the party. So who will win in the end?

Also, I must admit I missed the memo where "small farmers" were equated with "plutocrats."


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cuba Outside Cuba

Really good story in the Miami Herald about initial impressions Cuban dissidents had of Cuban American in Miami. It confirms what common sense should have told us decades ago--opening up is good for U.S. policy goals and detrimental to Cuba's.

The reason is that a lack of contact made it easy for Fidel Castro to paint Miami as a cesspool of criminals who hated Cubans who remained on the island. Once people actually have the chance to meet and talk with each other, it is harder to maintain an official line.

The embargo, of course, creates high barriers for contact, which ultimately undermines official policy goals. Let people talk to each other, see how the other lives, and let them decide what they prefer.

The article highlights how much demography matters for this as well. Fidel Castro's view was much more accurate in the past. Now there are so many more young Cuban Americans who do not view the situation so much through an ideological lens.

People and places evolve, yet our policy does not.


U.S. Influence in Latin America

We need a moratorium on op-eds proclaiming the end of U.S. influence in Latin America. They're usually terrible. Here is one of the most poorly argued I've read in a while.

The U.S. has lost influence because:

1. It is not shoveling aid at a pace frantic enough to foster dependency.

2. Latin American governments conduct independent foreign policy (he is especially miffed that Mexico dictated some terms of the U.S. role in fighting drugs in that country; the nerve!).

That's pretty much it. Maybe, in fact, it's not poorly argued at all. In fact, it is argued quite clearly. The lesson, though, is to celebrate what the author is lamenting. And indeed this is the underlying message in so many of these op-eds. What they dislike is independence.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Latin American Presidents & Twitter

El Universal reports that Henrique Capriles has more Twitter followers (3.3 million) than any Latin American president, and three times more than Nicolás Maduro (1.1 million). Cristina Kirchner is the most followed president (2 million).

What the article doesn't mention is that Hugo Chávez has 4.2 million followers and Venezuelan leaders routinely add his @chavezcandanga to their tweets (though, thankfully, they do not claim that he tweets from the beyond).

There are a number of potentially interesting questions to raise about social media in this context. At a glance, it would appear that Maduro's failure to get all the chavista votes mirrors the fact that many Chávez followers haven't bothered adding him. This despite the fact that Maduro tweets far more than Chávez ever did. And why is it that Capriles is so much higher?

But all this also should make us ask why some presidents do not bother at all. Mauricio Funes set up an account in 2010 and then let it die. Meanwhile, I can't find one at all for Evo Morales, except for various fake ones. Same with Daniel Ortega. Why does they obviously view it as useless while others do not? In part it could be how poor a country is, which corresponds to the number of people you can even reach, but Chávez had a huge poor constituency (same with Rafael Correa).

And we should also ask why some presidents get no followers. Otto Pérez Molina is quite controversial, reasonably well-known, and tweets frequently, but has a grand total of 82,488 followers. He has fewer than Laura Chinchilla. Size of population is one factor, but somehow we would also need to measure how well known they are beyond their country.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Learning Portuguese

Vincent Bevins links to video statements by John Kerry and Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio Patriotra. His English is incredible.

So here's the problem. The U.S. government talks all the time about how important Brazil is. Huge economy, tons of potential. But almost nobody speaks Portuguese.

Closer to home, we have a problem--one I have heard echoed elsewhere--convincing the university that Portuguese matters. In part I suppose because it doesn't come up in immigration discussions. But people, we need our students to learn Portuguese! This would open up all kinds of opportunities for them, but we struggle to offer more than the bare basics.

At a time when Humanities is getting a bum rap, we should also emphasize the economic development benefits of foreign languages. It's not just reading books, but it is learning a culture you can navigate in a way that others cannot.

And to my students, go find a language to double major in.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Maduro Knows Your Vote

Apparently having one of the "best voting systems in the world" means that the government knows who you voted for! At least that is the case in Venezuela, where Nicolás Maduro announced that he knows the identities of the 900,000 chavistas who did not vote for him. Here is the YouTube clip.

To say this is a threat to democracy is an understatement. One of the biggest political problems for Maduro are the people who claim to support him, then vote for the opposition in the privacy of their voting machine. They would've voted for Hugo Chávez, but not for him. If he can intimidate those voters, then he is in better shape for future elections.

And how about that smile when he says he knows the IDs?


Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Tailor of Panama

John le Carré clearly had a lot of fun writing The Tailor of Panama, which is spy novel as farce. If you don't want spoilers then stop reading, because it's hard not to discuss it without giving it away. Not, mind you, that it is particularly intricate. There is a nod to Graham Greene's Our Man in Panama, which le Carré makes explicit in the acknowledgements.

Harry Pendel is a British tailor in Panama City in the 1990s, and a British spy shows up at his door to recruit him. The spy has something on him, so he needs to cooperate. He doesn't have much to tell, so he starts making things up: foreign threats, a Silent Opposition, betrayals, all of them false. As he makes things up, London and eventually Washington get excited. And, in fact, it leads to another invasion.

Sound implausible? Well, it is, but it's great reading, brimming with sarcasm, but also full of obvious affection for the Panamanian people and contempt for those who lead them.

Great Men in Panama have gorgeous black secretaries in prim blue bus-conductress uniforms. They have panelled, steel-lined bullet-proof doors of rain-forest teak with brass handles you can't turn because the doors are worked on buzzers from within so that Great Men can't be kidnapped (p. 9).

While much of the book is quite funny, the end is not, as it shows a reflection on the fact that Panama has always been tossed about according to the whims of the U.S. (in this case with the British alongside). Harry had suffered tremendously during the 1989 invasion as he watched Panamanian friends seriously abused, and watched again as Panama City was pummeled, knowing he had played an unwitting role in causing it.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Evolution of WHINSEC

I've spent a few days at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. For quite a while, I had been wanting to do a follow up (a sequel, if you will) on an article I published in 2003, which was based on two trips I made here in 2002. That was very soon after the switch from School of the Americas, and I wanted to know how it had evolved since. As with the work I did over a decade ago, I wanted to do so by looking at the structure of the institution and the courses it offers. Conceptually, I wanted to apply the work of Kathryn Sikkink and others who have analyzed the ways in which the US government has adopted human rights practices even when we might expect it would not.

It's been illuminating, and I have a lot to chew over. As with all research, one fun part has been finding things I did not expect. One is that unlike SOA, WHINSEC has become more tightly bound to the U.S. Army as an institution. Unlike the past, now more and more U.S. soldiers attend courses that are the same they would receive elsewhere (Ft. Leavenworth, for example). That makes the school more valuable to the army, and I think makes it less likely it will be closed.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

FDI and Commodities

According to ECLAC, there is a lot of Foreign Direct Investment in Latin America, even as global FDI has slowed. It's great, right? Investor confidence, stability, growth, good things like that. Well, sort of.

According to the report, FDI is increasingly aimed at exploiting natural resources, particularly in South America. The importance of manufacturing is limited except in Brazil and Mexico.

Right back to square one. Or just still at square one, really. This investment makes GDP growth look wonderful, but does not necessarily have much impact on poverty, inequality, and other very pressing problems.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Republicans and Latinos

Thanks to a student for pointing this out to me via Twitter. The Republican National Committee's director in charge of Florida's Latino outreach just announced he's switching to the Democratic Party. Holy cow. Here is an excerpt from an open letter he published.

It doesn’t take much to see the culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party today. I have wondered before about the seemingly harsh undertones about immigrants and others. Look no further; a well-known organization recently confirms the intolerance of that which seems different or strange to them.

That pretty much sums up the serious long-term problem the Republican Party has. Being openly hostile to a very large and growing group of people--especially after already having alienated African Americans--is self-destructive. Nonetheless, a vocal part of the party is doubling down on racism.

Demography is unforgiving. The slope to minority status is not steep but it is relentless.


Venezuela and Honduras in Media

At NACLA, there is a petition to have the New York Times rethink its language toward Venezuela and Honduras. For the former, it employs language of authoritarianism, while the latter is free of it.

We urge you to examine this disparity in coverage and language use, particularly as it may appear to your readers to track all too closely the U.S. government’s positions regarding the Honduran government (which it supports) and the Venezuelan government (which it opposes)—precisely the syndrome you describe and warn against in your column.

I am sympathetic, but slightly confused. I am not sure if they mean it--and I tend to doubt they do--but the impression I end up getting from the petition is that they want the Times to characterize the leadership of both countries in the same manner. If that is the case, then since they characterize Honduras as murderous, then they want both countries to be characterized as authoritarian or at least authoritarianish. They want to end the disparity, and clearly don't want Honduras to be labeled as democratic.

It seems instead they should be asking the Times to flip the disparity in the opposite direction, but for some reason they don't ask that.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Immigration, Crime & Ignorance

It seems a lot of sheriffs in North Carolina do not know the law and do not understand logic.

WASHINGTON More than a dozen North Carolina sheriffs have banded together with other sheriffs from Arizona to Pennsylvania in opposition to a bipartisan U.S. Senate proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

Sheriffs Eddie Cathy of Union County, David Carpenter of Lincoln and Terry Johnson of Alamance, among others, criticize what they consider a lack of border security.

They say the proposal “tolerates both past and future criminal activities,” according to a letter sent Thursday to Sens. Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, and Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat.

As everyone learns the first week of my immigration class, being in the United States illegally is not a "criminal activity." It is a civil offense. I don't know why we have to keep repeating that.

Since we also know that recent immigrants commit fewer crimes than almost anyone else, then logic would tell us that immigration reform would most certainly not involve tolerating future criminal activities. There is no empirical evidence of any kind, of any sort, of any type, that would support anything these sheriffs are claiming.

How come we can't have a debate based on facts rather than ignorance?


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cuban Doctors in Brazil

Vincent Bevins of the L.A. Times published a story about the Cuban doctors going to Brazil. There are all kinds of stories embedded within it.

First, it is yet another reminder that there are serious economic disparities in Brazil. Glowing reports of development mask a large urban/rural divide, for example. That is definitely true with regard to doctors.

Second, there is incredible indifference to those disparities. This quote really got me.

When asked if any doctor was better than no doctor, CFM President Carlos Vital responded in the negative.

“Pseudo treatment is worse than no treatment,” he said. “If you don’t have a doctor in your city, you can go to the next city and have a quality doctor.”

Sure, just go 100 miles to the next city if you don't have a doctor. Nothing to see here!

Third, more attention needs to be paid to the plight of Cuban doctors, who are paid almost nothing and deployed like soldiers. Thousands of them end up in the United States.

Fourth, even less attention is paid to the impact of aid on local markets. When a country is flooded with food aid, for example, prices plummet. That hurts local producers (though there is plenty of debate about the overall impact). If there are any local doctors, they cannot compete with free ones. If there are no local doctors, then obviously that's not a problem, but then there will never be an incentive for any doctor to start there.

Fifth, why is Brazil importing doctors rather than producing them on its own? That would eliminate problem #4. With financial and idealistic incentives, get Brazilian doctors to work in more remote areas (unfortunately as I write this I cannot get Northern Exposure out of my head).

In the end, though, with this program people are getting healthcare when otherwise they would receive little or none. We need to keep our eyes on that goal while also acknowledging the problems inherent in the way they are receiving it.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Distorted Views of Latin America

Yesterday I was writing about Shannon O'Neil's argument that U.S. policy makers have a distorted view of Mexico that negatively affects policy decisions. What I didn't know was that almost as I was publishing the post, Sen. Lindsay Graham was proving the point by spouting off nonsense that he believes is true.

“We have a Canadian border.... Why are we OK up there and not OK to the south?… Why is one a problem and the other is not? Because Canada is a place where people like to stay. They like Canada. We like Canada. We love to have them visit. They want to go home because it’s a nice place,” said Graham. “The people coming across the southern border live in hell holes. They don’t like that. They want to come here. Our problem is we can’t have everybody in the world who lives in a hell hole coming to America.”

Via ImmigrationProf Blog, here is the video clip in all its ignorant glory. It really sums up the challenge with immigration reform. Mexico has a number of problems, obviously, but blanket stereotypes are hard to shake. They've been around since Latin American countries became independent (the key work on this is Lars Schoultz's Beneath the United States). Graham wasn't referring just to Mexico, but to everywhere south of the United States.

We can expect more, likely much more, of this as the immigration debate in Congress moves forward. Do not expect anything more accurate the penetrate the bubble. For many policy makers, Latin America is a savage land of bandits and siestas, where dark-skinned people live in hovels and jungles. Hellholes, in fact.


Thursday, May 09, 2013

Shannon O'Neil's Two Nations Indivisible

It is very hard to say something new or original about U.S.-Mexican relations (as is the case with U.S.-Cuban relations). Books and articles are churned out at a rapid pace, all with variations on a "we're partners and need each other whether we like it or not" theme, with a laundry list of things to do. What Shannon O'Neil does in Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead (2013) is to carve a niche she had been showing on her blog and elsewhere. Her take looks primarily at the way in which Mexico is perceived in the United States.

Basically, she argues that Mexico is ascending, but that too few in the United States recognize this. Instead, they are stuck on the idea of a backwards country on the road to nowhere. Instead, there is a strong economy and growing middle class, a persistent expansion of democracy, and a highly cosmopolitan population. She makes this argument through a narrative that takes care not to exaggerate claims (and places drug-related violence in perspective). It takes the reader through economic reforms, the fall of the PRI, and the cracking of soft authoritarianism, all of which make Mexico a very different place than it was just a short time ago.

The policy prescriptions that flow from the narrative aren't really new, but those aren't really the point of the book. Instead, the idea is that the relationship can't move forward productively until false images are dispelled. Ultimately, the vast majority of Americans don't know Mexico much at all. And I would wager that many think they understand Mexico when in fact they don't.

Toward the end she mentions a trip she took with House and Senate staffers to Mexico City, and how they expressed surprise at how nice the city was, even more impressive than the places they came from. Getting over that hurdle, she argues, will help policy a lot. This makes sense, as the pervasive popular image is a Mexico of dirt streets and ragged children. They do exist, but more and more Mexicans are equally educated and prosperous as their northern counterparts.

I've cautioned before about overly optimistic views of the middle class in Latin America. Aside from measurement questions, aggregate figures can obscure the number of people who are on the brink of falling back. But O'Neil provides plenty of evidence for her glass-half-full perspective perspective. In the end, the book plus a trip to Mexico would be a good thing for most members of Congress and their staffers.


Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Shadow of the Condor Photographs

Thanks to my friend Mary Rose Kubal for pointing out this really moving collection of photographs related to Operation Condor, an archive called "Shadow of the Condor," assembled by João Pina.

I also recommend John Dinges' The Condor Years and J. Patrice McSherry's Predatory States, both of which analyze Operation Condor, the former by a journalist and the latter by a political science professor.


Arguing Against MOOCs

There are plenty of good reasons to be skeptical of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Recently, the Philosophy Department at San Jose State University wrote an open letter that captured many of the problems. For example, they are just as static as any lecture, they are outdated quickly, and they can make courses overly homogeneous. These are the types of nuts-and-bolts arguments academics should use to engage those who want to push MOOCs into more universities.

What we don't want is this: the Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about a conference that focused on the dark side of the digital that seemed to attack online learning in general, framing as an attack on, well, everything (even GPS sucks, apparently).

Fair enough. There are plenty of people skeptical of any type of online learning. But arguing effectively against MOOCs requires accepting--as the San Jose State professors explicitly did--that blended classes done well can provide a rich experience for students. What we have here instead is what the Chronicle notes is a "dense fog of theoretical jargon."  Since MOOCs are by definition very public and more people are hearing about them, good arguments against them should also be made in ways that people can easily understand. The echo chamber does us no good.


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Shaky Growth in Latin America

I am a broken record, as I've written this kind of post many times before. The IMF says that Latin America will go from 3% growth in 2012 to 3.5% growth in 2013. That seems good, and no one can complain about growth. But how much of it is pure dependence on remittances and demand for commodities? A lot.

In other words, Latin American growth is highly dependent on two things: emigrants finding jobs in the United States, and China sucking up all the raw materials it can find.

The report suggests prudently that countries with a lot of energy exports start saving commodity revenues. That's good advice but ignores the broader structural issue, which is the inability to break out of the traditional development model.


Monday, May 06, 2013

Presidents in Colombia

Nicolás Maduro has announced a new plot against him almost daily. One of those was aimed at former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who Maduro claimed was trying to kill him. Not surprisingly, Uribe got mad. Meanwhile, Juan Manuel Santos has said nothing, which has prompted another former president, Andrés Pastrana, to write an open letter telling him to respond.

“Personal feuds and political differences must be thrown out and the silence, which is already bordering on complacency, must be broken to confront  to this serious accusation against someone who has held the highest national rank,” stated Pastrana in the letter.

I cannot recall any situation in Latin America where current and former presidents have engaged with each other in such a highly public fashion. Uribe rants and raves about Santos on Twitter all the time.

I do wonder, though, why Santos hasn't said anything. I would guess that in part it's an unspoken policy many governments have taken, which is to ignore the crazier things being said by Venezuelan presidents. On the other hand, claims about assassination plots take things one step further, especially when they are accompanied by exactly zero evidence. On Twitter--now his chosen means of communication--Uribe thanked Pastrana for the letter.


Sunday, May 05, 2013

Venezuelan Response to Obama

Here is the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Relations response to President Obama's comments on the election, which were the following:

In the interview that aired Friday, Obama wouldn't say if the United States recognizes Nicolas Maduro as Venezuela's new president following elections that have been disputed by the opposition.

When asked, he replied that it's up to the people of Venezuela to choose their leaders in legitimate elections.

He also said that reports indicate that basic principles of human rights, democracy, press freedom and freedom of assembly were not observed in Venezuela following the election.

Naturally, the Venezuelan government wasn't happy. You would think this would be an opportunity for Nicolás Maduro to assert himself. But that's not what happened.

In fact, what's interesting about the response is that it is all about Hugo Chávez, who is mentioned four times, once even as "Comandante Eterno." He is mentioned before Maduro, who gets only two inclusions, and both of them specifically mention that he is the heir of Chávez and just following his policies. Maduro is very clearly framed as a follower.

This isn't a winning political strategy. At some point the government will have to be Maduro's, and not the Chávez leftover. Already the country's political landscape has changed dramatically, and unless there are more birds flying around then it will have to be Maduro, not Chávez, who determines how the government evolves with it.


Thursday, May 02, 2013

Bolívar and Fascism

From Simón Bolívar's 1819 speech at the inauguration of the Second National Congress of Venezuela:

"The formation of a stable government requires as a foundation a national spirit, having as its objective a uniform concentration on two cardinal factors, namely, moderation of the popular will and limitation of public authority."

Harold Bierck (ed.). Selected Writings of Bolivar, Vol. 1, 1810-1822. (New York: The Colonial Press, 1951): 191.

Ah, good. Obviously democracy needs limits. But here's the president of the Bolivarian Republic:

Nicolás Maduro last night: we'll force a cadena so we can make people watch what we want and cut off Henrique Capriles when we can. And he calls Henrique a fascist for the millionth time, telling him to stop contesting the election, calling him a fascist for the millionth time. Not exactly limitation of public authority.

But wait! Bolívar continues in the same speech:

"All our moral powers will not suffice to save our infant republic from chaos unless we fuse the mass of the people, the government, the legislation, and the national spirit into a single united body. Unity, unity, unity must be our motto in all things."

Hmm. Maduro says Capriles is a fascist, but what Bolívar describes is a very nice definition of fascism.


Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Translating Political Science

Matthew Flinders, "The Tyranny of Relevance and the Art of Translation." Political Studies Review 11, 2 (May 2013): 149-167.


The ‘tyranny of relevance’ captures a widespread sense of concern among social and political scientists that their academic freedom and professional autonomy is under threat from a changing social context in which scholars are increasingly expected to demonstrate some form of social ‘relevance’, ‘impact’ or ‘engagement’ beyond academe. This article attempts to reframe the current debate by reflecting upon the history of the discipline and different forms of scholarship in order to craft an argument concerning the need for political scientists to rediscover ‘the art of translation’. This, in turn, facilitates a more sophisticated grasp of key concepts, emphasises the need for the discipline to engage with multiple publics in multiple ways, and suggests that engaging with non-academic audiences is likely to improve not simply the discipline's leverage in terms of funding, or scholarship in terms of quality, but also teaching in terms of energy and relevance. The simple argument of this article is not therefore that political science has become irrelevant, but that it has generally failed to promote and communicate the social value and benefit of the discipline in an accessible manner. Resolving this situation is likely to demand a little political imagination.

Yes, yes, yes. All political science research starts with a problem or puzzle even if it is not immediately obvious. We should take it upon ourselves to explain what it is to the world outside academia. We should do this not because we're being forced, but rather because it's good for everyone. Thinking about translation will make your argument clearer and expand your audience.

The article above was part of a special issue on relevance and impact in political science.


What Censorship Isn't

If you haven't checked it out, Nicolás Maduro's Twitter feed is worth following because it's the Venezuelan Alice in Wonderland. Today's example: censorship. His latest multi-tweet rant argues that the people and the government must fight against the censorship of the opposition. His answer? More cadenas, the state-imposed news messages that trump everything else.

This is, to put it mildly, ridiculous. Those not in power cannot censor the government, which controls media all over the place. Censorship comes from the state. Equating the opposition with state power is nonsensical. Instead, it can be seen as an effort to justify the cadenas, which in some cases have even cut off a speech Henrique Capriles was making.


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