Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Venezuelan Scrape

Corina Pons and Charlie Devereux at Bloomberg have an interesting article on the "raspao," or "big scrape," in Venezuela. There is such a shortage of dollars that people go abroad, use their credit cards to get cash advances at the official rate, then come back to Venezuela and sell the dollars on the black market for a large profit (6.3 bolivars per dollar officially and then 29-1 on the black market). Ecuador is the most popular country for this.

The obvious irony here is that the "revolutionary socialist" system is creating significant capitalist incentives, and the rewards are only available to those who a) have a credit card; and b) have sufficient resources/acumen to do international travel and figure out the system. The poor are shut out of a scheme that the government unintentionally created.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Joseph Frazier's El Salvador Could Be Like That

Joseph B. Frazier's El Salvador Could Be Like That is a memoir by a former Associated Press reporter who covered the country during the civil war. Its value lay in Frazier's descriptions of the people and how both everyday life and politics functioned "on the ground," with what I think is a balanced voice, pointing out inconsistencies or outright lies on both sides (though of course the lion's share of the violence was perpetrated by the right). Some of it gruesome, and all of it is sad. It was no easy job for reporters, who were attacked and, of course, lied to.

We gnawed through mountains of spin and did the best we could. There remained for a short time a 1950s-style naivete that told us if the U.S. government was telling us something, it must be true. 
The facts on the ground quickly educated us otherwise (p. 14).

It is mostly chronological but tends to bounce around a bit (with funny additions like Surfer Bob, a guy from Florida who came to El Salvador for the surfing and then stayed). I noticed that Tim, who writes at Tim's El Salvador Blog, had recently reviewed it and thought the structure made it more important to have some background. I think that's true, but if you're interested in El Salvador and/or the era it's worth a look.


Study Abroad and Technology

A friend brought this Chronicle article on study abroad and technology from earlier this year to my attention. It laments the loss of culture shock as students are able to connect effortlessly and constantly to home. I am torn. I spent my junior year (1990-1991) abroad at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid and some of this resonates with me:

Although stressful and, frankly, painful at the time, the periods of intense loneliness and homesickness I experienced in Mexico City contributed significantly to core and treasured sensibilities such as empathy, tolerance, perseverance, perspective, and gratitude. In the rush to protect our students and our universities through the adoption of digital technologies, we unwittingly have extinguished the necessary conditions for personal transformation that justify the expense, risk, and sacrifice of study abroad.

I lived in a dorm with hundreds of Spanish undergrads and just 1-2 Americans. On the middle of each floor there was a single phone in a small closet. If someone called you, they first got the dorm's receptionist, who then hit a buzzer that went off in your room. You then jogged down to pick up the phone. It was difficult and expensive to talk to my parents (and impossible for my friends) so it didn't happen often. I believe I ventured out into Madrid more because there was no way to sit and interact remotely. But "shock" should not be the main goal of international experiences. Learning and understanding should, and it can happen even if the level of shock is lower.

Further, I don't like the suggestion that access to technology is inherently negative. Personal transformation comes in many shapes and sizes. Yes, I suppose you can sit in your room and text your friends all day, but I suspect most people don't. But I get the point: the author and I didn't even have the option, so we either sat and stared into space or went and found something new to do.

However, I really do not like the punitive angle:

Likewise, we should adopt policies that check computer and cellphone uses that we know undermine cross-cultural growth and understanding. Just as some academic programs enforce "language pledges" that forbid students to speak English while abroad, we should institute "media pledges" that prohibit television reruns, instant messaging, and music libraries. We should then dismiss from the program those who violate the pledge.

Seriously? You listen to your own music and get kicked out? This isn't military school, so this sort of thing should be roundly rejected. I had never heard of pledges to force kids not to speak English, and it seems a bad idea to me. My Spanish grew by leaps and bounds when I lived in Spain, but I spoke plenty of English to friends I made in the program. It can even be a welcome relief.

Even more importantly, from the website it is clear that the Spanish dorm where I lived is now loaded with technology, as are its students. If I were there now, and someone said they would text me to let me know when people were getting together, or friended me on Facebook, should I tell them I was bound by a pledge that I would remain stuck in the 20th century?

Since technology is real and permanent, I would prefer to think about how to make the study abroad experience as rich as possible without trying to pretend we live in a different era and claiming that what we did in the past was better.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Chilean Presidential Campaign Narrative

The November presidential election has already been framed in the U.S. press. It is the daughter of an air force general in the junta versus the daughter of an air force general who was tortured and died in prison in opposition to the junta. By any measure it is a powerful and evocative narrative, emblematic of a past that Chile constantly deals with.

I tend to think, however, that this narrative will be much more prevalent outside Chile than within it. Scanning the headlines of papers from different ideological strands shows a lot of focus on unity within the right, but also education, health, and other issues that affect the bottom line for Chileans (and which at times have sparked protests). There is nothing about the air force generals.

There is no bad blood between the candidates, no personal animosity, and not much incentive for Michelle Bachelet to use her father in the campaign (Evelyn Matthei can only lose bringing up hers, and has already said it is irrelevant). Human rights and the legacy of dictatorship are real public policy concerns, but there are many others as well that I think will end up taking precedence in the campaign.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds

"Thank you for your service" is a common phrase, a well-intentioned but superficial greeting, which skates over the surface of complexity. Kevin Powers' novel The Yellow Birds shows how sometimes it is unwelcome precisely because of the superficiality. Private Bartle is the narrator, and he is fighting in Iraq with Private Murphy. It is the powerful story of their efforts to figure out what their proper place should be--what "service" even means--just to stay alive long enough to get home.

It is a tragedy because no one figures it out, not even the hard-nosed sergeant who helps keep everyone alive with his uncompromising focus on safety. Not Bartle, not Murphy, not their parents, and certainly not Iraqis, who hunker down in the middle of devastation. The soldiers fight for the same bit of territory over and over, and nothing much changes. The war itself served no purpose. As the sergeant said toward the end of the novel, more or less to himself, "Fuck 'em, man. Fuck everyone on earth."

Powers writes beautifully. From the reviews I've skimmed the main criticism seems to be his style, which is self-conscious with its poetic metaphors and descriptions. Some find it overdone and derivative (though I bet every war novel is criticized somewhere for being derivative of Ernest Hemingway) but I thought it effectively dug under the surface. He doesn't want to just lay out facts about how the war was fought--you can find that anywhere. He wants to get you into the head of the so-young soldiers while they're there.

I recommend it very highly.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Immigrant Intimidation in Charlotte

Via La Noticia, here is a copy of a letter sent to immigrants in an apartment complex. The letter, which did not really come from the owners, is simply intended to intimidate people. Very, very sick.

If you can't read Spanish, it tells people that if there any doubt about their legal status, they must move out of the apartment immediately, making up a fake law to back it up.


Capriles and Chilean Foreign Policy

I disagree with much of Juan Nagel's take on Henrique Capriles and Chilean politics. In short, he got the cold shoulder both from Michelle Bachelet and Sebastián Piñera, both of whom refused to get involved in the Venezuelan political controversy.

Nagel argues that Piñera's decision was based on fear of reprisal from Caracas, while Bachelet's was because "when it comes to foreign policy, the radical left wing of her coalition is in command." For this he cites the recent inclusion of the toothless and small Communist Party into the Nueva Mayoría, along with her primary-driven campaign spending promises (in 2005 she also made lots of promises, then quickly went straight back to the center).

Neither of those arguments convinces me, because the clear history of Chielan foreign policy since the end of the dictatorship has been pragmatism and non-intervention, both of which explain the similar reactions by high level politicians of different parties. In fact, the left and the right in Chile have the exact same foreign policy stance.

My hunch is that both Bachelet and Piñera figure there were imperfect elections, but they weren't different enough from a host of other imperfect elections to overcome a strong inclination to avoid meddling. While Venezuela wants to be a revolutionary vanguard and Brazil wants to a global diplomatic player, Chile wants to trade. And it doesn't want to be too distracted unnecessarily by something that has nothing to do with trade. That transcends any other aspect of ideology.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Obama is Wrong on Higher Ed

President Obama says he wants to get aggressive about the rising cost of higher education. But he's very mixed up.

"Families and taxpayers can’t just keep paying more and more and more into an undisciplined system where costs just keep on going up and up and up. We’ll never have enough loan money, we’ll never have enough grant money, to keep up with costs that are going up 5, 6, 7 percent a year. We’ve got to get more out of what we pay for," Obama said.

This is ignorant and even dangerous BS, at least for public schools. The main reason costs are rising is that every year many state legislatures are reducing their investment on higher education and thereby passing the cost onto the student. The idea that we can slash more within the university without hurting students is naive. Already at UNC Charlotte, dozens of tasks normally done in other offices are now forced on departments--we've been cutting constantly for a decade, but there is only so much you can cut without hurting the quality of education. I want smaller classes, for example, because they are better for students, but the budget will not allow it.

When Obama says taxpayers are "paying more and more and more" he is wrong. The North Carolina legislature passed a budget yesterday that the governor will sign today, and in the next two years it cuts $482 million from higher education. So don't tell me about taxpayers getting the shaft.

Obama is buying the argument that higher education costs have nothing to do with their funding source, which is illogical but pervasive. Now professors are going to be blamed for a problem the legislature has forced onto them.

Unfortunately, if a Democratic president believes this line, then public universities are in even more trouble than I thought.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Che Guevara's Three One Dimensions

Che Guevara ranks up there as one of the most one-dimensional figures in Latin American political history. Most recently Ileana Ros-Lehtinen breathed fire when UNESCO accepted a collection of Che documents from Cuba and Bolivia. The mere idea of studying him sets her off because he is a "bloodthirsty murderous sadist."

With that as a jumping off point, here are the three one dimensions, so to speak, all of them missing critical facts.

First, Che Guevara is the embodiment of evil. 

This is widely held by the opposition to the Castro regime in the United States. He has no redeeming qualities because he hated people. He did not fight for beliefs but rather only for the sheer enjoyment of killing and oppressing people. He's like the creepy guy with the cattle gun in No Country For Old Men.

Second, Che Guevara is the embodiment of revolutionary good. 

Many in the Latin American left has long held this view. He is a light of inspiration for us all, a model for every child to follow. Hugo Chávez talked about him until the very end. He helped the oppressed as much as possible, and even when resting--which was rare--he looked lovingly at pictures of the oppressed.

Third, Che Guevara is the embodiment of ersatz bourgeois rebellion. 

The sight of teenagers buying Che Guevara t-shirts in malls never fails to amaze me. But his picture is cute, he looks so inspiring, and this makes me feel like I am giving a signal to my parents and my school that I am a rebel. There's no way he would've let his mom take away his Xbox for staying out too late!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The AHA Flap

I am trying to wrap my head around the American Historical Association's controversial statement that Ph.D. dissertations should be unavailable in digital form for six years. Here is the core of it:

At the same time, however, an increasing number of university presses are reluctant to offer a publishing contract to newly minted PhDs whose dissertations have been freely available via online sources.  Presumably, online readers will become familiar with an author’s particular argument, methodology, and archival sources, and will feel no need to buy the book once it is available.  As a result, students who must post their dissertations online immediately after they receive their degree can find themselves at a serious disadvantage in their effort to get their first book published; it is not unusual for an early-career historian to spend five or six years revising a dissertation and preparing the manuscript for submission to a press for consideration. 

I wish there was some evidence from publishers to this effect. A dissertation is very different from a book, as all scholars know it is much more raw and it lacks the gravitas of a press, thus making it much less likely to be sought out and cited (is there data on dissertation citation?). This article in The Atlantic suggests the evidence does not bear that out. On the flip side, via Raul Pacheco-Vega, here is the Oxford University Press site saying "We will not usually consider for publication any book held in its entirety or in
significant part in an institutional or commercial electronic depository." Is that the norm? The AHA doesn't say. Also, the "presumably" is a bit weird. Is there any evidence for it?
I have no direct involvement in this, though it interests me because I've always been close to historians (in addition to friends here at UNC Charlotte, I had historians both on my M.A. and Ph.D. committees) and some of my work is political history and bookish. So I feel I can relate to a certain extent, though I must say this flap really highlights how different history and political science are.
This may well just reflect an ongoing debate within the discipline about the primacy of publishing a book for tenure. If a book (or what really becomes THE BOOK for an assistant professor) is the only way to get tenure, then there is an incentive to keep everything about your book manuscript secret until it gets published, assuming that presses will ignore you if anyone can look at your dissertation. Unfortunately, this means that knowledge takes second place to process. It's a conscious effort to get as few people as possible to know who you are and what you do.
For junior scholars, this makes perversely good sense because they need that job. However, hiding knowledge cannot be good for any discipline (though here is an historian's take to the effect that if you wrote the dissertation, you should have the right to bury it in a hole if you want). I would hope there would be some other way of providing a viable path to tenure. THE BOOK is deeply entrenched, but need that be permanent?


Potent Papal Power?

This Wall Street Journal article on the pope makes all kinds of broad claims about his political power without actually providing any evidence. Annoyingly, it also has to bring up Hugo Chávez, claiming that his death opened a political void into which the pope can step--"the Latin America left has no leader" message is unfortunately pervasive in the media. Evidence for papal power includes:

Weeks into his papacy, the pontiff sought to calm tensions in Venezuela after a contested election to replace Mr. Chávez in April started devolving into deadly protests. He issued a statement calling for dialogue.

Giving a statement calling for dialogue does not amount to being a major political player. I don't think anything Pope Francis has done has demonstrated any real political power, if by that we mean truly influencing the course of events and/or prompting political leaders to pursue particular policies.

I am not saying the pope will not have any political sway--though I tend to think it will be limited--but rather we don't yet have much evidence for it. If he does have sway, though, I think the article misses another point. He won't influence leftist presidents who already agree and focus on poverty, but rather will likely be used by those presidents to justify greater social spending. In other words, he won't really be the source of change, but rather will serve as a rationale for change.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Ignore Academic Advice

Harvard Professor Radhika Nagpal wrote a post at Scientific American about strategies for junior faculty that is very different from the majority you read because its tone is optimistic and positive. I will let you decide for yourself how much you agree--I didn't necessarily agree with everything but found it refreshing nonetheless--and will focus on just one part of the argument that I particularly liked:

Stop Taking Advice

This resonated with me, since I've written blog posts telling people to do exactly that, and I've periodically written posts talking about what I consider bad advice. It is entirely possible that I think it is bad because it just doesn't quite fit me or my department/university, and that's really the point. There is very little universally useful advice.

Over the years I have heard advice about everything imaginable in academia (and there are even posts on advice about academic advice. Oh damn, is that what this is too?). When I typed in "academia advice" in Google, I got over 15 million results. As Nagpal notes, you can end up with lists of things you're supposed to do, and spend too much time focusing on the stupid lists rather than something useful.

I understand the irony of providing advice about ignoring advice, but it doesn't bother me since I am telling you to ignore it anyway if you want. Instead of seeking advice, look for role models and ask them questions about how they do something, but then adapt what they say to your own context without necessarily following it blindly. I still routinely do that now, to my great benefit. I have been department chair one year, and during that time I have talked to my two former chairs (Bob Kravchuk and Ted Arrington) as well as Ken Godwin, who had been a chair before he came to UNC Charlotte, about specific issues I was dealing with. To their credit, none of them offered sweeping advice about how to be a chair. Instead, they explained to me how they had addressed similar things, and I adapted that to my particular case.

Academia is an odd profession in many ways and we all need help navigating it, but we don't need to get too tangled up in how-to lists, no matter how well meaning.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Threatening Venezuela

The Spanish paper ABC has a source claiming John Kerry called Elías Jaua and went off on Venezuela, detailing the ways in which the U.S. would punish the country if it tried to get Edward Snowden there.

If the report is true, then the Obama administration has truly gone off the deep end. What makes me wonder is the threat to stop refining Venezuelan oil. This doesn't seem like a legitimate threat to me given the economic dislocation it would create in the United States, not to mention the diplomatic disaster abroad. Maybe Snowden is that important to Obama, but I am not totally convinced. I hope he's not.

If it is true, then it is a particularly crude type of threat that reminds me of the Bush administration's counterproductive and self-defeating threats against Chile and Mexico to support the Iraq War.

ABC has periodically published controversial stories based on mysterious "sources," especially about the imminent demise of Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. So they're 1 for 2 at the moment.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bachelet's Platform

In our book (which we are hoping to get into paperback) Silvia Borzuztky and I--along with our contributors--argue among other things that Michelle Bachelet made tons of campaign promises, then rather quickly found it difficult to keep them because of her focus on consensus. Ironically, then, consensus generated conflict.

So I took a look at her current promises. They are expansive and all over the place. Beyond the predictable, like education reform, there is tax reform, a new constitution, better dental care for women, more ambulances, animal rights, more parks, and enhanced freedom of worship.

Pablo Longueira's sudden withdrawal due to depression leaves the door open even wider for her. But you have to wonder what will happen if she does. Last time she managed to maintain her personal appeal while leaving her coalition in absolute tatters and not achieving much of what she promised. And now she's promising even more.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Encyclopedia of U.S. Military Intervention in Latin America

I just received my copy of the Encyclopedia of U.S. Military Intervention in Latin America, edited by Alan McPherson, who has written a lot on the topic. I wrote entries on the School of the Americas, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, and Immigration. It is pricey, but if you're at a university you should recommend it to the library.

Encyclopedias, of which there are a variety of specialized kinds, play a varied role in academia. At teaching-oriented schools where peer-reviewed articles are not deemed important, they contribute to a record of scholarship for promotion, raises, etc. At schools with more research demands, they are sometimes looked down upon because they are synthetic and not peer-reviewed. I did not do any until a few years out of tenure, and only then because people I knew were editing them (the other I contributed to was the Encyclopedia of U.S.-Latin American Relations. I couldn't really refuse that one even if my colleague Jurgen Buchenau weren't an editor!). They can be, or at least really should be, time consuming.


U.S. Image in Latin America

This Pew Research Poll has all kinds of fascinating nuggets about the image of the United States globally. In general, the U.S. is seen pretty favorably in the Latin American countries surveyed (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, and Venezuela).

The exception is Argentina, where the U.S. is viewed favorably by only 41%, though that is up from 17% in 2007. Argentina also highlights something that you don't hear much about: young Latin Americans view the U.S. in a more positive light than older.

The polls were conducted in March and April 2013, so of course do not reflect the current controversies, especially with regard to Bolivia. We might likely expect the views of the United States not to change all that much, but rather to see Obama's favorability drop. And, in fact, he is less popular than the "United States," which reflects the difference between the U.S. as a country and U.S. foreign policy. At the same time, though, there are interesting discrepancies, such as 51% of Venezuelans believing the United States takes their country's interests into consideration.

Further, Latin Americans tend to see China's economic influence as more positive than that of the United States, even while acknowledging that China protects civil liberties less.

Anyway, it's worth digging around in there.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Quote of the Day: Iran and Latin America

[T]he absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.
--from a Heritage Foundation op-ed

Iran has a very open presence in Latin America. The question, then, is whether this constitutes a threat to the national security of the United States. Even the Heritage Foundation has to admit there is no evidence for that. But, it seems, we should proclaim it to be a threat even though we lack evidence.

The smartest policy position would be to stay aware of what Iran is doing, being careful not to lump every activity into the "threat" category and also being very careful not to confuse fact and rumor. Too many analyses of Iran (including the above op-ed) have too much of the latter.

Labeling something a threat prematurely is definitely a threat to U.S. security. The second Iraq War will always be a prime example of that.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Pardons in Chile

The Commander in Chief of the Chilean army, Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba, just brought up a recurring issue, namely concern for retired officers still going through trials or in prison for human rights abuses.

“Lo único que nos apena es la situación por la cual atraviesan algunas personas que, habiendo pertenecido a las filas del Ejército y que hoy tienen avanzada edad o situaciones médicas complejas, uno podría darles una mirada en términos humanitarios, ya que viven tanto en lo personal como en lo familiar situaciones muy complicadas”, precisa.

Añadió que “efectivamente nos entristece ver que todavía esas personas permanecen ancladas a una situación de hace 40 años”, y estima que Chile debiera permitir superar estas situaciones “aunque ello no significa dejar de sacar lecciones” de lo ocurrido.

This came up very publicly at the time of Chile's bicentennial in 2010, and even included Catholic bishops. Sebastián Piñera said no.

Fuente-Alba's logic is especially twisted because he says officers should not be "anchored" to the past, but of course the families of the victims--and living victims--are now always tied to that past. The military and the right always want to "move on" (indeed, Piñera based his 2010 decision on not wanting to get mired in the past) and "not look backwards" For them, though, that simply means getting off the hook. Not once do they mention that when your child, father, mother, brother, sister was killed or just disappeared, moving on is not so simple. When the victims asked for mercy, they were given none.

Whether or not to grant pardons is always a touchy issue (just ask Gerald Ford!). In Chile, where dialogue has been gradual and painstaking, that is particularly true.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pat Barker's Regeneration

I read Pat Barker's Regeneration, part of a minor World War I kick I'm currently in. It is historical fiction, focusing on Dr. Rivers, a British officers who treats cases of what we would generally now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Siegfried Sassoon, a published poet who has proclaimed himself a pacifist, is one of his patients at a hospital in Edinburgh. Both of them are real people (and you can download Sassoon's book of poems, Counter-Attack, for free because by now it is in the public domain).

It is the first book in a trilogy, and the end of the novel hints at what is to come, namely an examination of the brutal methods many doctors employed in soldiers with neurological problems. They often amounted to torture, as with electric shocks. Rivers is the exception, and he reminds me so much of Major Sidney Freedman in the TV show MASH, who empathizes with his patients yet also understands sometimes to his own dismay that he is "curing" them so that they can go back to the front and face more of the same horrors.

There isn't a plot, really, but it is beautifully written and as with the best of historical fiction Barker makes you not only feel the characters, but learn more about them. It is all so sad. World War I involved unbelievable slaughter but there was too little understanding of how it affected those who lived. Unfortunately, a century later we've definitely advanced but not as much as we should.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Chávez and Egypt

I agree with Andres Oppenheimer that applauding coups is bad policy, as I wrote in an earlier post. But then he suddenly throw out history and common sense because he really hates Hugo Chávez.

Supporters of the Egyptian coup also dismiss the argument that Morsi’s ouster will set a precedent for a greater tolerance for military coups in Latin America and other parts of the world. They say, accurately, that the latest wave of glorification of coups was set in motion in Latin America more than a decade ago by Chávez.

Before getting to anything else, I have yet to see any indication or in fact anyone arguing that Egypt could possibly be a precedent for Latin America. If anything, it was the opposite because that coup was so similar to other moderator coups in Latin America. Knocking out a president and then installing another without directly taking power is old hat for Latin American militaries.

Oh, and that history thing.

The next time I teach Latin American politics, I will be sure to let students know that no one really supported (or "glorified") coups before Chávez got involved--unsuccessfully--in 1992. I am certain that officers everywhere ignore their own domestic context and think, "If Chávez can fail in a coup, then so can I." The Honduran officers were immersed in their own inglorious history in 2009, and were not acting because they had read about Chávez's failure.

To all op-ed writers out there: I challenge you to write one without referring to Chávez. Often you will end up with a better argument.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Snowden's Options Are All Bad

Here is the text of Edward Snowden's statement about asylum. The key part for Latin America:

I announce today my formal acceptance of all offers of support or asylum I have been extended and all others that may be offered in the future. With, for example, the grant of asylum provided by Venezuela’s President Maduro, my asylee status is now formal, and no state has a basis by which to limit or interfere with my right to enjoy that asylum. As we have seen, however, some governments in Western European and North American states have demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law, and this behavior persists today. This unlawful threat makes it impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there in accordance with our shared rights.

I am not sure why Venezuela's offer is "now formal" while the others are not, since he asked and they said yes.

Regardless, he has quite a problem because he can't leave, yet I cannot see Vladimir Putin allowing him to stay there indefinitely, a la Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. I've been saying over and over that Snowden himself is a lot less important to governments than people seem to claim. Putin will do what he can to use Snowden for his own benefit, and Russia is not a particularly safe place for him.

Venezuela is not safe either, especially since a change of government is a very real possibility. Venezuelans may themselves wonder how they benefit from his presence.

Neither option is good. His freedom is in the hands of Nicolás Maduro and Vladimir Putin. One is incompetent and one is plain dangerous.


Snowden and U.S.-Latin American Relations

A New York Times article has the rundown about the message the U.S. is sending about Edward Snowden to Latin America. Put simply, "if you take him, relations will sour for a long time."

Two things came to mind. First, I think Bill Richardson is wrong about U.S. influence. Interestingly, his quote about how the U.S. is losing influence was placed right after the authors noted how a phone call from Joe Biden brought a positive response from Rafael Correa, who now seems to be out of the Snowden circus. Correa, like other presidents, does not like to feel bullied, but U.S. influence is very strong. Remember, though, that influence is not synonymous with always getting what you want. Just because Latin American government push back does not mean influence is waning. It just means things are normal.

Second, the article makes a really good point about U.S. hypocrisy on extradition. The U.S. routinely rejects extradition demands, claiming the individual will not receive a fair trial. Criminals like Luis Posada Corriles, or even ex-presidents like Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (and many others before him) sit around in the U.S. even though their home government demand their return. How is Edward Snowden's situation different from theirs? It isn't.

On this latter point, in fact, two of the countries offering asylum--Bolivia and Venezuela--happen to want those two people. Start with annoyance at hypocrisy, then add the plane incident and a bit of domestic political boost (though in my opinion this should not be overestimated), and what you come up with is not a loss of influence. Rather, you get a calculated risk with full knowledge of potential consequences. I doubt any of the three presidents really want Snowden there, and they definitely do not think they are somehow getting away with something because of a weak hegemon.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Garcia-Roza's The Silence of the Rain

I read Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza's The Silence of the Rain. It is a crime/mystery novel set in Rio, with Inspector Espinosa the protagonist. I had an unusual reaction to it--I thought the plot was cool, with plenty of turns and smooth changes of narrator voice. You get into all different parts of Rio, from the working class to the very rich. And Espinosa is an interesting character.

But. The ending sucks. The plot moves moves you right along to...what the hell was that? Are you serious? Also, in mysteries I don't generally expend much brainpower trying to figure out the killer--I just let the story take me there. In this one, I felt like the answer was really obvious, and I was actually going to be surprised if I was wrong. I wasn't.

Nonetheless, I will read more of these novels (this was the first of a trilogy) because that first 99% of it was really good. There is so much commentary as well. Espinosa is always lamenting the fact that forensic tools so common in the United States are simply absent in Brazil or just too expensive, so it is much harder for police to do their work. I also kept thinking that the entire plot would be different if Espinosa just had a cell phone, which I suppose he could not afford. Meanwhile, police corruption hangs over everything. Espinosa is careful about what information he gives fellow officers, who may well not be on his side.


Rejection in Academia

In Inside Higher Ed there is an article on the role of rejection in academia. I wrote virtually the same thing in a PS article back in 2006.

This made me think of the fact that "advice" type articles or blog posts repeat the same stuff, generally without talking to each other at all. That's not entirely a bad thing, since there are so many different audiences that a single article won't reach more than a small proportion of academics. But it is funny to read stuff that is original--in the sense that it is not plagiarized--yet just giving the same advice and offering the same insights.

I have to figure there are people who have stumbled across my article and immediately thought the same thing.


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

NO Movie

I finally got around to watching the movie "NO" about the 1988 plebscite in Chile. Well worth watching. There have been complaints about its historical accuracy, which are pretty well summed up in this Atlantic article.

They are valid points, but the themes of the movie are thought provoking and consistent with the historical record. Most importantly, it is interesting to think about how to help people overcome fear. It doesn't necessarily work to focus on the negative because it can reinforce that fear. Instead, you try to figure out ways to inspire people to believe that the future can be truly better with democracy. At the same time, there is a fine line between optimism and an empty jingle.

But it also reinforced the reality of repression. The people involved with the "Yes" campaign used intimidation regularly, and talked about it in very casual terms. Authoritarian governments become so accustomed to using fear and demonizing the opposition that they see it all as normal and necessary.


Monday, July 08, 2013

Raul Castro and Snowden

Given predictions that Edward Snowden would be a hero in Latin America, or that the Bolivia plane incident would cause huge hemispheric changes, it is interesting to read about what seems to be a very cautious statement from Raúl Castro:

"We support the sovereign right of …. Venezuela and all states in the region to grant asylum to those persecuted for their ideals or their struggles for democratic rights," Castro said in a speech to Cuba's national assembly.

There is no offer of asylum (yet, anyway, but this would've been the time to make one). The most obvious reason is that for the talk about Latin American leftists wanting to poke the U.S. in the eye, governments are very pragmatic. Castro knows he has far more to lose than gain. To be fair, I think the same is true of Maduro but he did it anyway.

Read the short statement from the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the plane--it is measured and non-inflammatory. Mexico's was far more angry. In other words, none of this is pushing Raúl Castro away from the gradual thaw of relations that Raúl Castro has been pursuing. Cuba has suffered more than any other Latin American country from U.S. intelligence, but sometimes other interests are paramount.


Sunday, July 07, 2013

Da Plane, Da Plane

At The Monkey Cage, Diego von Vacano (from Texas A&M) argues that the Evo Morales plane incident is going to literally transform the hemisphere. There will be a spike of "leftist rhetoric and policies" and even Chile and Colombia will become more leftist as a result solely of this one incident.

This seems overstated to me, and I wrote in comments that I was not convinced. He responded that Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela making the asylum offer was already evidence. I think this is more tat for the initial tit, so to speak, and not a harbinger of nationalizations or other typically "leftist" policies.

I think we should also be careful not to conflate criticism of the incident with anything beyond the incident itself. Peru, for example, can condemn it while continuing talks with the United States.

As I've written before, this incident is serious and deserves condemnation. At the same time, however, I just don't see evidence that it will have the massive effects that a number of people are ascribing to it.


Saturday, July 06, 2013

Blaine Harden's Escape From Camp 14

I've read a number of books on North Korea, and they are all harrowing but essentially similar. The population internalizes the cult of personality and suffers. Blaine Harden's Escape From Camp 14 provides a different and even more terrifying angle to the horror that is North Korea.

Shin In Geun was born in a prison camp. That meant no one even bothered to tell him about Kim il Sung or his offspring because he was too low on the caste chain to bother. His role in life was to work and die young. His parents did not know each other but were prisoners who came together for marriage (meaning sex, since there was no love, companionship, or much else attached to marriage) as reward for good work. He grew to hate them and by snitching was even responsible for his mother's death, an action that haunted him later, but all he knew was the regime's demand that you inform on others, especially your family. Shin did not even know the existence of such feelings as love, hope, gratitude, or trust. They are still very difficult for him to internalize.

You cannot even conceive of escape until you know there is anything to escape to. Chance encounters with two other prisoners at different times opened his eyes, and he embarked on a plan that had only an infinitesimal chance of succeeding. Amazingly it did. Ultimately he saw "freedom" mostly in terms of being able to eat regularly.

What made this book unique for me was to consider how difficult it is for this young man--since he is still young--to figure out how to live outside North Korea. For all defectors, paranoia is an instinct, but Shin has to learn emotions that 99.99% of the human population experiences at a very young age. It is frustrating to read of a government consciously inflicting such pain, but even more frustrating when you start trying to think about what could realistically be done in response.


Maduro and Snowden

I'm quoted in this story (though my title is a bit off, since I am no longer Director of Latin American Studies!) about Nicolás Maduro's offer of asylum to Edward Snowden.

The quote came from my thinking about how it would be better for Maduro if Snowden didn't take him up on it--this story could potentially die out quickly. Indeed, we have no idea whether Snowden wants to go to Venezuela at all if he has other offers. He wants to show he can make Chávez-type international gestures, and if Snowden doesn't show up he at least demonstrated his willingness to stand up to international imperialism, etc. Snowden is a unpredictable hot potato, one who may not be the shiny anti-U.S. toy an opportunistic president might hope for.

At least from what I have seen, Snowden--or Wikileaks, which now seems to be speaking for him--has not responded at all. Once again, no one is sure where he is.


Friday, July 05, 2013

Maduro Takes Snowden

Funny, I had just been thinking about Snowden and Latin America when Twitter lit up with Nicolás Maduro's announcement he would give Edward Snowden asylum. You can see the speech here.

As I've written before, I don't think this will help Maduro politically. He has more to lose than gain. Stephen Kinzer obviously disagrees, as I was just writing this:

I am again rather baffled by a Stephen Kinzer op-ed on Latin America. He had just baffled me less than two weeks ago. He is intent on proclaiming that Latin Americans--not just leaders, but the people themselves--believe Edward Snowden is a hero.

But there's more this time. He further argues that when Evo Morales plane was diverted, that was the same as the Platt Amendment.

That is a reference to the Platt Amendment of 1901, which recognized Cuba as an independent country but required that it enter into no treaty and incur no foreign debts without permission from Washington, and also that it recognize the right of the United States to intervene in Cuba at will. 

The Platt Amendment was abrogated in 1934, but in the eyes of many Latin Americans, it still seems to define Washington's understanding of their continent. That view was immeasurably strengthened this week.

This makes no sense. Latin Americans pay little to no attention to the Platt Amendmen outside Cuba. He mentions "Plattismo" as a way of thinking, but this reference is confined to Cuba. Latin American leaders are angry, as they deserve to be, but they aren't making comparisons to the Platt Amendment.
The whole plane incident was terrible, and a sign of complete disrespect. But it does not make Snowden a hero.

It has even, ironically, made Snowden a Latin American hero. Any president who offers him asylum will bathe in a wave of continent-wide admiration.


Whoever welcomes Snowden will instantly join the revered pantheon of rebels who dared to defy what José Martí called "the eagle with larcenous claws". 

There is not a shred of evidence to suggest this is true. The more reasonable argument is that Latin Americans don't care very much about Edward Snowden. If Julian Assange isn't a hero, why would Snowden be? Assange actually had documents related directly to U.S. policy in Latin America.

Obviously Maduro agrees with Kinzer's logic. Perhaps he figures a symbolic tweak to the U.S. will get him some credibility with Chavistas (and for now this is just symbolic because Snowden cannot do anything without leaving the Moscow airport!). At this point even Rafael Correa is dubious of Snowden, so I am not sure what else there is to gain.


Responding to Coups

David Brooks' column today crystallizes an unfortunate reality in U.S. reaction to undemocratic changes of government. In short, elections are irrelevant.

Promoting elections is generally a good thing even when they produce victories for democratic forces we disagree with. But elections are not a good thing when they lead to the elevation of people whose substantive beliefs fall outside the democratic orbit. It’s necessary to investigate the core of a party’s beliefs, not just accept anybody who happens to emerge from a democratic process.

This has been very apparent for Latin America. Elections in Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras and particularly Venezuela were shams if adversaries won. If there is popular protest, then coups are not just OK, they are good. We've recently seen hundreds of thousands in the streets of Brazil as well, unhappy with the government. That's what happens in democracies, and the United States should not condone moderator coups just because we happen to dislike the particular government.

I am not going to defend the Muslim Brotherhood, but they won the election. I am not going to defend many of Hugo Chávez's policies, but he won election after election. Mel Zelaya won an election. They all won and then lots of people--often elites with close ties to the United States--felt threatened.

From an ethical standpoint, celebrating a coup is simply wrong, as it makes a mockery of what the United States constantly claims it stands for. From a purely strategic self-interest standpoint, it is a dangerous game. The U.S. shot itself in the foot by supporting (and/or participating in) coups in Iran (generating a revolution), Cuba (giving life to Fidel Castro), Guatemala (giving oxygen to Marxist revolutionaries), Honduras (increasing drug trafficking), Nicaragua (thus helping to create the Sandinistas), El Salvador (giving fuel to the FMLN), Venezuela (increasing Hugo Chávez's support), and there are plenty more.

What Brooks and others fail to realize is that supporting elections alienates far fewer people than does negating them. I have yet to see any evidence that accepting the existence of Chávez or Nicolás Maduro makes Venezuelans in the opposition despondent or angry at the United States, yet we hear about how Barack Obama is somehow abandoning them. However, we saw very well in 2002 what Venezuelans think when the United States supports a coup.

So go ahead and support coups, but do not be surprised if you get scorched by blowback.

Update: The Wall Street Journal takes David Brooks one step further, and openly says that Egypt needs an Augusto Pinochet.

Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile's Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.

That leaves me pretty speechless.


Patricia Richards' Race and the Chilean Miracle

I read Patricia Richards' Race and the Chilean Miracle: Neoliberalism, Democracy, and Indigenous Rights (2013) to review for Journal of Interdisciplinary History. It focuses on the Mapuche, and I summed it up as follows:

Patricia Richards’ core argument is that although the Chilean government has promoted multiculturalism, in the context of a neoliberal economic system this entails no structural changes that would actually alter the severe power imbalance between Mapuche and non-Mapuche. Instead, the state’s commitment to the indigenous population became a matter of making it more economically productive rather than providing any substantive rights. Further, the economic model is based largely on the export of raw materials, which includes timber found in Mapuche communities. Thus, the “Chilean Miracle” meant “massive outmigration, dispossession, lands depleted of water and nutrients, lack of control over natural resources, inability to contribute to decisions that affect them, criminalization of demands” (215).

There are tons of books and articles on the side effects of the Chilean economic model, but not so many that focus squarely on race. Yet when you consider how even the Concertación governments used anti-terrorism laws against the Mapuche--but not against anyone else--it definitely merits more attention.

You will understand the complexities of the interactions between Mapuche and non-Mapuche, especially at the local level, much better if you read this book. The Chilean government has a particular vision for embracing multiculturalism, and if you do not fall within its parameters, policy makers become very unhappy.


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Political Violence and Words

As events that look like a coup in Egypt unfold, we immediately get insistence that it be called as such. So we hear "full military coup," for example. I've become jaded about the importance of such terms, which in part relates to my teaching.

In 2005, I was teaching Comparative Politics and during the section on political violence I talked about how it was important whether the Bush administration used the word "genocide" with regard to Darfur. After Rwanda in particular, saying the "g word" was a major step. Once that happened, I confidently opined, there would be intense pressure to intervene. Then George W. Bush did so. And not much happened.

In 2009 I followed the Honduran crisis. Would the Obama administration call it a coup and thereby spark a number of sanctions? Well, they did call it a coup, and it didn't matter. There was even some pathetically funny wordsmithing about the word "coup." That tap dancing at least suggested that the word might be important, but ultimately the administration did what it wanted, which was nothing.

It is better to call a coup a coup, just to be descriptively accurate. But for the purposes of policy, I am much more skeptical than in the past about how much it matters.


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Correa Cools on Snowden

What a difference a few days make. Rafael Correa seemed to be Edward Snowden's champion, ready to thumb his nose at the U.S. government just as he had with Julian Assange. Then it all turned sour very fast. Ecuador's London embassy issued a safe conduct pass without authorization, which Correa quickly disowned.

Now apparently he is not even so happy that Snowden acted as a spy.

On whether Correa would like to meet him, the president said: "Not particularly. He's a very complicated person. Strictly speaking, Mr Snowden spied for some time."

In other words, he will likely be a pain in my butt, and I don't want to deal with it. Suddenly Correa admits he does not spying! Assange is much, much easier because he's not actually in Ecuador. Plus, Correa seems to be annoyed at the sense that Assange is manipulating this situation.

This outcome is likely better for Correa. He made his grand statement about U.S. policy and the APTDEA (which likely would have expired very soon anyway) but does not actually have to deal with Snowden, who does him no good. He doesn't do anything positive for any Latin American government beyond a minimal spark of independence from the United States.

If Nicolás Maduro really does take him, he's crazy...


Monday, July 01, 2013

Latin American Presidents on Twitter

I wrote about Latin American presidents on Twitter a bit in May. As of today, here is a more detailed look at what presidents are doing.

2.1 million
1 million
1.9 million
1 million
Pérez M
1.9 million
1.2 million

Neither deductive nor inductive reasoning help us a lot here, unless there are patterns I am missing. Some initial thoughts:

  • A majority (about 3/4) of presidents are on Twitter, suggesting they see intrinsic value in it.
  • Ideology doesn't matter much. On the left Cristina Kirchner and Nicolás Maduro are very active, but all the presidents with no account or an inactive one are left or center-left. Nicolás Maduro attacks the opposition on Twitter, but so does Ricardo Martinelli.
  • At the same time, 3 out of the 4 presidents who tweet on all different types of topics rather than just summary of specific policies/events are left of center. Almost by definition, they have the most interesting tweets.
  • Presidents with a lot of followers tend to be in larger, wealthier countries (Rafael Correa is an exception).
  • Presidents who follow a lot of other people tend to have dull and dry tweets.
  • Ricardo Martinelli is entertaining and should have more followers. E.g. from June 27: Hoy un periodico mencionò que hoy hacia mi viaje 82.Viendo mi pasaporte veo 57 sellos de salida. hay que contar mejor.
Further, this tells us nothing about effectiveness. Presidents want to reach people and thereby gain support, but as yet I've not seen any evidence--perhaps with polling?--about whether it benefits them politically. An aide to Dilma Rousseff said that she thought Twitter is a "total waste of time." Clearly others disagree, but we don't have a good grip on how to evaluate that.


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