Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Abstracts in Academia

A Phil Arena blog post with links led me to this nice ISA discussion of abstracts, which are important but too often botched. A few years I wrote my own brief rant on the topic based on my own experience with a class assignment requiring students to analyze academic articles. They are too long, too rambling, too unclear, etc. to the point of uselessness (or making the reader annoyed).

Even in the ISA discussion, one of the people includes their own abstract, which I would classify as too long (it is 183 words) and therefore would not use as a model. In 100 or so words you should have presentation of topic, hypothesis/argument, methods, conclusion/implications. Here's what I wrote back then:

All abstracts should state the main argument front and center, then the basic data/methods used, and the conclusion(s). Not only do you not need a lot of detail, you should avoid it. I've read abstracts that are something like 200 words, or two dense paragraphs. A Google search reveals many university links about how to write abstracts (such as my alma mater) advocating for 200 word abstracts, but that is not the norm for articles and in my opinion is too long. American Political Science Review, for example, limits them to 150 words.

Funny how tough this very basic task is, though I've mucked it up plenty myself by seeing it as this last hurdle before I can get the article manuscript submitted. This is one case where teaching actually forced me to think differently about my research.


Russia, Ukraine & Latin America

The Russian foreign minister is in Latin America to drum up support for its actions in Ukraine and to oppose U.S. sanctions levied against it. The trip includes Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru, and Chile.

These choices are interesting. Yes, the first two are obvious--Cuba in particular basically orients its foreign policy to be the mirror image of the United States. But so does Venezuela, which is absent. Why? Do the protests interfere with foreign relations?

Further, neither Peru nor Chile is likely to rock the boat with the United States over Ukraine, where the aggression is already clearly on the Russian side and so the U.S. position isn't terribly controversial. You would expect more sympathy in Bolivia and Ecuador, for example, which are also excluded.

On the other hand, Russia has wooed both countries with various trade and defense deals so this trip could reinforce those while at the very least feeling them out for support for its Ukraine policy.

An article in Chile's El Mostrador argues that the trip is intended as a message to the United States that Russia will come to its backyard as tit for tat. Maybe, though this choice of countries is an odd way of doing it, especially since Russia is unlikely to come away with anything it can wave in President Obama's face: "Hey Obama, look! Raúl Castro and Daniel Ortega said something bad about you, just like they always do!"


Monday, April 28, 2014

Using Targeted Sanctions in Venezuela

The Obama administration has placed targeted sanctions on Russians:

The Obama administration on Monday imposed new asset freezes and visa bans on seven Russian government officials and sanctions on 17 companies linked to President Vladi­mir Putin’s “inner circle,” saying that the measures were a response to Russia’s failure to cease provocative acts in Ukraine.

This is highly relevant for Venezuela, since there are calls from Congress to do the exact same thing there (oddly enough, a Republican is holding up a Senate proposal to that effect). What I hope, though perhaps do not expect, is a discussion about whether they are working or not in Russia before placing them on Venezuela.

One reason not to expect that is that this is more about political posturing than anything else. I am not sure whether those who want sanctions actually expect them to work, especially the proponents are also the banner carriers for the Cuba sanctions, which do not work but are politically desirable for a small group of politicians. In general, we should at least be skeptical about their utility, as the research on them suggests caution.


2014 Social Progress Index

Raul Gallegos argues that the 2014 Social Progress Index proves that left wing governments do more poorly than governments that lean more to the right.

The index itself, though, shows a more complicated picture. Gallegos doesn't mention Colombia, for example, which has had governments that Gallegos considers optimal yet still is worse off than Ecuador and Argentina, which have leaders with "useless ideologies." Guatemala, which has been governed almost exclusively by the right, is really low as well.

And thinking of those useless ideologies, he focuses on Bolivia and Nicaragua:

The problem with Latin American populists such as Venezuela’s Maduro or Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega isn't so much their commitment to useless ideologies; it’s that their failed economic tinkering is mostly aimed at keeping them in power.

The thing is, these are two very poor countries that score low no matter who is in power. Both had years of right wing governments that didn't improve anything either.

So maybe, just maybe, these outcomes are not due directly to ideology of the current government but rather are the result of many factors (of which ideology is just one), some of which have deep historical roots.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Michelle Bachelet and Electoral Reform

I've written a million times about proposals to reform Chile's binomial electoral system, which has been a goal of center-left parties for the past 24 years. In recent years it has gained momentum and is once again the news.

It's a slippery topic. I've noted before how the center-right, especially Renovación Nacional, became more intrigued at the possibilities as they decided it might benefit them. That obviously increased the chances of passage.

This particular proposal, though, adds a new dimension--literally--by changing the shape of districts. Robert Funk notes the socio-economic angle:

“Currently, districts are drawn along very specific socioeconomic lines,” Funk told The Santiago Times. “It would be interesting to see how that [change] would affect elections.”

Meanwhile, both the right and the left are wary of increasing the number of legislators. Aside from the uncertainty about how those new seats would shake out, there is an additional question of cost. Simply put, adding new people takes money.

Finally, add the 40% gender quota for candidates and you have quite a complicated situation. Chile is currently 91st in the world in terms of female legislators and so this would have a major impact. I have yet to see what the response has been to this part of the proposal but it is reasonable to assume it will generate debate, especially from conservatives who see it in similar terms to the way conservatives tend to see affirmative action in the United States.

The reforms require a 3/5 majority, which requires keeping your own people in line while selectively reaching out across the aisle. Is Bachelet up to the House of Cards-esque arm-twisting plus wooing that will be necessary?

I poked fun at Bachelet being chosen as person of influence by Time (and thanks to The Santiago Times for picking it up!) and this will be a perfect test because it is going to require her active participation. Pushing it through successfully in some form would be a big deal. Given all the past failures and the political complexities involved we should be skeptical, but let's sit back and see what the president can do.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Commodities and Growth in Latin America

The IMF sees slower growth in Latin America in 2014. If you are a regular reader of this blog or if you have taken one of my classes on Latin America, you should instantly know to a large extent why that is the case. If you ever hear about strong or weak growth, immediately think "commodity prices."

According to the report, Latin America still faces a number of downside risks. The key risk is a sharper decline in commodity prices caused by weaker demand from some of the major commodity-importing economies, especially China. 

The term "broken record" is now an anachronism but I don't know if a more updated version even exists. But that's what this is. And then I have my standard "You don't have to be a Marxist to see how this fits into dependency theory." It used to be the United States and now is also China and India. That represents diversification but not independence--you still rely too much on a small number of big countries to buy goods with prices that jump around.

The IMF has argued that Mexico and Central America less commodity dependent than they used to be, though this makes me wonder about remittances. They may well be replacing commodities but are also a sign of deep dependence on the U.S. economy and U.S. immigration policy.

I wrote about this in December 2013 and expect to write this blog post again in a few months.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

How Influential is Bachelet?

Michelle Bachelet, who in her first term was well known for failing to fulfill promises and proclivity for creating commissions more than actually achieving things, is one of Time's 100 Most Influential People. There is absolutely nothing in the description that mentions influence.

Michelle Bachelet, who earlier this year became Chile’s President for a second time, is a courageous and committed leader — and a longtime champion of women’s rights who was the founding executive director of UN Women. Her life experience — from exile following a coup in her country in the 1970s to President — has imbued her with a passion to make a difference. She has always displayed extraordinary resilience and intelligence in addressing the toughest of issues. Her governance style is an unusual combination of humanity and solid leadership. She is gentle and accessible, yet also strong and determined. As she has said, she is “just another Chilean woman who works, cares for her house and goes to the supermarket.” But she is also “a woman with a calling for social struggle and public service.”

So "influence" boils down to passion and courage, as well as going to the supermarket. As Silvia Borzutzky and I have argued, she was hobbled because her emphasis on consensus (in various forms) actually ended up generating conflict. She's a popular president and a well-known figure globally, but I'm not sure exactly what type of influence she has.


PBS Newshour on Venezuela

I watched PBS Newshour's recent piece on Venezuela and it's not very good. They mostly interview Michael Shifter, Moisés Naím, and a bunch of people who don't like the government. So you get a view that is very biased and will leave you thinking the vast majority of the country dislikes the government. For PBS it is all simple and easy.

What's noticeable is the absence of an academic voice, say from David Smilde, Hugo Pérez Hernáiz or others, that can provide a fuller picture of what's going on. We hear too much of the extremes. This was certainly not the "in-depth" analysis that Newshour promises.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cheech & Chong Leading Venezuelan Protests?

I am confused. The Venezuelan interior minister reports that nine people have been detained for leading and financing protests. It is not entirely why that is a crime but let's move on to the next point, which is the truly perplexing one:

He said that those previously detained, whom they also identified as ringleaders, confessed they acted not just for the money but also in exchange for "genetically modified marijuana." 
"They give them that drug to get them high and keep them in permanent activity against security forces," Rodriguez said.
I am just wondering how someone high on marijuana can be kept in any permanent activity except sitting on a sofa. I did not know there was GM marijuana, so I Googled and discovered that it is quite common. The level of THC is higher than in the past, meaning that if anything you can't even be bothered to change the TV channel, much less get off the sofa.

"There's the protest, man!"


Tinsman's Buying into the Regime

I read Heidi Tinsman's Buying into the Regime: Grapes and Consumption in Cold War Chile and the United States (2014) to review for Journal of Interdisciplinary History. I don't know when that will come out, but here is a small taste. It analyzes what became a strong connection between the two countries based on grape exports and what I like in particular is that Tinsman consciously avoids easy answers and simplifications, which makes it a worthy contribution to the already large literature on Cold War Chile. There are a lot of contradictions and contrasts:

Academics from the United States are part of the contrasts. The Chilean grape industry grew substantially under the market-driven economy of the military government, but existed in the first place because of the state-driven policies of the Eduardo Frei and Salvador Allende administrations. Universities in the United States played important roles in both, as researchers from the University of California at Davis gave extensive agricultural assistance in the 1960s and Chilean economists from the University of Chicago created the policy architecture for the grapes to be exported in the 1970s and beyond.

As Tinsman points out, consumption was central to the historical development of the grape export industry and the long-term responses to it. Depending on your vantage point, eating (or choosing not to eat) grapes could denote support for a government, opposition to a government, general nationalism, protest over a repressive global economic system, support for labor and/or recognition of the human costs of feeding the United States. Those perspectives shift if you are a Chilean or if you are a U.S. citizen, and if you are eating fruit from Chile or from the United States.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Posture Statements and Latin America

Bill LeoGrande (American University) has a nice graphic showing the emphases of Southern Command in Posture Statements from 2001-2014. His main point was to show concentrated it was on criminal activity and terrorism, which is true (and which I published an article about in 2006).

Other things also pop out. One is the recent obsession with China, Iran, and Russia, which is new in its intensity. The focus on external actors didn't even arise due to 9/11 but perhaps relates more to the Iran nuclear controversy. Who knows why China comes up now--maybe if we think we're supposed to be concerned about Russia then we need to think about China too. Oddly enough, there was a little break in obsession with transnational (really meaning Islamic as opposed to drug trafficking) terrorism in the second half of the Bush presidency, which ramped back up with Obama.

FYI, if you're going to LASA then come to the roundtable I organized, where LeoGrande will be a participant.


Monday, April 21, 2014

The Invasion of Veracruz and Beyond

One hundred years ago today, the United States invaded Mexico, specifically Veracruz. Enrique Krauze has a very nice summary in the New York Times. Like so many other U.S. invasions, it did not achieve its goals and in many ways generated unnecessary resentment. However, I don't buy this:

Will an American president be willing to examine this long history of resentment and distrust, the better to construct a “happy ending” to these conflicts with “the other America”? Concrete actions are required: to pass long-awaited reforms of immigration laws, increase commercial relations and encourage mutual understanding, nourish cultural exchanges, lift the embargo on Cuba, close Guantánamo, and to be much more attentive and respectful toward Latin American countries and not treat them as the mere backyard of the nation they call “the Giant of the North.”

There are a few problems. One is that Mexicans' view of the United States is not easily characterized as "resentment and distrust." That sentiments were more common in the aftermath of the invasion. Similarly, today Americans are not angry at Germans for the Zimmermann Telegram. The same is true in many other places where the U.S. invaded: there is currently no rancor in the Dominican Republic, Panama, and elsewhere. The governments most antagonistic toward U.S. policy suffered no invasions at all (though certainly there was intervention). You don't hear Hugo Chávez or Nicolás Maduro rail on about the 1895 crisis.

I am also not so sure that anything will change if immigration reform is passed or if Guantánamo is closed. My hunch is that Latin Americans don't care very much about them. Maybe the embargo, but even that would not necessarily be earth-shattering.

Instead, I would juxtapose this op-ed with another in the New York Times on the importance of strengthening U.S.-Brazilian relations. A state visit was all lined up and what happened? The revelations of spying, which backed Dilma Rousseff into a corner. Immigration reform isn't going to change that and neither will cultural exchanges. Those things are important, but not sufficient.

The more question is how much you're stabbing your allies in the back while talking about the end of the Monroe Doctrine. It's about how hard you make it for allies to stick with you. Multiple recent studies have shown that Latin American views of the United States are positive, much more than most media reports would have you believe. The real trick is to translate that positive energy into higher levels of government.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Dean Acheson on Latin America

Here is Dean Acheson discussing Latin America in his memoir Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department (1969). I will have to use some of this in my U.S. and Latin American Relations revisions:

In that area of special American worry, the Good Neighborhood, there was plenty to worry about. Here Hispano-Indian culture--or lack of it--had been piling up its problems for centuries. An explosive population, stagnant economy, archaic society, primitive politics, massive ignorance, illiteracy, and poverty--all had contributed generously to the creation of many local crises, tending to merge into a continental one. Added to this was a further factor. The foreign investment that the whole continent needed as much as it needed population control caused an ambivalent response in Latin America. On the one hand, it promised escape from the peonage of centuries; on the other, it appeared to threaten United States exploitation--especially in the extractive industries--and the perpetuation of domestic control by the small, reactionary elite that had dominated Latin America since Columbus and the Conquistadores (pp. 257-258).

So, Mr. Secretary, tell us what you really think. The racist contempt flies off the page in waves.

What I also sense is convenient blame. Why is the U.S. exploiting Latin America? Solely because its elites have chosen that situation. It's a nice shift of the causal arrow by removing the U.S. government entirely from the question of why some elites are in power and others are not, at least in those countries--like Central America and the Caribbean--where the U.S. was extracting like mad. The U.S. just wants to help but these uncultured cretins won't do the right thing!


Understanding Latin American Politics

The very final pieces of my forthcoming textbook Understanding Latin American Politics are now falling into place. One that makes it feel especially real is the cover art.

It will be out very soon and if you are a professor then I encourage you to ask for an examination copy for consideration in your Latin American politics classes. My goal was to produce something with the right combination of undergraduate accessibility, conceptual coherence, case selection, and depth.

Here is the table of contents:

Chapter 1. Theoretical Perspectives on Latin American Politics
Chapter 2. State Formation and Economic Development in the Nineteenth Century
Chapter 3. Dictatorship, Democracy and Revolution in the Modern Era
Chapter 4. The Politics of Capitalism and Socialism Through the Twentieth Century
Chapter 5. Mexico
Chapter 6. Central America
Chapter 7. Cuba
Chapter 8. Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru
Chapter 9. Colombia
Chapter 10. Venezuela
Chapter 11. Brazil
Chapter 12. Argentina
Chapter 13. Chile


Friday, April 18, 2014

Catholicism in Latin America

Latinobarómetro takes a look at religion in Latin America, with Pope Francis as the backdrop. He is facing an uphill battle to counter the decline in identification with Catholicism in the region. There is a slow downward trend, even in countries with high levels of identification. Here is the trend:

The decline is most pronounced in Central America, which we've known for a long time.

I would love to see how this correlates to ideology. The rise of leftist governments and the decline of Catholicism have occurred together but how much correlation is there? Eyeballing the list of countries suggests a complicated relationship.

It won't be long until only a bare majority of Latin Americans identify as Catholics. The authors argue that the Pope's presence is giving a boost to Catholicism but I would argue that it is too early to tell that the long-term trends provide grounds for skepticism.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fertility in Cuba

I took this directly from Patrick Oppmann, a CNN reporter in Havana, so I can't claim originality but this is a great juxtaposition. On the one hand, the Cuban government is concerned about the low birth rate in the country:

According to experts, the decreasing fertility trend in Cuba, low mortality rate, and negative results from external migrations (-4.2 per 1,000 inhabitants according to the 2012 Statistical Yearbook) has caused a low population growth in Cuba for many years, and is the lowest one in Latin America when compared at the regional level. 

Hence, the Ministry of Public Health has already implemented certain policies to encourage fertility and ensure safe gestation, providing attention to women before, during and after pregnancy, as well as encouraging reproduction among women from 30 to 39 years old, and carrying out other actions to increase medical assistance for infertile couples.

On the other, condoms are suddenly and mysteriously in short supply.

The Communist Party’s newspaper in the province of Villa Clara, Vanguardia, tried to explain the reasons for the condom shortage in an April 3 report, and all but drowned in a sea of unanswered questions and typically complex acronyms for government agencies.

Read more here:

The Communist Party’s newspaper in the province of Villa Clara, Vanguardia, tried to explain the reasons for the condom shortage in an April 3 report, and all but drowned in a sea of unanswered questions and typically complex acronyms for government agencies.
Read more here:

Here are some ways other countries have dealt with low fertility. Do it for Denmark!


2014 UNC Charlotte Common Reading

Hot off the presses:

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers has been selected as UNC Charlotte’s Common Reading text for Fall 2014.  The Common Reading Experience selection committee, chaired by Dr. Gregory Weeks, is excited to engage our campus in discussing the impact of the Iraq war, and increasing awareness of the issues veterans face that often remain hidden from view. According to the National Book Foundation, “Poetic, precise, and moving, The Yellow Birds is a work of fiercest principle, honoring loss while at the same time indicting the pieties of war.” Author Kevin Powers is himself a veteran, having served in Iraq in 2004 and again in 2005. A poet as well as a novelist, Powers earned an MFA from University of Texas at Austin after an honorable discharge from the army.  He will visit campus October 16, 2014.

Since I love reading, I love this committee and it was fun to chair this year. I am really looking forward to meeting Kevin Powers in October. Here is my review from last July--if you haven't read the book, you definitely should.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Latin American Views of the United States

Laura Silliman, "Bridging Inter-American Divides: Views of the U.S. Across the Americas," AmericasBarometer Insights 105 (2014). Ungated


The United States has long suffered from an image problem across much of the Americas, due in large part to the many cases of U.S. involvement in Latin American and Caribbean affairs. As these legacies of military and economic interventions perhaps begin to recede in the minds of Latin Americans, the question arises asto what factors influence the views of the U.S. among citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean? In this analysis of 2012 AmericasBarometer survey data, I  find that the growing levels of economic and social ties between the U.S. and some countries in the Americas are a source of more positive views of the U.S. Alternatively, citizens living in those countries with fewer direct connections to the U.S. tend to express more negative views of the U.S. This study examines these relationships and the resulting policy implications.

This goes along the lines of an article by Baker and Cupery that I wrote about last year (and which is cited in this one).

Two things come to mind:

First, the distance issue is quite interesting and counter-intuitive because the U.S. has interfered/intervened more with nearby countries, which you would expect to generate some negative feelings (depending on how long ago it was). This is a short article and she doesn't really get into it, but part of the answer may well be ideology, which she does note. At least right now, countries closer to the United States tend to be more conservative while countries further away tend to be more leftist.

Second, we need to stop talking about U.S.-Latin American relations in terms of grand strategy, big plans, bold moves, etc. The daily, consistent and lower level interactions are what really make the relationship tick. She mentions the potential positive impact of free trade, which I would argue is not necessarily clear given that trustworthiness with Chile and Mexico are under 50%. However, engagement in general is a good thing, and it does not need to be "big," which unfortunately seems to be a fad with a lot of the commentariat even in the total absence of supportive evidence.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Yasiel Puig's Journey

Read this story about how Yasiel Puig got to the United States. It's a mix of Cuban repression, Mexican organized crime violence, and U.S. capitalism, which come together to haunt an amazingly talented young man. The collision of communism and capitalism is nasty.

All I can say is: think twice before getting annoyed at Puig, whose behavior gets plenty of negative attention in part because of his salary and in part because he's Cuban. He's been through more than you will ever deal with. And after reading that, I can only hope he doesn't fall apart completely before long. I hate the Dodgers but I can't help but root for him to overcome it. Many players without his raw skills will not.


Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombia

I highly recommend Adam Isacson's detailed report on the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC, Ending 50 Years of Conflict: The Challenges Ahead and the U.S. Role in Colombia. It provides background, context, policy options, and a sense of where everything stands right now.

One of the many important takeaways is how painful a post-conflict scenario will be. The Colombian armed forces, the FARC and the United States have known nothing but civil war for many, many years* and will find it difficult to rethink their roles, which will entail some measure of mutual acceptance, budget cuts, and mission revisions. This has worked elsewhere but it's tough and we cannot take it for granted. Just having talks is only a beginning.

But if the talks fail, then violence continues. Much is made of the FARC's weaknesses, and indeed they're weaker than in the past, but this shows how much violent impact they still have:

If peace talks should fail, it will take many bloody years to defeat the FARC on the battlefield. This chart, from Colombia’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, shows the number of FARC “armed actions” in recent years. The guerrillas are weaker than they were a decade ago: most of the more recent “actions,” like sabotage of infrastructure or detonation of landmine fields, are smaller in scale, and occur in more remote areas. But they are still capable of several actions per day all around the country, despite an enormous effort by the security forces. On the battlefield, the conflict is decidedly not in the “home stretch.”

Several attacks a day is nothing to sniff at, especially when it contributes directly to the swelling ranks of the Colombian displaced. Americans take drugs, the FARC makes money from the drugs, and uses the money for weapons and supplies. If the talks fall through, that dynamic remains, and millions of Colombian continues to suffer.

* a very rough demographic estimate is that 85% of the Colombian population is 54 years old or younger. The FARC was founded 50 years ago, and so only a very small fraction of Colombians can remember a time when it was not fighting the government.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Reagan and Bush on Immigration

Reading this story on whether Republicans who have compassion about undocumented immigrants will hurt their 2016 presidential chances made me want to dust off this gem from the 1980 primary debate between Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Just watch and listen for two minutes, then tell me this is the party of Reagan.

Both even relate it to the importance of strong U.S.-Mexico relations.


Framing Immigration in Costa Rica

Caitlin E. Fouratt, "'Those Who Come to Do Us Harm': The Framing of Immigration Problems in Costa Rican Immigration Law." International Migration Review 48, 1 (Spring 2014): 144-180. Gated link


This article examines the political rationales at work behind the particularly repressive 2006 Costa Rican immigration law and subsequent immigration reform process and resulting 2010 law through an analysis of two rival framings of immigration in Costa Rica. First, I examine how the rushed nature of the 2006 law constructed a crisis in which migrants, particularly Nicaraguans, represented urgent threats to national security. Next, I examine the 2010 law that emerged from the reform process and the alternative framings of immigration as an issue of human rights and integration that migration advocates contributed to the new law. I argue that the juxtaposition of integration and security frameworks in the new law reinforces the law's most repressive measures, contributing to an overall project of securitization and marginalization of immigrants.

This should sound familiar! She starts with a quote from a member of Congress, and this could've come out of the mouths of any number of counterparts in the United States:

…Costa Rica continues being Costa Rica, although we have been bombarded by brothers from third countries and our borders have remained open, unfortunately, for many who do not come to Costa Rica to do good, but rather to do bad, many of them come to kill our women; many of them come to rob our banks; to rob our sons and daughters in the streets […] the moment has arrived for making decisions to not continue with the windows and doors of our house open so that anyone can enter, and although we give them our heart, although we care for them, they come in to our house to rob us, to rape us. […] Mr. President, fellow Congressmen and women, […] why continue opening [the country, the border] to those who come to do harm, to collapse our education system, to abuse our medical services?”

The nasty immigrants are coming for our women!

When I was in Costa Rica a few years ago, I heard disparaging comments about Nicaraguan migrants more than once in only a short visit. It's like Leo Chávez's argument about a "Latino threat narrative" in the United States. As Fouratt notes, the security narrative that existed in the U.S. and then accelerated after 9/11 is being incorporated elsewhere. It's remarkable how similar the entire process is to the United States, including increased reliance on ad hoc administrative solutions to problems that legislation creates and does not deal with adequately.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fromkin's Europe's Last Summer

I read David Fromkin's Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? which was an impulse buy in a Washington DC used bookstore some months ago.

World War I is mindblowing. You can draw causal lines to such disparate things as women's suffrage, Adolf Hitler, the Cold War, class consciousness, the Soviet Union, and more. Yet it started in such a small way, a minor aristocrat--not even widely known--murdered by a young radical. It was a seemingly isolated incident that did not immediately alarm diplomats.

This book is a nice general history that looks at every country and major players, often coming back to General Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the General Staff. Like a number of other German elites, he wanted war because he thought Germany would fade in influence without a pre-emptive strike against Russia in particular. He fought as hard as he could against dialogue.

Fromkin says the key to understanding war's outbreak is to see it as two wars. Everyone wonders how a little dispute between Austria and Serbia could suck in the world, but it was only the pretext. Germany wanted to declare war on Russia but needed to make it seem that Russia was attacking first. The archduke's assassination served that purpose. Austria wanted to wipe Serbia off the map, and Germany (especiallu Moltke) wagered that Russia would step in to protect Serbia.

Basically, the Germans wanted a European war and they got it. Be careful what you wish for.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Venezuela Dialogue Aftermath

Both Caracas Chronicles and David Smilde live-blogged the dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. Thank goodness, because it means you don't have to sit through it! My sense is that both came to very similar conclusions--Nicolás Maduro droned on too much, there was no real structure or mediation, the government got a photo op, and the MUD managed to get its message out to a very large audience.

In other words, there was no "winner" per se, which in fact is a good thing. This was, hopefully, a first encounter and as such it just lays the groundwork and establishes some level of trust in the endeavor. That alone is a success.

The big question right now is how the more extreme elements of the opposition take it. Dialogue undermines everything they're going for. That's a general theme--the protests did not crack the government, so what now? The opposition's unity will be tested and it does not have a history of holding together.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

I Have a Political Agenda on Cuba

Via Tracey Eaton, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen about Cuba Twitter:

Some may have a political agenda geared toward supporting the Castro dictatorship - instead of supporting the people of Cuba – and wish to put an end to these successful programs.

This is a doozy on all levels. In what way can that program and the hundreds of millions of dollars from USAID be considered "successful"? Show me exactly what policy goals have been achieved. The logic is positively illogical. The programs exist, therefore they are successul.

Those who support the embargo and many of the ill-conceived covert operations are indirectly supporting the dictatorship. The more the U.S. opens to Cuba, the more it will change in ways that the dictatorship will be unable to control. Cutting the country off enhances that control. The USAID money pit is good for PR and contractors (who are making a bundle) but not for Cubans.

I'll repeat a point I made two years ago in a Military Review article, which is that American money won't cause change in Cuba.

To make a legitimate claim that a policy supports the people of Cuba, you must first acknowledge that the policies followed since the Eisenhower administration have strengthened the Castro regime. Then you must accept that many people--like me--hope for democracy in Cuba just like you even though they believe that a strategy should be discarded if it has failed to achieve its goals in 55 years. Once we talk openly about those two things then we have some possibility of a more successful strategy that actually helps Cuban people.

So if I have a political agenda, it's that I strongly favor common sense.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Venezuela Dialogue

The Venezuelan government has consistently said it wants UNASUR to serve as mediator if there is to be dialogue, while the opposition has resisted. So this appears to be a happy medium: you use UNASUR and the Vatican. This is a good step.

The question for the MUD is whether it can hold together. Leopoldo López opposes the talks, saying they are for show, but he has yet to show any realistic alternative. His strategy seems to be protesting as long as possible so the government is forced out...somehow.

The rest of the MUD is focused on four points:

1. Amnesty
2. Creation of a Truth Commission
3. "Renovation" of certain government agencies
4. Demobilization and disarming of the colectivos

My hunch is that these are not nearly far reaching enough for López and others from the right of MUD, but if the government budges at all he'll have a difficult time claiming that the talks are illegitimate.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Defending ZunZuneo

USAID pushes back against the Cuba Twitter accusations. The very first response is problematic.

1) The story says the “program’s legality is unclear” and implies the program was “covert.”FACT:  USAID works in places where we are not always welcome. To minimize the risk to our staff and partners and ensure our work can proceed safely, we must take certain precautions and maintain a discreet profile. But discreet does not equal covert. 
The programs have long been the subject of Congressional notifications, unclassified briefings, public budget requests, and public hearings. All of the Congressional Budget Justifications published from 2008 through 2013, which are public and online, explicitly state that a key goal of USAID’s Cuba program is to break the “information blockade” or promote “information sharing” amongst Cubans and that assistance will include the use or promotion of new “technologies” and/or “new media” to achieve its goals. 
In 2012, the Government Accountability Office—the U.S. government’s investigative arm—spent months looking at every aspect of USAID’s Cuba programs. GAO’s team of analysts had unrestricted access to project documents, extended telephone conversations with Mobile Accord (ZunZuneo) and even traveled to Cuba. The GAO identified no concerns in the report about the legality of USAID’s programs, including ZunZuneo, and offered USAID zero recommendations for improvements.

Here is my post on defining "covert" operations. Where were the public hearings and debate on this specific program? I've seen no evidence that any ever happened (and where is the GAO report on this if they did a ton of investigation?). Vague references to "information sharing" is not the same thing. You got a blanket authorization, then created an entirely secret program. Whether you think it is good or bad, it is covert. This whole "discreet" thing is troublesome since it is a very conscious effort to sanitize the covert. If you like covert, say so and don't hide behind language.

Unfortunately, USAID also does not offer any rebuttal to the accusations that the program was counterproductive and doomed to failure because ultimately you can't keep U.S. involvement secret for long and it undermines the entire effort.

FYI, the Cuban response is even dumber. The government notes how awful it is that ZunZueno might have encouraged Cubans to get together politically. Horrors! At least they're honest, I guess.

h/t Boz on Twitter


Monday, April 07, 2014

Respect Venezuela

The Venezuelan government published a report called "Respect Venezuela," which lays out its interpretation of the crisis. As you might guess, the government is blameless.

It's essentially a mishmash of facts, allegations, evasion, and a lot of pictures. Yes, it's true that a CNN Español reporter was detained but it was because...she reporting the facts in a confusing way. No, it is not true that students are key to these protests because....we're arresting non-students more. Leopoldo López is a criminal because..well, I will let the report speak for itself:

The call made by López is the expression of a criminal plan against Venezuela: documents filtered by the web site Wikileaks revealed that Leopoldo López, related to the extreme right wing in Latin America and sponsored by Álvaro Uribe Vélez, is mentioned at least 77 times in the diplomatic cables of the United States on Venezuela (p. 15).

If a longtime political leader is mentioned in cables, it must be dangerous. And (of course!) somehow related to Alvaro Uribe.

It also has sinister references to Gene Sharp, a political scientist who actually advocates nonviolent protest--like praying and singing--against dictatorships. He has the public support of people like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. If you say he's part of the problem, then you're putting yourself in a pretty awkward position. A quick Google search, though, shows that Hugo Chávez already feared him and accused him of working with the CIA.

Is this the best the government could do?

h/t Hugo Pérez Hernáiz


Saturday, April 05, 2014

U.S. and Latin American Relations writing (Part 5)

These periodic posts follow my progress on the 2nd edition of my book U.S. and Latin American Relations. I last posted back at the end of February. I am getting to the thematic chapters, which require more work because there is so much more dated material.

Progress is fine, though March went pretty quickly. Soon I need to sit down with a calendar and start figuring out micro-deadlines. I tend to feel more organized that way.

Progress (Deadline: August 1, 2014)

Chapter 1 (Theory) - Revised but not polished
Chapter 2 (Historical) - Revised but not polished
Chapter 3 (Rise of US Hegemony) - edited with red pen but not revised
Chapter 4 (Intervention/Good Neighbor) - edited with red pen but not revised
Chapter 5 (Early Cold War) - edited with red pen but not revised
Chapter 6 (Cuba Revolution)- edited with red pen but not revised
Chapter 7 (Communist Threat) - in the process of reading/commenting
Chapter 8 (Challenge to US Hegemony)- writing (7 pages)
Chapter 9 (Political Economy)- in the process of reading/commenting
Chapter 10 (Immigration) not started
Chapter 11 (Human Rights) - not started
Chapter 12 (Drug Trafficking) - printed and thinking about all the outdated parts


Friday, April 04, 2014

Defining Covert Operations in Latin America

This ongoing Cuba Twitter story is depressing. White House spokesperson Jay Carney said the operation was not covert.

“It was not a covert program. It was debated in Congress. It was reviewed by the [Government Accountability Office]. Those sorts of things do not happen to covert programs,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.


“Suggestions that this was a covert program are wrong,” Carney said. “You're discreet about how you implement it so you can protect the practitioners, but that does not make it covert.”

Carney said officials "of course" have to be discreet when the government implements programs in “non-permissive environments.”

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” Thursday that the program was “not covert” and said the AP’s story had “a number of significant inaccuracies.”

A GAO report from 2013, he said, examined the agency’s project in Cuba and said it was consistent with the law.

This is an entirely new definition of "covert" that magically transforms past covert operations into some less objectionable category, "discreet" perhaps. It is worth pointing out that the CIA does not use Carney's definition.

Generally speaking, covert actions are activities that the CIA might undertake in other countries to accomplish a US foreign policy objective without the hand of the US government becoming known or apparent to the outside world (p. 259).

So where did the congressional debate take place? As far as I can tell, there is debate about general principles of foreign policy but nothing about secret programs, which of course would immediately become public. There may well be congressional committee briefings (and the CIA suggests such briefings took place in the past as well) but that is not what Carney is suggesting. These are secret operations where the role of the U.S. is supposed to remain hidden.

I did a quick check in the Library of Congress to see if the word "Twitter" or "Zunzuneo" was mentioned in debate and nothing came up. If this was "debated" it was done so in a very generalized manner about Cuban regime change that very likely never touched on the operation itself. Or at least there is currently no evidence to suggest otherwise. So this program isn't so much different than others in the past.

On Carney's last point, here is the GAO report from 2013, which does not mention the program at all. What you see is a lot of money with very little oversight. GAO admits that reporting has been problematic. What is all this money being used for? Secret stuff with large payments going who knows where. (Side note: how do I get on that gravy train? They throw money around like nobody's business).

In sum, this is "covert" by the commonly accepted definition of the word, which is that it is secret and intended to hide U.S. involvement. From a normative perspective, we need to resist such efforts to sanitize language. In that regard, the Obama administration is simply copying the Bush administration, which among other things tried to pretend torture wasn't torture.

So don't accept the word "discreet." It's just bogus.


Thursday, April 03, 2014

Cuba Twitter Fail

If you follow U.S.-Latin American relations at all, you've seen the Cuba Twitter story. It is a story of breathtakingly poor judgment. Here's the key paragraph.

At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions. But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the U.S. government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes.

The U.S. government does not get it. These sorts of initiatives will fail because they will be found to have a connection to the U.S. government, which immediately produces the exact opposite response of what you want. It is entirely possible that the main result will be for Cubans to be more wary of using any social media, which reduces their chances of organizing.

I'm pretty much dumbfounded by the dumbness, though of course I shouldn't be because stupidity is the hallmark of U.S. policy toward Cuba. But now it will spill into Venezuela as well, where critics bring up USAID all the time. The likely truth is that whatever USAID is doing is dumb and will play into the Venezuelan government's hands but this story shows in black and white how Venezuelan concerns are entirely justified.

Nice job, President Obama!


Declassification as Diplomacy

Peter Kornbluh writes about the 50th anniversary of the Brazilian coup (which of course the U.S. strongly supported) and "declassification diplomacy."

The U.S. government has, in fact, practiced the art of declassified diplomacy in a number of nations—reviewing and releasing thousands of records stored in the “secure compartmentalized information facilities” (SCIFS) of the CIA, the Defense and State Departments among other national security agencies—as diplomatic gestures, as well as to advance the pursuit of human rights, truth and justice. Like other foreign policy tools—economic aid, trade, and diplomatic support–these historical records can provide a potent contribution to advance U.S. interests in stability and a peaceful and more just global community.

I was aware of the timing of the Chilean declassification but hadn't thought about it in a more comparative context. And I didn't know this:

In Ecuador, for example, despite tensions with the populist government of Rafael Correa, the administration of George W. Bush made an important gesture of a special declassification of State Department records to assist the Ecuadoran truth commission.

So it even trumped ideology, which saturated the Bush administration. It would be fun to see what patterns are there--when does this happen and why? What is it intended to accomplish? In general it seems a very low cost but potentially high impact endeavor. There is no good reason to keep 50 year old documents secret--they remain classified just to prevent powerful people and institutions from getting embarrassed by their lies, poor judgment and callous indifference to human life.


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

LASA Resolution Ideas

I received this email from the Latin American Studies Association:

Dear Colleague, 
I am writing to call your attention to the approaching April 21 deadline for the submission of resolutions to be considered for 2014.  Proposals intended as official LASA resolutions must be sponsored by at least 30 LASA members in good standing (current members).  
Sponsors may support a proposal by signed mail, signed fax, or by electronic communication with the Secretariat.  The communication should indicate the name and address of the sponsor.
The LASA website ( contains the full revised procedures for submitting resolutions.  
Please be sure to review the procedures before formulating and submitting your resolution. 
Thank you for your cooperation.  Please let us know if you have any questions.  

 I have all kinds of ideas for resolutions, which will be preceded by lots of "whereas" statements TBD:

1. We resolve that all resolutions seek to resolve only one issue, not an incoherent laundry list.

2. We resolve to make faces at anyone who complains that the U.S. is disengaging from Latin America.

3. We resolve that any resolution about Cuba must include a reference that the Castros hope to match Strom Thurmond for political longevity.

4. We resolve to make sure all undergraduate students of Latin America know the different between "guerrillas" and "gorillas," along with "cocoa" and "coca," and "Colombia/Columbia."

5. We resolve to start a campaign so everyone understands that "fascist" does not just mean "people I dislike."

6. We resolve to catalog those who complain about undocumented immigration but then enjoy paying cash to their gardener and bragging what a bargain it is.

7. We resolve to challenge the U.S. Congress to have a hearing on Latin America that does not mention Iran.

8. We resolve to establish a fairly large cash award for those who have been blogging about Latin America for a long time.

9. We resolve that anytime a U.S. official criticizes elections in Latin America they must hold up a picture of George W. Bush from 2000.

10. We resolve to recognize that resolutions passed by scholarly organizations are mostly meaningless.


Don't Know Much About Geography

This photo has been making the rounds:

It makes more sense when you consider that Telesur is controlled by the Venezuelan government, which believes that northern Chile is in fact Bolivia.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The FARC's Version of Sharia

Adam Isacson posts a photo about the FARC's self-proclaimed laws in Putumayo.

A colleague in Colombia sends this sign posted to a wall in Putumayo, Colombia by the FARC’s 32nd Front.
Here’s a translation. (A U.S. dollar equals about 2,000 pesos.)
Punishments and FinesNorms For Living in a Dignified and Honest Community
  • Owners of animals that damage others’ crops 500,000 pesos
  • For those who fight 500,000 pesos
  • For those who gossip 200,000 pesos
  • For swindlers 1,000,000 pesos
  • For those who sell basuco to users 500,000 pesos
  • For those who damage signs 500,000 pesos
  • For those who poison streams 200,000 pesos
  • For those who don’t clean their plots of land 500,000 pesos
  • For those who bring unknown people 2,000,000 pesos
  • For those who bring prostitutes 1,000,000 pesos
  • For basuco addicts: work or fine valued at 500,000 pesos
  • For those who buy or sell lands without consulting the FARC-EP 2,000,000 pesos
  • For those who damage stores: it is closed and they pay everything
  • For those who don’t close their establishments after 2:00AM 500,000 pesos
  • For those who don’t perform community work projects 200,000 pesos
  • For whoever mistreats his/her significant other 200,000 pesos
  • For those who hunt with dogs or groups of people with shotguns 1,000,000 pesos
  • Owners of land can cut trees but cannot sell the wood.
  • Do not remove wood from empty lands, fine 500,000 pesos.
  • Don’t drive vehicles after 6:00PM. Whoever does so loses the vehicle or pays a fine of 2,000,000 pesos
  • For whoever sets up an individual shop 2,000,000 pesos
Sincerely, 32nd Front, Southern Bloc, FARC-EP Welcome

I love the "welcome" part. And by "dignified and honest" they mean "totalitarian and scary."


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