Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lack of Interest in Non-Intervention

I happened to buy a used book online--a 1955 book by Donald Shea, The Calvo Clause, which examines the question of intervention (or, as Calvo argued, absence of intervention) for foreign investors in Latin America (or indeed anywhere).

So this book was published at a time when U.S. policy makers were in a clearly interventionist mood and the Cold War would rage on for several more decades. As it turns out, the particular copy I got was originally from the State Department library (even with a stamp indicating the book was first received 1955 or 1956, I can't quite tell which), then subsequently withdrawn. In the back there is a check-out slip well glued in, with no evidence that there was ever any other previous slip. It was checked out a grand total of one time.

So I guess nobody in the State Department was particularly interested in learning more about Latin American ideas of non-intervention.


Friday, August 29, 2014

The U.S. Does Not Face Threats in Latin America

Matthew Dickinson makes a very good point about President Obama's foreign policy that I think is relevant to Latin America as well. In sum, so many of the challenges the U.S. faces are not clearly immediate security problems, even though many people want to frame them in that way.

Lacking a consensus regarding the severity of the threat ISIS poses makes it difficult to fashion a coherent foreign policy response. More generally, this has been the problem that has plagued Obama throughout his presidency as he has confronted a series of regional hotspots. As Braumoeller writes, “Sometimes the main actors agree on fundamental values and policies—as the Great Powers did, for a time, during the Concert of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. More often, though, no foreign policy is completely successful. What that means is that, while everyone ends up at least a little bit frustrated, no one is so dissatisfied with the status quo that they are willing to exert the effort that would be needed to change it.” As Braumoeller’s argument implicitly suggests, Obama’s foreign policy appears to lack an underlying principle in large part because the President does not appear convinced that the issues he confronts – the Ukraine separatist movement, the fight in Gaza, and now ISIS’ effort to establish a caliphate – clearly affect U.S. national interests. As Braumoeller puts it, “Simply put, the challenges that remain are not sufficiently compelling to prompt us to attempt them in the face of determined opposition.” The result is a foreign policy that appears reactive because although Obama appears unpersuaded that a stronger foreign policy response is warranted, neither does he feel free to completely disengage from each of these hotspots, particularly when the status quo is in danger of unraveling.

This fits Venezuela--not perfectly but still to a compelling degree. Despite the best efforts of some conservatives to label Chávez/Maduro as regional threats, it's hard to make that stick. Thus far Obama has decided--rightly in my opinion--not to risk alienating Latin American governments and possibly strengthening Maduro by imposing sanctions. This fits the "don't do stupid stuff" idea but also reflects a basic strategic calculation that such actions would very likely cause more harm (both to the U.S. and to Venezuelans) than good. In other words, there is not enough of a U.S. interest involved to take such risks. This then makes his administration appear rudderless.

The same logic pertains to Cuba, China's expanded trade relationships, Hezbollah, Iran, etc. that are commonly listed as threats Obama is ignoring. The fact of the matter is that the United States does not face threats from Latin America, which really should be seen as something to celebrate. There are major problems, to be sure, including the political climate in Venezuela, but the question is how much the U.S. should wield a big stick to deal with it.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Poverty Reduction in Latin America

The UN Development Program has a new study (seems to be Spanish-only) about the reduction of poverty in Latin America. It is quite optimistic, arguing that the total percentage of people in poverty dropped from 41.7% to 25.3% while the middle class grew from 21.9% to 34.3%.

As is so often the case, the trends defy easy ideological identification. Argentina, for example, is doing quite well.

This is great news. We also need to be cautious. There is some fine print, for example, such as that in seven countries informality exceeds 60%. Plus, as the study (and other studies like it) note, millions of people are at risk of falling back into poverty.

CEPAL has noted that the 2000s were good for poverty reduction, but that the trend had slowed sharply.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Venezuelans' Views of the United States

According to the Pew Research Center, in the aggregate Venezuelans have a favorable view of the United States and are not so favorable toward Cuba. As you might guess, ideology explains a lot:

This goes along with other studies showing how currently the United States is seen quite favorably across the region. It also shows the skepticism moderates in Venezuela have about Cuba's role in the country.


Russia's Sanctions and Argentina

As Russia faces sanctions, it is looking to Latin America to fill its food gap. For example, the Russian government predicted confidently that Argentina would double its meat exports to fill the gap. There are various interesting dynamics all coming together.

1. Argentina is especially annoyed at the United States because of the U.S. judge blocking various Argentine efforts to resolve is debt problem. Politically, then, President Fernández sees it as an opportunity to boost domestic support.

2. This is a good way to shore up Argentina's reserves, which are $29 billion versus $53 billion in 2011.

3. At the same time, the Argentine government imposes caps on exports to keep inflation down at home, so even a major beef exporter seems skeptical of the plan to boost exports to Russia. So she can appease exporters but will have to be careful about the economic impact.

Notice I did not mention a threat to the United States, Russian incursion, loss of U.S. influence, or the like. I suspect that such arguments will be coming soon, but I think this situation is best viewed in terms of careful political calculations by Cristina that will be based largely on her own domestic position.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Politics and Canonizing Oscar Romero

Tim Padgett argues that canonizing Archbishop Oscar Romero will help El Salvador heal its wounds. Mike Allison disagrees.

Recognizing Romero as a saint won't go over too well with those who see him as a communist and as a person who was leading the country down the path of revolution. The Nicaraguan Church's support for the removal of Somoza was important to convincing many Catholics to give the broad-based but Sandinista-led insurgency an opportunity. Romero wasn't at the point of throwing the Catholic Church's support behind the guerrillas (he had just supported the October 15 coup) but there was fear that he would eventually. That was unacceptable.

To the extent that I thought about it at all*, I had typically thought of canonization as a dependent rather than independent variable. In other words, politics is involved in determining whether a given person gets chosen, but being chosen doesn't create any new political effects.

I don't find Padgett's argument compelling at all--will gang members stop fighting because Romero is a saint? There are tons of saints and that hasn't stopped anyone from doing all sorts of horrible things. Following Mike's point, I think it would be interesting to research the political effects of canonization. I would hypothesize that the most likely outcome would be dialogue--it makes people talk about the person and his/her political context. But maybe that also can have a negative effect on deeply divided countries by making one side dig in more.

*not being Catholic, I find the entire process both fascinating and a bit bizarre.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Venezuela and CITGO

Bloomberg takes a highly critical look at Venezuela's efforts to sell CITGO, arguing it is yet another sign of financial problems. But this is what caught my eye:

An official for the state oil producer known as PDVSA, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly, declined to comment on the potential divestment of the company’s Citgo assets.

So a PDVSA official isn't authorized even to say that he or she won't comment.


Fidel, Maduro, and Health Care

Nicolás Maduro came to visit Fidel Castro, who then wrote about the meeting in Granma. He dedicated a big chunk of it to Gaza, which included one particularly interesting discussion about Venezuela is sending equipment. I am trying to decide whether I am misunderstanding it.

Desde entonces los valientes pilotos venezolanos transportan su carga salvadora, que permite salvar madres, niños y adultos de la muerte. Leía hoy sin embargo un despacho de la agencia AP procedente de Venezuela, en el que se publican declaraciones de la “Asociación de Clínicas y Hospitales de Venezuela, que agrupa” a “centros de salud privados del país”, pidiendo al Gobierno que se declare una “emergencia humanitaria” para hacer frente a la “escasez de insumos, medicamentos, equipos médicos y repuestos” que, aseguran, “ponen en riesgo la vida de la población.” 
¡Qué enorme casualidad! Esta demanda se realiza precisamente cuando en la Franja de Gaza se produce el genocidio yanki-israelita de la zona más pobre y superpoblada de esa comunidad que ha vivido allí a lo largo de milenios.
Eso es lo que hace tan meritoria la conducta de Maduro y los militares y especialistas venezolanos que llevan a cabo tan ejemplar conducta ante la tragedia del pueblo hermano de Palestina. 

I am just trying to get the logic here. Fidel is referring to this AP story, which focuses on the serious shortages of medical supplies in Venezuela. The story focuses on private clinics. That, he says, coincides with shortages in Gaza, which is being attacked by Israel, backed by the United States. This, he concludes, shows how wonderful Maduro's efforts are to help out Palestinians.

My immediate reaction was that Fidel was saying that Palestinians deserved Venezuelan medicine more than Venezuelans who choose to go to private clinics. I guess because he assumes Venezuelans who go to private clinics are wealthier and therefore fascists who should be ignored?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Another Losing Latin America Argument

I'm quoted in this Excélsior column, apparently from my blog. What's interesting, though, is that the author advances an argument I disagree with, namely that the United States is "losing" Latin America because it's not paying enough attention and so countries like China are moving in. I've blogged about that quite a bit, even going back seven years ago! Coincidentally, I've been putting together an op-ed on this very topic, saying that conventional wisdom is wrong and it tends to lead to bad policy prescription.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Personal Security in Latin America

Gallup just released a poll on feelings of personal security. Latin America scores the lowest of any region of the world, and Venezuela the lowest in the world. I tend to doubt Venezuela is truly that low since the poll is taken by telephone (do people in Afghanistan truly feel less secure than Venezuelans??). But it does likely mean that Venezuela is the lowest of any country in the middle range of development.

Here are the Latin America numbers:

As with so much in Latin America, we don't see any correlations to ideology. The best and worst countries are leftist, for example. The same question about telephones also pertains here, as countries with large rural populations (e.g. Guatemala seems high to me) will be skewed.

In general, this reminds me what we already know. Violence is too prevalent and governments face major challenges in addressing it, while police are too corrupt. As a result, people don't feel safe. This isn't a way to build thriving democracies.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Mexican Auto Production and the Middle Class

Nathaniel Parish Flannery has an article in Forbes about the auto industry in Mexico. He argues that it does not represent a threat to U.S. automakers because of strong integration.

I'm actually more interested in the demand side of things, which he also addresses. Mexico and the United States produce cars together, but Mexicans are buying far fewer of them than other countries--it exports 8 out of every 10 cars it produces. In other words, we're bombarded by proclamations of Mexico's middle class status, but what we actually see is that Mexico's wealthy buy most of the cars. The rest of the country has to wait until their wages allow it. Mexico is very unequal and has shown too few signs of changing that fact after a bit of success in the 1960s and 1970s.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Critique of the Latin American Left from the Left

Via Robin Grier, I found this new working paper by José Gabriel Palma, an economist at Cambridge, with the casual title of "Latin America social imagination since 1950. From one type of 'absolute certainties' to another -- with no more (far more creative) 'uncomfortable uncertainties' in sight." Yes, that is in fact the title.

It's an ideological and intellectual critique of the Latin American left, which he argues is bereft of new ideas. His criticisms come from the left's left, so to speak, as he wants something new and radical. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, along with dependency theorists, provided a rich and critical body of work. Dependency theorists started to give up in the 1970s, and nothing new grew from it.

Reading the political analysis of most ‘dependentistas’ at the time, one is left with the impression that the whole question of what course the revolution should take in the periphery revolved solely around the problem of whether or not a ‘proper’ capitalist development was viable. Their conclusion seems to be that if one were to accept that capitalist development is feasible on its own contradictory and exploitative terms, one would be automatically bound to adopt the political strategy of waiting (‘Penelope-style’) and/or facilitating politically such development until its full productive powers have been exhausted — and only then to seek to move towards socialism. As it is precisely this option that these writers wished to reject out of hand, they were obliged to make a forced march back towards a pure ideological position in order to deny any possibility of meaningful capitalist development in the periphery at the time — even if this was taking place in front of their own eyes. 

So they stagnated instead of offering a socialist critique of the way in which capitalism was developing in the region. This part seems overstated to me--he says that he wouldn't have enough material on such critiques to fill a review article, but those critiques were already plentiful when I was doing my doctoral coursework in the mid-1990s, though of course I was reading political science rather than economics journals.

At any rate, he criticizes the Latin American left for going from one certainty (socialism) to another (capitalism) instead of finding uncomfortable alternatives. He notes, for example, the Chilean socialists, who are so supportive of capitalism that the name "socialist" seems odd these days. Same with the Brazilian PT.

The result? Self-proclaimed leftist governments talk the talk, but actually end up producing more millionaires than their "neoliberal" counterparts.

And LA’s ‘new left’ has proved to be remarkably effective in the implementation of their upside-down hegemony; according to a the Wealth Report (2014), in the last ten years no other main region in the world has created so many millionaires as LA has done (i.e., individuals with US$ 30 million or more in terms of net assets, excluding their principal residence), centa-millionaires (those with net assets of more than US$ 100 million), and billionaires. And within LA, perhaps not surprisingly, those countries with ‘centre-left’ governments are the ones with a rate of increase of these types of millionaires well above-average. Among these, in terms of new millionaires created in the last decade (defined as above) Uruguay comes joint first with Venezuela, followed by Brazil Argentina and Chile; as for new centa-millionaires, Venezuela ranks first, followed by Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile; and for new billionaires, Argentina ranks first, followed by Brazil, Chile and then Venezuela.36 During this period, in turn, traditionally ‘right-wing’ Mexico had an increase of people in these three categories which was only one-fourth to one-sixth those in the ‘new-left’ countries.

That won't surprise anyone following the news about Venezuela.

He concludes with a certain amount of frustration because markets have wooed everyone and their negative effects are swept under the rug by just about everyone, but most frustratingly by a new left.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Parties and Disruption in Bolivia

Jennifer Cyr, "Making or Breaking Politics: Social Conflicts and Party-System Change in Bolivia," Studies in Comparative International Development June 2014 (early online). Gated.


Why do only some social conflicts lead to party-system change? In Bolivia, the recent politicization of the regional autonomy movement represented a stark difference with how conflicts had affected party-system dynamics in the past. This study argues that social conflicts led to party-system change in Bolivia thanks largely to the strategies of ruling party elites. Motivated to preserve their position in power, elites had a menu of strategic options at their disposal to integrate, defer, or disregard demands from below. The study situates the recent regional conflict in Bolivia within the country’s longer history of mobilizational politics. It finds that ruling elites utilized different strategies of exclusion and inclusion to neutralize social conflict and preserve the status quo party system. They appropriated the regional autonomy demands as a last-ditch effort to remain electorally relevant in the face of successful party competition. In so doing, they helped transform the party system. Even from a position of electoral weakness and in the face of overwhelming demands from below, Bolivia’s elites shaped the transformative impact of those demands. This study relies upon a least-likely case design to highlight the impact elite agency can have in making or breaking politics under democracy.

This is an interesting analysis of Bolivian politics, examining in detail how parties dealt with periods of disruption.

This study finds that societal demands in Bolivia became politically transformative thanks in large part to the strategies of ruling party elites. Their responses to mobilizing pressures from below varied according to their coalitional interests and the nature of the electoral competition they faced. The decisions taken by status quo elites shaped the political impact of each disruptive mobilization. After 1952, 1985, and 1994, the ruling party elite undertook strategies of adoption, exclusion, and cooptation and effectively neutralized the mobilization in question. In 2005, they found themselves at an electoral disadvantage. To remain relevant, these politicians chose a strategy of appropriation, taking as their own the regionalist issues that the MAS, through its nationalist project, opposed. In so doing, they helped forge party system realignment. 
The implications of this study are multiple. First, it provides conclusive evidence regarding the theoretical importance of elite agency for party-system change. The case of the Bolivian status quo elite represents a least-likely case of the effect of agency vis-à-vis demands from below. The political system has historically faced mass mobilizations of different kinds. However, ruling party elites consistently enacted strategies that shaped whether those conflicts impacted party-system dynamics. This was true even after they suffered a major electoral loss. Elite actions are vital for explaining how mobilizations from below impact the party system.

Cyr argues that this is a least likely case of agency since it appears that parties get swept away. Instead, she says that agency is apparent as parties adapt and survive. It's crying out for comparative analysis, as I immediately thought of the Venezuelan case, where the opposition famously failed to adapt to disruption in the 1990s. At any rate, there's a lot of food for thought here about how party leaders respond to crisis in a way that keeps them politically relevant.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Guatemala Hires Otto Reich

So it seems the Guatemalan government is hiring Otto Reich to help change its image.

Otto Reich Assocs., under a subcontract with Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart, is working to "improve the perception, reputation and the understanding of the reality of Guatemala," according to the contract. 
Reich will help devise a strategy to "move forward on the change of narrative from Guatemala to Washington, allowing representatives of both North American political parties that are willing to abandon the reference of the Guatemala of the 1970s and 1980s," according to the pact, which is referring to the era when the country was rocked by civil war and rampant abuses of human rights. 
Reich also will advance military cooperation between Guatemala and the US.

There are multiple layers of irony here. Reich was a part of Ronald Reagan's Central America policy, which helped produce the problems we see today, and now he's being hired to make everyone forget that fact. He was also part of a 1980s policy of strong military engagement, and he's being hired to resurrect that, at least to some degree.

It makes sense, though, for Otto Pérez Molina to hire someone who has experience putting Central America on the policy map. That the outcome was disastrous for Guatemalans is not mentioned, though OPM assuredly considered it necessary in the war against Marxist subversion.

CEPR also links to the disclosure document. Somehow the Cold War just never fully goes away.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rory Carroll's Comandante: Hugo Chávez's Venezuela

I read Rory Carroll's Comandante: Hugo Chávez's Venezuela (2013) and enjoyed it. Carroll is a well-known journalist who reported from Venezuela for the Guardian from 2006-2012, and disliked by the left. Basically, if you think Venezuela is a thriving laboratory of revolution, you will hate the book. If you feel that Venezuela has tremendous promise that Hugo Chávez failed to harness, you will find it well-written and interesting, particularly because of his interviews. If you follow Venezuelan politics, it won't be new but you get a little deeper.

The book consists of vignettes with his interviews, which then serve to frame his larger point of a well-meaning revolution ripped apart by personalization of power, palace intrigue, and old fashioned cronyism. Carroll shows why Chávez was (and is) so beloved, the problems of personalization, and how utterly incompetent the opposition has been. Even the coup mongers screwed up. As one person who supported the 2002 coup put it, describing Pedro Carmona: "We won, or thought we had won. But then we made a terrible mistake. We picked that fucking dwarf" (p. 79). That encapsulates the basic sentiments of the radical opposition--failure to understand why Chávez was popular, or how even to attract support. Angry but clueless.

Carroll denies that Chávez was a dictator, and comes up with a counter-argument, namely that Chávez was so concerned about elections that he neglected details. Aló Presidente gave him a platform for votes but he didn't follow up. Lots of talking, no walking. He needed to win so badly that substance faded out while crime, insecurity, shortages, etc. soared. Those issues become the backdrop to judging the long-term success of the revolution.


Saturday, August 09, 2014

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Latin America

There have been quite a few stories on Latin America's response to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I tend to agree with this assessment:

As Gaza smolders, the anti-Israel drumbeat is likely to continue, but the smart money says the damage will remain confined to the rhetorical battlefield. "Latin diplomacy was correct in criticizing Israel's excesses in Gaza but no one is interested in severing relations," says former Brazilian foreign minister Luiz Felipe Lampreia. "There's too much at stake."

Palestinian and Israeli leaders alike have been courting Latin America quite aggressively. This isn't new--I had a spate of posts in 2010-2011 about recognition of the Palestinian state, which included the support of Chilean president Sebastián Piñera. Too many of the media stories give the impression that this is all new.

What I need to do is wrote a post sometime after the current crisis is over, and see how much concrete rejection of Israel--reduction of trade, cancellation of investment, that sort of thing, long-term severing of relations--has actually occurred. This makes me think of Venezuela's treatment of Honduras and Panama some time ago, both of which were vocally and publicly labeled as adversaries for a while, followed later by quiet restoration of normal relations.


Friday, August 08, 2014

UDI Leader Arrested in Venezuela

The president of the far right Chilean UDI youth party has been detained in Venezuela. Rightfully, the party is very vocally calling on the Chilean government to do whatever it can to get him released.

The irony, of course, is that this is the party that stayed close to Augusto Pinochet and never embraced human rights. That may gradually be changing precisely because of younger members. Chilean democracy would be greatly strengthened as a result.

One interesting phenomenon in recent years is the left/right "shoe on the other foot." Leftists lauded human rights organizations until they started criticizing leftist governments. Conservatives hated those organizations during the Cold War and now embrace them. After years of supporting arbitrary detentions, now the right denounces them.

So either this pendulum will just keep going back and forth or we'll finally agree that there are universal rights.


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

More Bad Cuba Policy

I am a bit late to this, but the Associated Press reports about how USAID had a program intended to foment unrest in Cuba by sending young Latin Americans into the country.

Beginning as early as October 2009, a project overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development sent Venezuelan, Costa Rican and Peruvian young people to Cuba in hopes of ginning up rebellion. The travelers worked undercover, often posing as tourists, and traveled around the island scouting for people they could turn into political activists.

In one case, the workers formed an HIV-prevention workshop that memos called "the perfect excuse" for the program's political goals — a gambit that could undermine America's efforts to improve health globally.

I would say this is unbelievably poor judgment but sadly it's too believable. These sorts of operations will inevitably be found out, thus legitimizing the Castro regime's use of the U.S. as a scapegoat. They will not create rebellions, but they could potentially jeopardize worthwhile programs like those intended to fight the spread of HIV. The long-term negatives clearly outweight the positives, as is usually the case with U.S. policy toward Cuba.

USAID issued a vague and platitudinous statement saying the article was mostly wrong while not specifying how. You can choose to believe that if you want, I guess.


Sunday, August 03, 2014

Padres Beat the Braves

Every so often I sneak in a baseball post--yesterday I went to the Padres-Braves game with family and had a great time. We were way up in the upper deck but at least behind home plate.

It was initially an odd experience because it was raining while we drove to Petco Park, and was still humid when we got there. That's normal for Charlotte in August but utterly bizarre for San Diego. Fortunately it never started raining again. The game was a pitching duel but also long, particularly after the 7th inning (eventually the Padres won in the 12th inning from a walk off single by Will Venable).

In general, Petco is a great place to watch baseball. An added bonus for my son is that he got to watch a steady stream of planes going by downtown on their way to land. Meanwhile, I feel very confident that my older daugher will be the only kid--indeed the only person at all--in Charlotte with a Jedd Gyorko jersey. She likes how his name sounds...


Friday, August 01, 2014

Failing Migrant Children

Two weeks ago I made the point that child migrants really needed legal representation to have a chance at obtaining asylum. Now it seems they won't because the government is speeding up their hearings without helping them find the legal assistance required to have a chance:

The biggest worry is that children might not receive proper notice of hearings, and could wind up getting a deportation order if they fail to show up, immigration lawyers said. Advocates also say there aren’t enough pro-bono immigration lawyers to go around and that it takes longer to prepare children’s cases because it takes time to earn their trust.

“When the hearing date is three months out, it’s no big deal — it’s plenty of time to get yourself a lawyer. When it’s three weeks, that’s nowhere near enough time,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center in Falls Church, Virginia.

This is shameful. There's really no other word for it. The message seems to be that if we kick children out before they know their rights, we can make the problem go away! Let Central America deal with them.

Meanwhile, Congress is so dysfunctional it can't pass anything. Not even a bad bill--just nothing. So one of the richest, most powerful countries, itself made up of immigrants, is throwing up its hands and saying it just doesn't know what to do. Now that's exceptionalism!


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