Friday, October 31, 2014

The Cuba Embargo Keeping Us Safe

Via Tracey Eaton, the latest on the Cuba embargo. Periodically, the United States Treasury issues its Specially Designated Nationals list. This list keeps us safe:

The Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") of the US Department of the Treasury administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on US foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other threats to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States. 

Peruse the list and you can see how important it is that these companies are targeted and punished. Here are a few examples:

--there are lots of tourism companies, and they help Americans travel freely. We all agree that such activity is un-American. Some of them promote "fun," which is especially bad.

--some of the companies sell cigars, which are bad for your health. Terrorists can use them to make us die too quickly.

--there are companies promoting baseball. Baseballs are small and can easily be bombs in disguise.

--there is a company called "GOCUBA," which clearly wants to encourage people to go see Cuba and become Communists.

So rest easy tonight and every night. Those baseball playing, cigar smoking, eco-tourist encouraging terrorists will not threaten our national security. Uncle Sam will do his best to make sure you don't even get to see them, much less interact with them. You need not ever worry about having fun with those Communists. The U.S. Treasury will make sure of that. This is Merica.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Incumbent Presidents Win in Latin America

An article at the Pew Research Center brings up a really important point about presidential elections in Latin America: incumbents rarely lose.

Since 1980, incumbents in South America (not including Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) have won all 17 presidential elections in which they were on the ballot. During the same period, four American presidents (Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama) won re-election and two (Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush) were defeated. 

Please make sure to keep this in mind as you read all the op-eds explaining grand trends, ideological pivots, etc. This is happening a lot with the Brazilian election since it had so much ideological drama.

A key reason is Latin American presidentialism. The presidency is stronger in Latin America than in the United States. The position provides incumbents with resources that the U.S. president does not have (including state media). It doesn't even matter what the economy is like.

So when you read about why Dilma Rousseff was re-elected, a more interesting question is what unlikely confluence of events would've led to her defeat.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Future of Voters in North Carolina

Here is the political future of North Carolina in one visual:

This is a slow motion disaster for Republicans in North Carolina, who rely largely on the white, and especially older white, population for support. The number of Latino voters will definitely continue increasing, but it's hard to see the trend of white voters doing the same. The number of African American voters increasing is also interesting, and the gradual increase predates Barack Obama's election so may well continue beyond his administration.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Condemning the Embargo for the 23rd Time

The annual ritual of the United Nations vote calling for an end to the Cuba embargo just happened again, with the same results as last year. The U.S. can only count on Israel and a tiny handful of tiny Pacific countries. I first blogged about this eight years ago and my feelings--namely that the embargo can't be defended with logic--haven't changed.

The Reuters article adds some insight about how this vote has evolved over time.

When it first passed in 1992, it received 59 yes votes and three votes against. But there were 71 countries that abstained and 46 that did not participate in the vote. The gradual shift to a near-unanimous vote in favor is a clear sign of the widespread disapproval of the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

This is indicative of the United States choosing to isolate itself with a Cold War policy even as the Cold War fades into distant memory. It's hard for anyone but a small minority to take the logic seriously anymore.


United Fruit is Brazilian

I talked about the Chiquita deal in my Latin American Politics class today, though I couldn't really think of a snappy conclusion to sum it up. I mostly wanted to show the strange twists and turns that now makes Charlotte, NC part of a transformation of what used to be United Fruit.

We start with United Fruit, which is well known by any Latin Americanist for its exploitation, especially in Central America and the Caribbean (plus Colombia). In 1990 the company (which had already undergone various mutations) became Chiquita Brands International.

In 2011 it moved its headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte. At the time I blogged about its human rights problems as well as the money the city threw at it. Not long after moving here, the company was imploding because of poor business decisions. Now, after a length fight, it is being bought by the Brazilian Cutrale and Safra Group. It's not terribly likely the headquarters will stay in Charlotte, so the city is reminding the country it must pay the money back.

But stop and think for a moment. What was United Fruit is now owned by a Latin American company! That's quite a symbol of Latin American economic ascendance. And somehow it landed on my very doorstep to boot.


Monday, October 27, 2014

"Re-Industrializing" Latin America

UNASUR Secretary General (and former Colombian president) Ernesto Samper made some comments you don't hear much anymore. He noted that growth would be slowing across the region:

But he also pointed out to the existence of strong points such as the strategic reserves of oil, nickel, copper, hydro power and water resources. “But to all this we must inject added value, and the objective of Latin America should be to overcome the situation by launching an ambitious re-industrialization process”.

This sounds so much like the process I discuss in my Latin American Politics class about the development of import-substitution industrialization in the middle of the twentieth century. Or at least I assume this is the sort of thing Samper is thinking about, though he does not specify. I talk about adding value a lot in the class.

The idea of "re-industrialization" is problematic because many countries barely went through it in the past. Would Guatemala really be re-industrializing? If this is restricted only to the larger economies, then it is also confusing. Is Brazil not industrial? I guess any country could become more industrial, but that's not quite the same thing.

Setting aside that parsing, I actually like the idea of making this a greater part of the development discussion. I've been repeating constantly on this blog that relaying on commodities remains a problem--it's not easy to overcome, but should be seriously discussed.


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Evo Generation

From an interview with Evo Morales:

"I believe that some revolutions, some transformations, are driven by a person. I don't like it, but I am happy that there is now an Evo generation, a new generation of young men and women with a great deal of knowledge, principles, and values, who are assuming leadership. I am very pleased with the way young people are getting involved. Obviously, much depends on the process, on the steps we take to ensure good economic stability with social benefits," Morales says. 

This is a populist vision. On the one hand, he's the indispensable leader--which is why more re-elections are necessary--while on the other there is an Evo generation assuming leadership. But not the presidency.

The most positive outcome for democracy, in Bolivia or anywhere, is to bring more potential leaders into a structured party system and then step aside. Then you can avoid the logic of Rafael Correa, who sees the push for term limits as a right-wing plot.

It's like Captain Kirk said and Information Society repeated, "In every revolution, there's one man with a vision."


Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Declining" Influence in Latin America

I've constantly been lamenting the lack of evidence for the "U.S. is losing Latin America" meme (such as here). One of the very interesting things about this argument is how it brings the left and the right together in agreement, but with different assessments about whether it is positive or negative.

There is an example today in The Week. The author starts with an assumption:

The decline of American influence in Latin America is long overdue and great news to boot, for two major reasons.

He then cites the historically negative effects of U.S. policy, and how that spawned authoritarianism, going back to the colonial period. Nowhere, though, is there an examination of precisely how influence is declining or why. He concludes with something I agree with completely:

Evo Morales may well try to hang on to power indefinitely — it wouldn't be the first time a populist leader has done so. But there's little the U.S. can do about that but make it worse. It's time we left Latin America to manage its own internal politics.

Absolutely! But there is no evidence presented for the influence decline--it is assumed. Whether or not Evo Morales is re-elected isn't necessarily an example, as plenty of presidents the U.S. doesn't like have done so over the past century or so.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Uribe-Santos Spat

Alvaro Uribe is infamously on Twitter daily (here is one from this morning), lambasting President Juan Manuel Santos for his negotiations with the FARC. Simultaneously, news keeps leaking out about how as president he attempted to do precisely some of the things he claims to hate.

So, for example, he offered the FARC congressional seats, which he now says is an example of impunity. And in 2006 he offered $500,000 in "social project" to the FARC for joining talks. He even offered a demilitarized zone.

Santos has taken the high road. He recently sent a public invitation (via Twitter, actually) to Uribe to discuss the negotiations with him, but so far Uribe has not responded. When asked directly by reporters, he either criticizes the negotiations or speaks in generalities.

The fallout between these two politicians and their political trajectories is incredible. Back in 2010 when Santos was first elected, the Heritage Foundation loved Santos because he was so close to Uribe, and Hugo Chávez said Santos would be a disaster.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

North Carolina & Nicaragua in World War II

In 1942, there was a battle 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina. A German U-boat sunk a Nicaraguan ship (the Bluefields) officially on its way from New York to Havana though the news article says it was going to Key West with cargo to help with the war. It was then bombed by a U.S. Navy aircraft and sunk. Now both the U-boat and the Bluefields have been found. It's remarkable to be reminded how close the war came to the continental United States, not to mention my own state.

Incidentally, Nicaragua had already declared war on Germany after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Anastasio Somoza García was no dummy and knew he needed to stay on the good side of FDR. He was receiving arms and getting rich in the process. Further, as Lars Schoultz points out in Beneath the United States, he was rewarded by allowing his son Anastasio Somoza Debayle to enroll at West Point, where he graduated in 1946 (p. 313).


Rafael Correa Not Fond of Term Limits

Rafael Correa says that opposition to unlimited presidential terms is a right wing plot  (along with the evil press) to take the country back to the past and rob the people of their right to choose their leaders. He's annoyed that they want a referendum on the question, but is confident--with reason to be--that he would win a referendum and 2017 presidential election anyway.

The hubris is strong with this one. But this is a typical populist stance, whereby you do not build up a party structure that can groom young politicians to become your eventual successors. Or at the least, it appears Correa is not ready to allow his party, Alianza País, to do so. You keep power in your own hands and try to remain president as long as possible. There are exceptions, like Peronism, but all too often things fall apart without the charismatic leader.

Precisely because he hasn't done such political grooming, Correa is correct that without him as candidate, the opposition has its best shot. Unfortunately, that's not positive for democracy in the longer term.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Argentina as Model for Human Rights Justice

Kathryn Sikkink is interviewed in the Buenos Aires Herald. She makes the argument that Argentina is really the model for accountability of human rights abuses during dictatorships:

Argentina is currently starting to examine the role played by business leaders during the dictatorship. What do you think about this strategy? 
Argentina is once again on the cutting edge of international justice. Companies are not being investigated. They are probing civilians who were involved in the repression. 
In your book, you say that South Africa analyzed the Argentine experience to prosecute criminals after the apartheid. Aren’t the South African and Argentine models at odds? 
People tend to speak romantically about South Africa, saying that it was a model that led to reconciliation. But if you talk to people from there, they do not believe that their truth commission was exemplary. It was supposed to give amnesty to those providing information and to send to court those who refused to admit the truth. But that didn’t happen. According to our records, only 11 trials were conducted. 
Would it be right to say then that the Argentine strategy to prosecute dictatorship crimes was more successful? 
Yes. The Argentine case is really important because it combines many transitional devices, such as a truth commission, trials, economic compensations, memorials. South Africa lacks of many of them.
One point to make is how--at least in Latin America--the efforts to bring justice are ongoing even though they don't necessarily always make headlines. This is true elsewhere as well. For example, Cristián Labbé, a former Pinochet cabinet member and mayor of Providencia (one of the upscale parts of Santiago), was just arrested.

It is, in effect, permanent, or at least until so much time has passed that all participants are deceased. Think of the continued investigations into the Holocaust, where you see 93 year olds arrested for crimes committed seven decades prior.


Friday, October 17, 2014

U.S. Influence & Latin American Democracy

The New York Times has an editorial arguing that Latin America would enhance democracy by resisting efforts to take limits off of the number of terms a president can serve. Fine. But then we get this:

This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region. In Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the new generation of caudillos have staked out anti-American policies and limited the scope of engagement on developmentmilitary cooperation and drug enforcement efforts. This has damaged the prospects for trade and security cooperation.

In other words, please limit presidential terms so we can re-establish our traditional hegemonic position. That should not somehow be confused with the promotion of Latin American democracy, though in the U.S. such confusion is not uncommon.

Incidentally, I can't actually think of a single policy in Latin America that is "anti-American," unless we equate "America" with Chevron, bondholders, etc. Or take the case of something like Bolivian anti-narcotics policy, which in the U.S. is seen as "anti-American" because it's being done in a way that the U.S. government does not like, yet is succeeding and therefore actually advancing U.S. security interests.

Even from the narrow perspective of U.S. interests, we need to think less in terms of "influence" and more in terms of "security." And these days there are no threats coming from other Latin American states, so greater influence won't make the U.S. more secure. Our problems relate to non-state actors, and those cannot be defeated with "influence."


Kevin Powers on The Yellow Birds

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a dinner on campus with Kevin Powers, the author of The Yellow Birds (here is my review from last year) after which he gave a talk. We had a very big turnout and great discussion, led by student questions (even through Twitter). He is a very nice guy, and was very thoughtful about and attentive to every student question.

He actually touched precisely on a point I made in my review, namely the question of thanking people for their service. He said he always appreciated the gesture as well-meaning, but that the question had a superficial quality and inherently generated a lot of negative memories as well. He says soldiers coming home are also commonly asked, "What's it like over there?" and he doesn't know how even to respond. In a way, the book reflects him struggling to articulate what the combat experience (he was a machine gunner in Iraq) meant to him.

That struggle makes the book very worth reading. He said he chose fiction so that he could explore themes without having to constantly wonder whether his exact memories were accurate or not. Through characters, he could wonder about what would happen if he had made different decisions, if he had followed different paths.

One interesting point came from a student question about why he chose not to present the narrative in chronological order. He said he originally wrote it like that, then felt that he could dig deeper into the book's themes by moving them around. Doing that and making the pieces fit together again took him about a year and a half.

Incidentally, he also has a book of poems that I will need to buy at some point.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Competitive Opposition in Venezuela

Yordan K. Kutiyski and André Krouwel, "Narrowing the Gap: Explaining the Increased Competitiveness of the Venezuelan Opposition." Latin American Politics and Society Early View 2014. Gated.


This article seeks to explain why electoral support for the Venezuelan opposition has increased substantially, using Venezuelan public opinion survey data from LAPOP and an opt-in sample collected through the online vote advice application Brújula Presidencial Venezuela. It analyzes why Venezuelans who had either voted for Chávez or abstained in 2006 defected and started to support the opposition in subsequent elections. It proposes several reasons: negative voter evaluations of the economy, concern for public safety, and dissatisfaction with Venezuelan democracy. While the finding that negative policy evaluations boost support for the opposition aligns with theoretical expectations, this study finds a strong relationship between having different evaluations of the quality of democracy and supporting Chávez, which shows that the advocacy of two competing visions of democracy by the incumbent and the opposition also affects voting patterns in Venezuela.

This article mostly confirms with data what seems quite clear, namely that anxiety over the economy and public safety are making more voters willing to cast their ballot in favor of the opposition. Another important point is that the opposition gained once it stopped attacking popular social programs and instead promised they would not be dismantled. The mention of democracy refers to the fact, also not surprising, that Chavistas and anti-Chavistas have different conceptions of democracy. The latter are greatly concerned about the extensive role of the state. Nonetheless, economic concerns overshadow that.

The opposition gained a lot from previous abstainers, and that will be an important group to hold on to and add to. The 2013 presidential election was very close, and declining fortunes will push more people into the opposition camp.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Arguing the Cuban Embargo

Carlos Alberto Montaner explains why the United States should maintain the embargo and not normalize relations with Cuba. It rests on four pillars, which are so easily undercut that the logic topples down.

1. We can't do so because Cuba on the state sponsor of terrorism list. I see. Well, since it is well documented that Cuba shouldn't be on the list, then just take them off. North Korea isn't even on it.

2. Cuban American members of Congress speak for every single Cuban American in the country, and they like the embargo, so it should stay. I am not joking--he really argues this. Discard.

3. Cuba actively tries to undermine the interests of the United States. If so, it's quite bad at it. I can't think of anything the U.S. has done for many years that the Cuban government has been able to undermine.

4. Normalizing relations would signal to the Cuban government that they don't need to reform. The problem with this argument is that the embargo sends that message even more strongly. If anything, normalizing gives the Cuban opposition more space--especially economically--than they would otherwise have.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bolivia's Economic Success

The Wall Street Journal has a story (in Spanish) about Luis Alberto Arce, the Minister of Economy and Public Financing in Bolivia. With a picture of Che in his office, he oversees a conservative approach to the economy, which has allowed for growth, foreign investment AND poverty reduction.

In the United States, we mostly hear about how Evo Morales makes some speech criticizing the United States, or even how he's just one of the clones of the Latin American left. Yet with help from people like Arce, he's brought unprecedented stability to Bolivia--truly amazing when you consider it in historical perspective.

Arce is also one of the rare people to get favorable coverage in the WSJ and TeleSur, each emphasizing their own particular slant. No small feat.


Thursday, October 09, 2014

U.S. and Latin American Relations Update

I just submitted the revised manuscript of the 2nd edition U.S. and Latin American Relations to Wiley (my last update on the book was a month ago). I had three excellent reviewers, who will see the fruits of their considerable labor. There wasn't much overhaul but a lot of small things added up--I also switched the order of two chapters.

I've already been trying to address various permissions issues (for photos and primary documents) and now we hopefully will be able to move forward fairly quickly. But there are still various tasks to complete:

1. Permissions get finalized.
2. The manuscript will have to be formatted and copy-edited.
3. I go over all the copy-edits
4. I get a fresh set of page proofs and make an index
5. We agree on cover art

Looking back, I see that it was exactly one year ago that I signed the contract with Wiley and started work. There has been a lot of intense work since then.

This will be out in 2015, likely spring, knock on wood! It will be fun to see it in print so many years after the first edition was published. If you want a taste, go buy a cheap used old edition and see if you would be interested in having it all updated and expanded.


Central Planning and Big Data in Allende's Chile

Simply fascinating article in The New Yorker about consultant Stafford Beer being invited to Chile to help the Salvador Allende government set up what we would now call a "Big Data" project to coordinate central planning. It is based on Eden Medina's book Cybernetic Revolutionaries, which I have not read but should.

The idea was science fiction-like. You would sit in a futuristic chair--of course equipped with ash tray and glass holder--in a room with screens, which would feed constantly updated data about production, supplies, etc. and even allowing for quick projections of the probable effects of your decisions before you commit to them. "La vía chilena" would therefore be as scientifically based as possible. It never actually worked, in part because of the difficulties inherent in such a project but also because the Allende government had so little time in office.

It made me think of how interesting a comparison would be between different efforts at central planning, and what kinds of political and economic impacts those strategies had. Both Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez seemed much more whimsical, focused on their gut feelings.

h/t Mark Healey on Twitter


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Textbook Skyping

Today I skyped with a class on U.S.-Latin American relations that is using my book, which was fun (even though I am slowly getting over a cold and had a brief coughing fit in the middle!). I know anecdotally that people (instructors and students) who use one of my books often check out my blog, so I want to let you know I am more than happy to do the same if you're interested. I love engaging with students who are reading my stuff--it likely will sound terribly cliche, but they're the ones I'm really writing for. Just shoot me an email.


Interview on Understanding Latin American Politics

If you want to hear me talk about my book Understanding Latin American Politics, here is the link to an interview I did with Keith Simmons for New Books in Latin American Studies. Incidentally, it is not what I normally sound like--I am slowly getting over a cold that left me hoarse.


Cuba and the Summit

Dan Restrepo has an op-ed in the Miami Herald, taking Latin America to task for focusing so much on Cuba for the 2015 Summit of the Americas.

With proper preparation, the summit presents an opportunity for others in the region to also be more creative and hopefully more effective in defending the basic rights of the Cuban people as well as of others across the Americas.

Doing so will require Latin American leaders to unmoor themselves from domestic political calculation, vanquish historical ghosts and let go of unrealistic desires to go down in history as the person who bridged the divide across the Florida Straits.

The funny thing is that U.S. leaders refuse to unmoor themselves from domestic politics, continue living in the past (something the embargo embodies) and create strong incentives for Latin American presidents to obsess on Cuba. So Restrepo is asking Latin America to do precisely what we won't.

I agree that the region should be more critical of human rights in Cuba and that the summit should move past Cuba and into more substantive areas. Although the Obama administration could help with that, it likely won't.


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Interpreting Latin America's Slowdown

Latin America's economic growth is slowing. By chance I happened to see two accounts that use the same variables but come to completely different conclusions. So the Wall Street Journal and a political economist writing for Telesur both say the slowdown is due in large part because of China's decreased demand for commodities and the United States winding down its stimulus.

The WSJ conclusion is mostly "glass half full":

There is a silver lining to the slowdown. After decades of going through debt-fueled booms followed by costly busts, the current downturn appears to be part of a more conventional business cycle, which the World Bank describes as an “unprecedented experience” for the region. 
“That is good news because the bust is very bad for equality, very bad for growth and can set the region back several years,” Mr. de la Torre said.

The Telesur conclusion is conspiratorial and even apocalyptic:

It should also be noted that certain recent USA government policies have also been exacerbating Latin America’s emerging recession.  The USA is taking advantage of the emerging recessions in Latin America to put additional economic pressure on two of the region’s most important economies: Argentina and Venezuela. This further destabilization suggests that the USA may be ‘turning’ again toward a focus on Latin America in an effort to reassert its hegemony in the region and to roll back the progressive developments and governments there that have arisen in recent years. But how the USA is now attacking both Argentina and Venezuela—i.e. by defending the vulture capitalist hedge fund billionaires in the case of Argentina debt payments and by working with US multinational corporations to artificially create a dollar shortage and runaway inflation in the case of Venezuela in a USA effort to still further destabilize the slowing economies of both countries—s the subject of a subsequent essay and analysis.

Take your pick!


Monday, October 06, 2014

Chile Taking on Bolivia

The Chilean Foreign Ministry put together a short video outlining why Bolivia has no legitimate claim at the International Court of Justice for the land lost as a result of the War of the Pacific.

It's a frontal assault and includes clips from Michelle Bachelet, Ricardo Lagos, Eduardo Frei, Sebastián Piñera, as well as Heraldo Muñez (FYI, it is in Spanish but with English subtitles). They argue that Bolivia's claim basically tries to undo the fabric of the international system, even while Chile spends millions and millions to provide port access and acts like a good neighbor.

Evo Morales was not pleased:

"Son promesas solemnes de otorgarnos el acceso soberano al mar, Bolivia no es un país sin Litoral sino que es un país privado de Litoral, ya que nació como país con 400 kilómetros de costa que le fueron arrebatados por Chile tras una invasión violenta de 1879", fundamentó. 
El Jefe de Estado boliviano argumentó que todas las naciones mediterráneas gozan de facilidades equivalentes a un acceso soberano, "mucho más que quien lo pide tuvo por más de medio siglo 120.000 kilómetros cuadrados de territorio ribereño" 
En esa dirección, apuntó que Bolivia no presentó una demanda contraria al derecho internacional ni pretende alterar el orden mundial de límites. 
"Por el contrario si el derecho internacional fuera inmutable no se justificaría la existencia de la Corte Internacional de Justicia, que ha resuelto en justicia y en derecho decenas de disputas entre estados", dijo. 
Agregó que en el video chileno, Bachelet hace referencia a un espíritu de integración y de diálogo con Bolivia y expresó su coincidencia con esas ideas. 
"Invocó a su sensibilidad (de Bachelet) y la del pueblo chileno cuyos representantes pidieron mar para Bolivia con soberanía, ayer en Palacio de Gobierno de La Paz, para hacer realidad espíritu de hermandad y de proyección de ambas naciones en este siglo XXI, que se logrará cuando las palabras se conviertan en actos de voluntad y de buena fe", afirmó.

Sorry, I don't have time to translate. If you don't read Spanish, the quick version from Morales is "you're full of crap."

And what about the timing? Bolivia filed its case with the Hague in 2013, delivered documents earlier this year, and it will take years to sort out. The latest move in the case was in July 2014, when the court told Bolivia it had until November 2014 to respond to the Chilean argument that the court had no jurisdiction. I suppose this is some early spin, though I do wonder how many people see such a video.


Sunday, October 05, 2014

Blocking Venezuela from UN Security Council

The drumbeat to try and deny Venezuela the rotating seat on the UN Security Council suffers from many logical deficiencies. I wrote about this before. It would be a terrible idea for the Obama administration to expend any political capital trying to accomplish it.


1. Latin America agreed in 2006 to take turns. It is Venezuela's turn. The U.S. would therefore have to assert publicly that Latin American agreements are null and void if it doesn't approve.

2. Given #1, the chances of success are slim to none. A failure for no reason hurts the U.S.

3. Given #1 and #2, success would require such massive maneuvering that the U.S. would find it harder to achieve more important goals (e.g. construction of international coalitions instead of unilateral action) later.

4. Having allies in that position doesn't necessarily work out well. Remember that Chile and Mexico blocked the Bush administration in 2003. The Bush administration's strongarm tactics backfired very badly.

5. Having adversaries in that position doesn't necessarily work out badly. Venezuela is replacing Argentina, which has never been friendly and is in a bitter dispute with U.S. courts but hasn't somehow used the Security Council for nefarious purposes.

If you support the effort to block Venezuela, you have to accept the fact that you advocate failing and losing influence for short-term symbolic reasons. That seems not to be a good use of political capital.


Friday, October 03, 2014

Samper Enters the Venezuela Fray

The crisis in Venezuela has become increasingly entangled with Colombian politics. While they were presidents, Hugo Chávez and Alvaro Uribe sniped at each other constantly. At a 2010 summit they even almost brawled, with Raúl Castro (of all people) calming things down. After leaving the presidency, Uribe has been on a Twitter rampage, often tying the FARC to the Venezuelan government and blaming Juan Manuel Santos. There is even a birther movement claiming Maduro was born in Colombia! More recently, the Venezuelan government constantly blames violence on the Colombian right.

Now there is a new twist. Former Colombian President Ernesto Samper is blaming the murder of Robert Serra on Colombian paramilitaries. In other words, the accusations usually came from Venezuela, but not they're also coming from a Colombian. As you might guess, the Venezuelan press ate this up. Especially since Samper is the new Secretary-General of UNASUR and therefore has an international platform, this Venezuela-Colombia tangle will get more attention. Uribe has responded to Maduro, but I have not seen him respond to Samper. As it turns out, Samper has poked fun at Uribe for all this tweeting, so now may become the recipient of it.


Thursday, October 02, 2014

Presidential Approval in Latin America 2014

Consulta Mitofsky put together a report on Latin American presidential approval based on national polls. Some thoughts:

1. As always, forget ideology. The populist left is both the most (Correa, Morales) and least (Maduro, Fernández) popular.

2. On average, Central American presidents are more popular than those in North or South America. That's about the definition of "counterintuitive."

3. When Barack Obama and Dilma Rousseff meet, at least we know they have one thing in common, which is that they similarly unpopular. Both can laugh at Stephen Harper.

4. Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic has Alvaro Uribe-type numbers, with 89%. Even economists like him.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Berating Panama for Inviting Cuba

Senator Robert Menendez just published a letter he sent to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, berating him for inviting Cuba to next year's Summit of the Americas. I assume this is really aimed at a domestic audience, but this type of public calling out isn't productive for U.S.-Latin American relations.

As Menendez writes:

At the Third Summit of the Americas in 2001, the democratically-elected leaders assembled in Quebec, Canada stated that “the maintenance and strengthening of the rule of law and strict respect for the democratic system are […] an essential condition of our presence at this and future Summits. Consequently, any unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order in a state of the Hemisphere constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to the participation of that state's government in the Summit of the Americas process.” 

The Government of Cuba remains this hemisphere’s must enduring dictatorship, having deprived the people of Cuba of democratic rule for more than a half century.  To this day, the Cuban Government continues to deny its citizens their most fundamental political and human rights, and criminalizes all forms of free expression, free association, and dissent in the country.  The Government of Cuba fails to meet even the most minimal standard of democratic governance required for its participation at the Summit of the Americas.

President Obama will now have to decide whether this merits boycotting the summit. I can't imagine Panama backing down, and the only other solution would be if for some reason Cuba decided not to attend. But Panama is actively courting Cuba to come.

My hunch is that before long we will start hearing public calls for such a boycott. At that point Obama has to decide whether he cares about the political fallout from ignoring those calls, which would mostly entail accusations of being soft on dictatorships (which will inevitably get tied to being too soft on Assad, etc., etc.). [Incidentally, the boycotters will not discuss whether the U.S. should use the same logic with, say, Saudi Arabia.]

I suppose this could also be seen as an issue for the 2016 presidential election, given the strong feelings of at least some Cuban Americans in Florida. But I have a hard time believing that participation in a summit will still generate such strong sentiment over a year later. In any case, as time goes on, Cuban Americans are looking more like the average voter and do not vote based solely on U.S. Cuba policy.

Attending the summit may not yield a lot, but it will at the very least avoid digging a deeper hole. The United States has isolated itself badly in the region with regard to Cuba, and our strategy has failed miserable for many years. I assume boycott supporters will argue that it would be a potent symbol of standing with the Cuban people, but right now we're not doing them any good.

Further, there is plenty of criticism of the OAS in the United States, arguing that it should be strengthened and improved, but not attending the summit will ironically undermine it even more, while sending signals that Latin America should move on without U.S. participation.

This is one fairly rare occasion when I agree with Andres Oppenheimer, who says Obama should attend but find a prominent way to push Cuba on human rights. We're in a deep enough hole already.


Kissinger and Cuba

Henry Kissinger wanted to attack Cuba in 1976 because Fidel Castro invaded Angola (here is the link to the documents at the National Security Archive--as always, the documents are fascinating). This is all coming from the new book by Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande new book, Back Channel to Cuba, which looks great.

There is so much here. It's Henry Kissinger in all his glory, with threats, exaggerations, and vanity. Some things in particular struck me.

First, Kissinger was offended that Cuba invaded just as the U.S. was negotiating better relations, and he couldn't understand it. This reminded me of Nicolás Maduro, where suddenly he'll shift from "I want to improve relations" to kicking some U.S. official out. In fact, Castro did not and Maduro does not want fully normalized relations because it removes an important domestic foil for them.

Second, in all of the talks about normalization, the Cubans keep repeating that ending the embargo is the only way to really get things going. Since the U.S. negotiators wouldn't promise that, in a sense they were fairly doomed from the start anyway. Lawrence Eagleburger quickly catches on that the Cubans are differentiating between discussions, which they are happy to pursue, and negotiations, which they are not.

Third, Kissinger's "pipsqueak" comment falls perfectly within the history of U.S.-Cuban relations. Lars Schoultz wrote an entire book (That Infernal Little Cuban Republic) examining the frustration of successive U.S. officials that this tiny country was not succumbing to U.S. pressure. During the Cold War, this became a question of credibility--if a tiny country could resist us, then we look weak.


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