Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Latin America Left Self-Criticism

Bolivian VP Alvaro García Linera gave a talk where he focused on the left's need to recognize what it has not done well. He had five main points:

1. The left needs to pay more attention to economic issues.

2. Governments have not fostered a cultural revolution along with the political one, so there is no new "common sense."

3. The left needs to tackle corruption.

4. The left needs to deal with continuity of leadership.

5. Economic integration needs more attention.

It's notable, after so many years in power in many country, that #1 needs attention. But it's largely why Mauricio Macri is in power and why Nicolás Maduro is holding on by a thread. Bolivia, though, has paid much more careful attention to it, which is why we're not looking at crisis there (Bolivia's issue is much more #4, as the country looks ahead to a president other than Evo Morales).

I'm not so convinced about #2. As I've written about, there is ample evidence that Latin Americans are pragmatic. They want solutions to problems, but I'm not so sure how many are looking for a revolutionary cultural message. Part of the left's problem may well be over-estimating how many people want to be part of a revolution, as opposed to just having political leaders who identify and help resolve the problems they face.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Cuba Response to Luis Almagro

Granma published a lengthy letter rebutting Luis Almagro's scathing letter to Nicolás Maduro.

What was particularly notable was that the Granma letter contains exactly no defense of Maduro. Instead, it is an attack on Almagro and the OAS, which of course Cuba has criticized for years.

If we ignore for a moment the accusations against Maduro, the glossy résumé brandished by the OAS Secretary General – in which he refers to himself as a champion of “the principles of freedom, honesty, decency, public integrity,…democracy and human rights” – presents us with a revolutionary Almagro, begging the question as to how, with such a record, he managed to become the head of the most anti-democratic multinational organization on the continent.

He ignored the accusations "for a moment" and then never got back to them. The point here, though, is that these days Maduro doesn't have too many defenders. The main tactic to deal with accusations is to accuse the accuser. Rarely does that include discussion of Maduro's performance. So who's left on his side?


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lars Schoultz's retirement

I spent yesterday at UNC Chapel Hill at a great event honoring the retirement of my Ph.D. advisor Lars Schoultz. If you seriously study either Latin American history or politics, you will know who he is. Lars wrote several classic works, with Beneath the United States probably being the best known.

What people might not know is that he was an incredible mentor. There were 17 of us former graduate students who came from all over (including Chile and Uruguay) to honor him, plus many others who gave impromptu remarks. We former grad students all had short prepared statements and what became clear immediately is that we all were saying variations of the same thing: Lars proved that rigor and kindness can and should go together in academia.

Lars was a top scholar at a top research university and he expected everyone to do high level work. But when you talked to him, you knew he cared and wanted you to succeed. He wanted to know how your family was doing, how your mental health was, even while he used his red pen (this got mentioned a lot, including by me!) to kindly show you how to improve your argument and writing.

I talked about how academia can be a machine, and how Lars always brought it back to the importance of the individual. One current UNC faculty member (who knows him only as a colleague, not as a doctoral advisor) talked about how sometimes on Fridays around 5 pm Lars would wander around asking people why they were in their offices. "Go home," he told them. Yes, you need to get work done, but you need other life too.

We'd all be better off if these were the messages academia typically sent.


Legislator Professionalization in Latin America

Sarah Shair-Rosenfield and Alissandra T. Stoyan, "Constraining Executive Action: The Role of Legislator Professionalization in Latin America," Governance (early view, 2016). Gated.


What explains the failure of legislatures with strong constitutionally endowed powerto exert themselves over the executive in practice? We examine the role of legislator professionalization in strengthening the legislature’s ability to constrain executive action, conceptualizing legislator professionalization as prior legislative experience and prior professional work experience. We argue that more professionalized legislators, through the skill and knowledge they bring to the policymaking process from prior experience, will be better equipped to challenge executive authority. In a sample of four Latin American countries from 1990 through 2010, we find that legislatures are more likely to curb executive decree issuance when indiv idual legislators are stronglyprofessionalized, controlling for constitutional powers and several other partisan and political factors. Our findings suggest that legislatures composed of more professionalized legislators can constrain executive action, especially in the context of a unified political opposition in the legislature.

The key point here is that we talk a lot about how powerful the executive is, and how much decrees are issued in Latin America, but there is plenty going on under the surface that is counteracting the strong executive. What they show is that the characteristics of the legislators may in fact preemptively prevent decrees.

Our analyses indicate that, even controlling for a number of features that determine the legislative–executive balance of power in policymaking, legislator professionalization has a significant impact on the issuance of executive decrees. More specifically, greater legislator professionalization and prior experience can strengthen a unified opposition in the legislature, resulting in a reduction in the issuance of executive decrees. This confirms intuition derived from literature on the U.S. Congress that individual legislator characteristics are positively correlated with the legislature’s capacity to stymie executive attempts to interfere in or assert some control over the legislative agenda.

The first thing that popped into my head was the question of term limits. We hear a lot about presidential term limits, but very little about the legislature. Not long ago, Mexico reformed its legislative limits, which now allow 4 terms in the lower house starting in 2018. Given this analysis, then, we should gradually see more pushback against the Mexican president.

I don't know about other countries, but if you have scant opportunity for re-election, you cannot develop professionalism and therefore cannot be an effective block on executive power.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bernie Sanders Has No Idea About Latin America

If you're curious about Bernie Sander's views of Latin America, here's the answer: he has no idea, even about very basic stuff.

"De nuevo, me está haciendo preguntas sobre el impacto en América Central sobre lo que, honestamente, debería saber más. Todo lo que puedo decir es que tenemos que lidiar con los narcotraficantes en este país", admitió el aspirante a la nominación demócrata. 
Sus respuestas sobre la situación en países sudamericanos fueron en la misma línea. Prefirió no comentar sobre la crisis que encaran gobiernos como los de Venezuela, donde una aguda crisis económica ha alentado manifestaciones y saqueos, y Brasil, cuya presidenta, Dilma Rousseff, fue sacada temporalmente de su cargo en medio de un juicio político.

OK, so you're running for president and you're distracted, but you've been in Congress a really long time. Plus, back in 1985 Sanders had a lengthy interview about Latin American politics, concluding with this:

Sanders expressed dismay that many U.S. citizens were "intellectually lazy" and did not try to learn more about a government demonized by their own.

That lament now includes him, I guess.


Monday, May 23, 2016

The Venezuelan Military and Maduro

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde translate an interview with Maragarita López Maya, a Venezuelan history professor, about the crisis there. Her discussion of the military brought up a question I've been thinking about.

MLM: Who is sustaining Maduro in power right now?
HP: Yes, and I will allow myself to propose an answer: the military.MLM: The military. Maduro is sustained by the military sector, but also by a group of tribes, of political families that are drawing benefits from their links to the state, that have very important interests in the state, corrupt political families that are enjoying complete immunity.
HP: Why are the military playing into this game? And I ask because the model is obviously not workingMLM: The government is highly militarized, in the sense that it has been penetrated by the military sector. They now enjoy a role as protagonist that they did not have in the previous democracy, or even during Chavez’s period. They now control very important power spaces and money. I mean of course the top sectors of the military.
HP: Could the referent for this be the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez?MLM: No, because the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez was not a personalist government such as this one: in that case it was the rule of the military institution. Today it is not the military as an institution that is governing.
HP: Let’s say that it is inside the government.MLM: Yes, but is has also been hijacked by powerful ruling groups. It is an institution hijacked by military mafias that control contraband and very lucrative business interests. Remember that it is an institution that has been purged several times. And if we look at military promotions, Maduro has continued Chavez’s policy of only promoting loyal officers. There is a sort of mutual hijacking. The military has hijacked Maduro and he has hijacked the military. I believe the high command, even though this is an issue about which much remains in the dark, does not represent the military institution. So at this moment there is not actually a military institution governing. What we see are groups within the military that share illegal interests with the government and that enjoy immunity. The officers that are not connected with the corruption networks, the ones in the barracks; they are suffering from the same shortages, the same scarcities as the general population. They probably have sons and daughters attending the opposition marches and families complaining because they have to queue for food. I believe that there is also a lot of discontent there.  

I keep thinking about how this is Hugo Chávez. He was one of those officers on the outside, suffering like everyone else while higher-up officers were making decisions based on their own self-interest. The 1992 coup attempts were against the government but also the high command.

That raises the additional question of whether there is the mirror image of Hugo Chávez in the ranks. No one had heard of Chávez back then, and presumably we wouldn't know who a possible mirror image would be.

Remember too that the straw that broke the camel's back was the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez ordering troops to fire on protesting civilians. Chávez was sick and managed not to be in that position personally but it made a huge impression on him and many others. Many were traumatized. They were shooting at their own people and felt much more sympathy for them than for the generals giving them orders.

The referent, then, is not Pérez Jiménez, but Andrés Pérez.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Luis Almagro Goes off on Nicolás Maduro

Wow. That's all I can say after reading OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro's letter to Nicolás Maduro. It is the very definition of scathing. He is pissed.

I hope that no one commits the folly of carrying out a coup d’état against you, but also that you yourself do not do so. It is your duty. You have an obligation to public decency to hold the recall referendum in 2016, because when politics are polarized the decision must go back to the people. That is what the Constitution says. To deny the people that vote, to deny them the possibility of deciding, would make you just another petty dictator, like so many this Hemisphere has had.

There's plenty more in there as well. An important question is the degree to which he is saying what regional leaders are thinking but prefer not to say out loud. For an organization that Maduro (and Hugo Chávez before him) says is a tool of the United State, the OAS has been very cautious with regard to Venezuela. We'll have to see whether these sentiments get echoed elsewhere.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Time in Chile

I'm currently in Santiago and this WSJ piece on the confusion about Chile's changes in time hit me directly. The government had stopped changing times, but then was hit by complaints about how dark it was in the morning (quite late, really) so they switched back. On the day I arrived, as it turned out.

Therefore on the plane they gave us the wrong time. And my phone had the wrong time, and continues to do so. I have to keep reminding myself that my phone is an hour later. If it corrects itself, then I will be even more confused.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Daniel Ortega Wants Tanks

A retired Navy Commander writes about Nicaragua buying tanks from Russia.

Thus far, these Back to the Future Russian deals have not generated the kind of buzz here in the United States that they did in the heady days of the post-Sandinista revolution. If Putin was hoping to produce a mid-1980esque U.S. overreaction to Russian meddling in America’s sphere of influence, then he has failed. Rather, those who seem most upset by Nicaragua’s expenditure of millions of dollars on tanks, and the building of a Russian satellite tracking base, are the poor peasant farmers and fishermen who have for so long dreamed of a better future for Nicaragua.
I agree, and that lack of overreaction has been a hallmark of the Obama administration, despite calls for seeing Russia, Iran, etc., etc. as immediate threats in Latin America.
But I wonder: why in the world would Nicaragua want tanks? It has no one to fight and has pressing needs elsewhere. I would think, then, that it involves appeasing the military in some fashion. Daniel Ortega's response was, "Hey be quiet, because I know national security."


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dilma Rousseff Suspension Rundown

By a 55-22 vote in the senate, Dilma Rousseff was suspended (not impeached) and now the trial begins. That came after a weird and brief effort to annul the vote in the lower house.

Colin Snider looks at the saga in some detail and notes this:

Is that a coup? Not as we’ve often thought of coups, but it’s time to reconsider what the word means in the 21st century, and how coups can and do operate. It’s not an old-school coups of the 20th century, with sudden, violent, physical overthrow. What it is is much what it was in Paraguay in 2012, albeit in a different national context: one branch of the government – the legislative – dominated by elites who are the traditional power-brokers, bristling at the executive branch’s ability to disrupt the elites’ traditional monopolization of power by improving the lives of the marginalized and the masses. Being unable to win the presidency themselves in this new context, they have reacted by using institutional mechanisms to remove a democratically elected president.

I actually don't agree with this. If it doesn't fit the commonly accepted definition of a coup, then it's not a coup. It is something else. That something else is definitely not good for democracy, but it's not a coup.

Sean Burges and Fabricio Chagas Bastos view it in similar terms as Colin:

If you were under the impression that Dilma was impeached for corruption instead of the somewhat fuzzier idea of fiscal impropriety you stand in good company with most of the Chamber of Deputies. It was not until the 81st vote was cast last Sunday that a Deputy correctly identified the “crime” they were judging amongst their cries of “for Jesus”, “for my nephew”, “for Brazil”, and even “for Colonel Brilhante Ustra” (who tortured Dilma in 1973). Almost all of the deputies seeking Dilma’s ouster accused her of corruption with some directlylinking her to the Lava Jato investigation of malfeasance in Petrobras contracting. Aside from the handful that abstained, almost no one on either side of the aisle directly addressed the formal charge against her.

What this became is the equivalent of a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. Those happen when a majority in the legislature are unhappy, and doesn't have anything to do with corruption. The problem is that it can't work in a presidential system where the president is elected by a different constituency and does not serve at the pleasure of the legislature.

Further, as Ryan Carlin, Gregory Love, and Cecilia Martínez-Gallardo point out, the only reason this is happening is because the Brazilian economy is not doing well.

A decade ago, full of optimism about the country’s economic prospects, most Brazilians were willing to brush aside the accusations against Lula’s government and grant him a second term. Today, however, with Brazil’seconomic output in decline, commodity prices collapsing and inflation reaching double digits, Brazilians have shown substantially less tolerance. Instead they protested against government corruption, pressuring their representatives to impeach the president.
In a recent study examining how scandals shape presidential public approval, we find that the linkages between scandals and economic performance extend far beyond Brazil. In fact, looking at data from 84 presidential regimes across Latin America, we find that presidentialapproval ratings are very sensitive to charges of corruption, but only if the country is experiencing high inflation, high unemployment, or both.

Boz is a bit more positive:

To her credit, the president has allowed the institutional process to play out even as she has defiantly fought the charges against her. As Brian Winter writes, Rousseff did not stand in the way of the Lava Jato investigation, even at the risk to her own presidency. She isn’t AMLO, anointing herself the legitimate president in a farcical ceremony amid governing institutions that rule to the contrary. She isn’t Maduro, using dirty tricks and repression to hold on to power, even at the cost of repeatedly violating the country’s constitution. In every step up to this point, Rousseff has shown herself to be a democrat who respects the institutional and constitutional rules, even if she disagrees with how her opponents are using them to remove her from power.
Yes, this is definitely worth noting. AMLO's responses did not serve his own party or cause well. The Brian Winter article Boz links to discusses how she was steadfast in allowing the corruption probe to continue.

I covered Rousseff closely for five years as a reporter, and if there’s a more “Dilma” anecdote out there, I don’t know it. This one has it all: her blustery arrogance, her refusal to listen to even her closest aides, and her apparent inability to understand just how much trouble she was in, right to the very end. But it also has what may prove to be Rousseff’s saving grace in the annals of Brazilian history: her refusal, for the most part, to stand in the way of corruption investigations at Petrobras and elsewhere, even when it became clear they would contribute to her demise.

And indeed, people are going down for corruption in Brazil. We can only hope that the momentum continues, especially as the very corrupt new president Michel Temer takes office.

So now the trial starts, and we watch to see what Rousseff does, how the trial goes, and whether Temer's proposed austerity measures make Brazilians even more unhappy.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Latin American Voter Matters

Mark Weisbrot has an article in The Nation about how the Latin American left isn't going away. He's right, but for the wrong reasons. He frames the current political scene in Latin America as a titanic struggle between the left and the United States.

But don’t expect the current downturn in the region to repeat the lost decades of the late 20th century. That kind of long-term disaster generally happens when countries do not have sovereign control over their most important economic policies (as in the troubled eurozone countries today). For the past 15 years, Washington has soughtto get rid of Latin America’s left governments; but its efforts have really succeeded, so far, only in the poorest and weakest countries: Haiti (2004 and 2011), Honduras (2009), and Paraguay (2012). 
The Latin American left has led the region’s “second independence” in the 21st century, altering hemispheric economic and political relations, and — even including the economic losses of the recent downturn — presiding over historic economic and social changes that benefited hundreds of millions, especially the poor. Despite the electoral setback in Argentina and the current threat to democracy in Brazil, they are likely to remain the dominant force in the region for a long time to come.

Notice that Latin American voters, who are driving these changes, are absent from this analysis. It's far more accurate to frame Latin American political change as indicating shifts in voter preferences. There is ample empirical evidence to show that Latin Americans are pragmatic. They want solutions from their elected leaders, and make choices accordingly. Sometimes that is on the right and sometimes it is on the left. Pendulums swing. Chileans voted for Bachelet, then Piñera, then Bachelet. In the future Argentines will once again vote in a Peronist.

We need to start celebrating the Latin American voter. Notice that a number of countries are facing serious political crises, but that the military has largely (though not entirely) stayed out of things. Military leaders are looking to voters to adjudicate political cleavages.

Of course, voters don't determine impeachment hearings. But voters respond later and demonstrate whether they agreed or disagreed with the outcome. The impeachment process in Brazil has become a circus, but voters are paying attention.

So let's begin analyses of regional change not with ideology, which is less of a concern to the average Latin American than pundits (and many politicians) like to believe.


Monday, May 09, 2016

Evo Morales Economic Policy

On May Day Evo Morales talked about raising salaries. A few days later, it government announced a policy of austerity (a phrase it seems not to shy from) for this year, limiting who would get a boost and noting that there would be forthcoming austerity measures.

“Se ha comunicado la política de austeridad y se ha hecho saber que todos los funcionarios públicos que reciban un salario superior a los 15 mil bolivianos no van a tener este año ningún incremento y se van a tomar otras medidas en las próximas semanas vinculadas a la política de austeridad en cada uno de los ministerios. Se van a hacer los ajustes correspondientes”, puntualizó. 
El Jefe de Estado indicó este 1 de mayo que en el marco de la austeridad que vive Bolivia, por la baja de los precios del crudo este año, no se incrementarán los bonos sociales y que el aumento salarial del 6 por ciento al mínimo nacional no alcanzará a las autoridades que tienen sueldos por encima de los 15 mil bolivianos.

So if you make over 15,000 Bolivianos (about $2,200 a month) you don't get the announced increase.

As I've written before, Evo Morales is more fiscally careful than he is usually given credit for. I don't want to make too much of this, but it's clearly not free-wheeling populism, which is normally the image Morales gets in the U.S. media.


Friday, May 06, 2016

Patricio Aylwin's Legacy

Jenny Pribble looks at the legacy of Patricio Aylwin at The Monkey Cage.

Chile’s first four Concertación administrations (1990-2010) emphasized negotiation and consensus building — and achieved only piecemeal policy reforms. Several studies underscore the failure of these governments to adequately address citizen demands, particularly in the areas of socialpolicylabor market regulationshuman rights abuseswomen’s rights, indigenous rights and constitutional design.

I wrote about him in the context of civil-military relations, and my take is similar. Really, any analysis of Aylwin and the Concertación in general has to deal with the tension between wanting to work well with the right (and the military) and making significant reforms to push back against the Pinochet market model.

For those who argue the former, the answer is that piecemeal reforms were all that was possible. The right was resistant and the Concertación could either get a little or get nothing. In the 1990s there was also concern about the military itself being an obstacle with public displays of discontent.

For those who argue the latter, civilian governments didn't push as hard as they could've. Consensus can be useful, but it shouldn't always be the core goal. Why not push harder in some areas?


Thursday, May 05, 2016

Recommendations For U.S.-Latin America Policy

I was part of an effort along with a number of other scholars in a working group that put together some recommendations for U.S. policy toward Latin America. Of course, this comes in the context of the 2016 presidential election (since they are reasonable, they would not likely be taken too seriously by Donald Trump).

Overall, in my opinion the recommendations strike a balance between "paying attention" and "over-reacting" in the region. Take security threats seriously, but don't jump to conclusions; play a role, but keep a multilateral focus; encourage positive change (such as an anti-corruption effort) but don't play the role as director.

You may not agree with everything (and certainly I would tweak a thing here or there, but that's what a consensus document is all about) but it's worth chewing on.


Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Don't Just Blame Latin American Voters

Ricardo Hausmann wrote a pretty condescending op-ed on Latin American voters. He blames them for following false political narratives. What he actually describes, however, are rational voters looking for solutions to problems that governments of a particular party created. Now, as 20 years ago, voters get fed up when pressing issues--inflation, stagnation, whatever--aren't adequately addressed and they look for other parties.

Until voters learn what to ask for from their governments, they are bound to dislike what they end up getting. Unfortunately, Latin America’s dominant political narratives are not helping that process along.

Given popular concerns about crime, corruption, and sluggish economic growth now, it seems to me that Latin American voters know exactly what to ask of their governments. The question is whether those governments enact policies that fulfill those demands. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.

And when the traditional parties clearly have no answers, voters look elsewhere, which helps the slide toward populism. This isn't necessarily just about narrative, but rather it's pragmatic. If the puntofijista parties in Venezuela created the mess we're in, why in the world should I vote for one of their candidates? A Venezuelan in 1998 may not have liked everything he/she heard from candidate Hugo Chávez, but he seemed better than the others.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Timing in the Venezuelan Recall Effort

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz explains the importance of timing of the recall effort against Nicolás Maduro. This matters because if the referendum takes place after January 10, 2017 (which would be four years from when the term is commonly accepted to have started) then a successful recall would remove Maduro but not prompt new elections. Instead, the Vice President would assume office. If a successful recall occurs before then, there would be new elections. From Article 233 of the constitution:

Si la falta absoluta del Presidente o Presidenta de la República se produce durante los primeros cuatro años del período constitucional, se procederá a una nueva elección universal, directa y secreta dentro de los treinta días consecutivos siguientes. Mientras se elige y toma posesión el nuevo Presidente o la nueva Presidenta, se encargará de la Presidencia de la República el Vicepresidente Ejecutivo o la Vicepresidenta Ejecutiva.
 En los casos anteriores, el nuevo Presidente o Presidenta completará el período constitucional correspondiente.

This is why the government is already saying there is no way the process can move quickly enough to be done this year. But as Telesur itself notes, the 2004 recall process took about seven months, which would be early December 2016 and one month to spare.

So let's see how long it takes to confirm those signatures.


Monday, May 02, 2016

Maduro's Call For Rebellion

Venezuelans are gathering signatures to push for a recall referendum against Nicolás Maduro. In response, Maduro said that if a recall happened, people should rebel and launch a general strike.

Just stop and think about that for a moment.

Chavistas have controlled the state for 17 years, which of course includes all electoral institutions. The opposition can't cheat--there is no way for them to do so. Therefore he is basically saying that opposition may be so overwhelming that his own officials will not be able to stem the tidal wave. In other words, if a recall effort is that incredibly strong, then apparently you should rebel against the obvious strength of democratic processes.


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