Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Trump's Quixotic Trip to Mexico

Donald Trump will be visiting Mexico today to meet with Enrique Peña Nieto, who had invited both candidates. It is part of his Quixotic effort to soften his bigoted image with undecided  non-bigoted white voters (and perhaps peel off a few Latino voters) while maintaining his core support of bigoted voters.

This latter point is particularly important because when he returns, he will be making what he calls a major immigration speech in Arizona. To maintain his core of support, that speech needs to have red meat, aimed largely at Mexico and Mexicans. Even as rumors emerged of a possible visit, Trump tweeted the following:

It's not really clear, then, what he'll talk to EPN about. Maybe about how his favorite Mexican food is the taco bowl.

Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign issued a statement repeating what everyone knows, which is that Trump has gone out of his way to insult Mexicans.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Coatsworth and Graduate Students

John Coatsworth studies the economic history of Latin America and also happens to be Provost at Columbia University. He wrote a letter rejecting the idea of graduate students unionizing like other employees.

For my part—and, in this, I speak for my colleagues in the University administration and for many faculty members—I am concerned about the impact of having a non-academic third-party involved in the highly individualized and varied contexts in which faculty teach and train students in their departments, classrooms, and laboratories.

I am trying to decide whether it's ironic or just appropriate for someone who has studied Porfirian Mexico to make an anti-union argument.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Political History Is Definitely Being Taught

Two historians wrote an op-ed in the New York Times lamenting that political history is no longer being taught.

The drying up of scholarly expertise affects universities’ ability to educate teachers — as well as aspiring lawyers, politicians, journalists and business leaders — who will enter their professions having learned too little about the nation’s political history. Not least, in this age of extreme partisanship, they’ll be insufficiently aware of the importance that compromise has played in America’s past, of the vital role of mutual give-and-take in the democratic process.

I can't speak to where History has been going as a discipline, but from a political science perspective this is false. This week I am teaching the political background for understanding how the U.S. viewed Latin America after independence, and will spend more time over the next several weeks on political history. My colleagues here are teaching about all kinds of different topics related to U.S. political history. My colleagues elsewhere are publishing constantly on the history of U.S. foreign policy making--I've also reviewed quite a few books and articles by historians who study U.S.-Latin American relations, and they have reviewed me.

Already there is a #poliscihistory hashtag highlighting all the political history being done, often in fact by political scientists.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Declassified CIA Documents on Chile

The CIA has declassified 28,000 documents of Presidential Briefings from the Nixon and Ford administrations. You can go here to search them.

The problem, though, is that they are heavily redacted. Here is one example for Chile from September 1972.

Scanning through showed this to be the case with a lot of the documents, discussing different countries.

These documents are over 40 years old and very few of the protagonists are still alive. It is hard to imagine the rationale for blocking so much except for embarrassment of some kind.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Nobody Likes the Cuban Adjustment Act

The Costa Rican Foreign Minister has called on the United States to end the Cuban Adjustment Act, since it encourages Cubans to go through Latin America illegally to reach the U.S.

“We don’t disregard the humanitarian perspective,” González said during an interview about the thousands of Cubans who’ve passed through Latin America this year as they tried to get from the island to the United States. “But this has cost us millions of dollars – and millions of dollars that we don’t have available. Our people are claiming how is it possible that you don’t invest in your own people and you spend millions of dollars on handling migrants?”

Read more here:

Intriguingly, the Cuban Ambassador to the United States also tweeted this yesterday:

Immigration is one of the things they're discussing. At this point opposition to the Cuban Adjustment Act crosses ideological lines. It's a matter of "when" rather than "if."


Friday, August 26, 2016

Venezuela Can't Even Do Oil Anymore

Venezuela is an oil-rich country. However, it is currently unable to adequately extract oil, refine oil, or now even pay for imported oil.

Risk-averse suppliers are refusing to discharge cargoes to cash-strapped PDVSA without being paid first, unusual in an industry in which buyers normally have 30 to 60 days to pay after delivery. Others have stopped dealing with PDVSA entirely as it resorts to bartering its own oil in swap deals, according to traders and a company source who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The "good" news is that domestic demand for fuel is down, largely because the economy is such in bad shape. This is all happening in the context of decreasing reserves.

Finally, this is happening in the context of an opposition march scheduled for September 1, which is Thursday of next week.

At least there's Pokemon Go.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Patrick Iber's Neither Peace Nor Freedom

Patrick Iber's Neither Peace Nor Freedom: The Cultural Cold War in Latin America (2015) examines the intellectual struggle the U.S. and the Soviet Union waged in Cold War Latin America. More importantly, it examines how the results were unpredictable. Many people associated with the organizations did not share the views of the funders, which found them difficult to control--local interests sometimes trumped the funders. It's a very good read.

The two big players were the Soviet-funded World Peace Council (WPC) and the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF). These were, as Iber, points out, imperial projects. The people in the front organizations, however, did not feel that way. They felt, only occasionally correctly, that they were struggling on behalf of peace and liberty.

Yet all this did not mean they were "working for" the U.S. and the USSR. They were publishing and talking in ways they believed, which happened in some manner to overlap with these powerful countries. Yet sometimes they didn't overlap. This is the point that I think needs to be remembered the most. People are not necessarily just puppets, and during the Cold War many Latin Americans were trying to figure out how to get the money necessary to reach a wider audience. At the same time, if someone exposes your funding to be CIA or the Kremlin, then your credibility gets hit. That started to happen at the end of the 1960s for the CCF.

Oddly enough, the adamantly anti-Communist CCF helped encourage the Cuban revolution (with money from the CIA!) because it was anti-Batista, then of course grew disenchanted with it. Especially after the revolution, the CCF and WPC touched directly or indirectly a seemingly endless spiderweb of political and cultural organizations. In the midst of all this, the Cuban government launched its own cultural war (through the Casa de las Américas).

The cultural war in Cold War Latin America was a messy business, indeed so complicated ideologically that it led to the decline of intellectuals' influence in Latin America. Iber's book is a reminder not to assume that anyone ultimately gets what they want.


Can the FARC Win Elections?

The announcement of the finalized deal between the Colombian government and the FARC is incredibly important and historic. There is so much to sort out here, but what immediately came to my mind was a question: can the FARC attract any voters?

One of the more controversial parts of the deal are some guaranteed seats in the legislature:

Santos said Wednesday that the rebels will be granted a limited number of seats in Congress through 2018, where they will not have voting rights but can speak on matters pertaining to the implementation of the peace accords. They will be assured a minimum of five seats in Colombia's Senate and five seats in its lower house for two legislative terms starting in 2018. But then they will have to win at the ballot box, Santos said. His opponents have already savaged this concession as an outrageous giveaway to the rebels.

This makes people like me cringe because of the Chilean example (where retired military commanders got appointed senate seats) but at least they are clearly temporary and non-voting.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I liked it. Unlike, say, the FMLN, the FARC has virtually no domestic support. By now, very few Colombians support their ideology. As a result, they have an uphill battle to win voters. I could therefore imagine a scenario where elections were held where the FARC won about very few seats (or none!) which in turn could blow things up (figuratively if not literally). Now the FARC can ease into democratic governance but without unearned power. It will have a chance to engage in debate and win future voters.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hillary Clinton Is Like Fidel Castro (In Terms of False Illness)

The Washington Post has a story about all the diseases Hillary Clinton has been accused of having/hiding. I immediately thought of Fidel Castro, who has been rumored near death many times. He gave a speech in 1986 joking about U.S. rumors of his death. Back in 2007, the Miami Herald had one of the best headlines ever: "Vague Comments Made About Fidel Castro's Health."

Then, of course, he eventually did get sick, but U.S. intelligence still couldn't figure it out. He had terminal cancer a decade ago, and Parkinson's a year before that. We have to assume that someday he will actually die, at which point the U.S. government can say, "See, I told you so!"


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Venezuela Desperate For Higher Oil Prices

The Venezuelan government is desperate for OPEC to cut production. Its oil minister is making the rounds to find supporters.

Venezuela expects oil price of $70 per barrel as ideal to help the global financial situation, the country’s president Nicolas Maduro said last week as he tries hard to shore up support to boost oil prices, which have plunged by more than 60 per cent since 2014.

If you're wondering, oil is now about $48 a barrel.

This sort of trip is common for Venezuela. Nicolás Maduro went to Saudi Arabia in early 2015. And, of course, when OPEC did not push for higher prices Maduro blamed the United States.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Peña Nieto's "Style Errors"

It seems Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto plagiarized sizeable chunks of his law thesis. His spokesman said there were "style errors." Don't you love euphemisms? In my class, such "style errors" would have very serious consequences.

It's another self-inflicted wound for a president with a 29% approval rating. Maybe he should Google a good "mea culpa" speech and copy it. As Patrick Iber noted on Twitter:

This is indeed a perfect post for the beginning of the semester. In classes I've used the New York Times' wonderful breakdown of Senator John Walsh's plagiarized Master's thesis as well. That, incidentally, compelled him to resign so at least there's some sense of accountability.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle Book 2

As I read Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, Book 2 (here is my review of book one), I kept thinking about how keeping things to ourselves is what holds civilization together. If we all said or wrote in the manner he has done, we'd all end up hating each other. Honesty is in fact not always the best policy. In large doses (like the 3,000+ pages he has written) it's even disconcerting

More so than in Book 1, Knausgaard writes in unsparing detail about the people closest to him, especially his wife Linda. It is hard to imagine a relationship holding together after such a public rendering of its most intimate and intense moments, dealing even with mental illness. We don't show these parts of ourselves to the world, and more importantly we don't expose those that we love. But Knausgaard needs to write, and so he does.

Yet the book is so fascinating precisely for these reasons. Periodically I saw myself in the narrative, sometimes laughing out loud (such as descriptions of dealing with very young children in public) but even when I couldn't really relate, I enjoyed the very deeply thought out way he describes his own feelings and actions.

It ends with him starting on book one (none of them are chronological). I'm now going to order book three. We'll see how far I go with all these.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Iran's Weak Ties to Latin America

The funny thing about the supposed Iranian influence in Latin America is that for at least the last ten years, every so often Iran feels the need to send a government official to launch a "new chapter" in relations with the region. It is doing so now.

Countries that have influence don't need to relaunch. They just launch once and then go from there. Also, countries that have influence don't need to blame Israel for the fact that all their launches fail.

Iran has been growing increasingly close to Latin America in recent years, but has accused Israel and other countries of undermining its emerging relationship with the region. “Certain regional states have also joined the Zionist regime and display a wrong image of Iran in line with Iranophobia plots,” said Takht-e-Ravanchi to Iran’s Fars news agency.

Not surprisingly, Telesur reports this uncritically without noting not just the anti-Semitism but also how ridiculous the argument is. Iran's image comes from Iran's own actions, including past terrorist attacks in Latin America.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Venezuela Timing and the Opposition

Gabriel Hetland has an article in The Nation about Venezuela, which is a good read for several reasons. He is sympathetic to the ideals of Chavismo but clear-eyed with regard to the ways in which the government has shot itself in the foot.

Further, he has an intriguing argument:

Officially, the opposition is adamantly opposed to delaying the referendum beyond January 10. There is speculation, however, that many opposition leaders actually prefer this scenario because the next several years are likely to be exceedingly difficult no matter who is in office. If the Maduro government stays in power it will pay the price. The opposition would thus be well positioned to win the 2019 presidential election.

I'm not a fan of the passive voice with regard to this sort of thing because there is no sense at all of who is making such a speculation and who the "many" opposition leaders actually are. I see the logic here, but I am left with the question: the opposition is already well positioned to win an election, so why would it want to wait and win later when things are actually worse?


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Complicated Colombian Peace Process

Adam Isacson tweeted about a new post up at the Washington Office on Latin America's Colombia Peace site explaining the complicated referendum process for the peace deal. Here's the flow chart they put together:

And that doesn't even get at the legal and political complexities involved.

It's a great post. One part that I found particularly interesting is that over time polls show a decreasing willingness to vote "yes." One problem is that Juan Manuel Santos' popularity has dropped, in no small part because of the drop in commodity prices. It would be tragic if the vagaries of the global economy--combined with the historic Latin American economic dependency problem--played a decisive role.


Cuba's Concern About Immigration

I'm quoted in this story about Cuba's dislike of the Cuban Adjustment Act. My argument is that as Venezuela disintegrates, thus making oil scarcer, Cuba cannot afford more brain drain, like losing doctors. In general, there has been an uptick of Cuban emigration, precisely as people consider the end of the immigration law.

At this point, opponents to the law include both the Cuban government and hardcore anti-Castro members of Congress, who correctly believe that Cubans are gaming the system because they're not actually facing persecution, but rather are going back and forth. It'll end, it's just a matter of when.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Chile's Sagging Pension System

Here's a good column in the Los Angeles Times about the privatized Chilean pension system, which is facing huge protests despite being held up for years as the model for the world.

As my friend and co-author Silvia Borzutzky has written about for years, the fees in the system (through AFPs, or Pension Fund Administrators in English) are astronomical, so the return to individuals is very low in comparative terms. Supporters of the system simply blame Chileans for not knowing enough (I am not making that up).

But what to do? Michelle Bachelet is proposing changes, but she's an extremely unpopular president and there will be legislative resistance. For the time being, it's hard to see changes being made.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Hezbollah Still Not a Major Threat in Latin America

Mike LaSusa has a good post at LobeLog on how the Hezbollah threat in Latin America is overblown.

To be sure, Latin American authorities must remain vigilant about terrorist threats. But they also must keep those threats in perspective and allocate their limited resources accordingly. Overblown claims like Levitt’s encourage countries to engage in the kind of security theater that leaves fundamental problems unaddressed and ultimately puts citizens at greater risk.

I've been repeating that basic point for a long time now with regard to U.S. policy.  Last year I wrote:

We need extremely high standards of evidence. Otherwise we do "stupid stuff." There are a lot of ill-informed but trigger-happy members of Congress and it would be a major mistake to let them dictate policy.

For years, we've seen a pattern of using weak sources to encourage a hawkish response. For many reasons, it's a bad idea.


Venezuela: At Least We're Not Syria

Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela's Ambassador to the United Nations, rejected Ban Ki-moon's assertion that there is a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

"Hay que tener sentido de las proporciones, en el país tenemos nuestros problemas, pero no hay una crisis como en el caso de los desplazados en el Medio Oriente."

In other words, "proportion" means that Venezuelan officials no longer even try to compare themselves to other Latin American countries. They compare themselves to Syria and come out looking pretty good in comparison. But that works only if you compare yourself to Syria.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Latin America Not Good at Refining Oil

Interesting story on how Latin American oil refinery plans haven't worked out, which is helping the U.S.

From Brazil's Petroleo Brasileiro to Mexico's Petroleos Mexicanos, state oil companies have failed to complete nine projects worth at least $36.4 billion that would have supplied 1.2 million barrels of gasoline and diesel daily. U.S. refiners have stepped up to help fill the gap, with exports almost doubling in the past six years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

It doesn't even mention Venezuela, which has had all kinds of refinery problems.

None of these countries is too eager to talk about it either.

In response to a request for comment, Petrobras said decisions on the construction of new refineries will be announced as part of its next five-year investment plan. It didn't disclose when that announcement will be made. Ecuador's ministry of strategic sectors, which is in charge of the project to build the new Pacifico refinery, didn't return calls and e-mails seeking comment. Valero, Marathon and PBF declined to comment....Pemex declined to comment on plans for future or existing refineries.

The inability to use oil revenue to build necessary infrastructure has been a frustrating constant in Latin American economic history.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tom Long's Latin America Confronts the United States

I read Tom Long's Latin America Confronts the United States: Asymmetry and Influence (2015) which is worth your time (and which I hope gets a paperback edition). His argument is that Latin American foreign policy initiatives have received too little attention, and that they've been strikingly successful in setting the political agenda and achieving policy goals. He uses detailed case studies Operation Pan American, the Panama Canal treaties, NAFTA, and Plan Colombia.

There are several things that set the book apart.

First, it is based on some excellent fieldwork, with extensive archival research and interviews with key participants. So beyond the analysis itself, it's an interesting read.

Second, it is a book about policy makers. In the case of Panama, for example, it's even about an individual (Omar Torrijos) overcoming concerns about Cold War security, which is typically seen as an almost overwhelming structural constraint.

Third, coordinated Latin American lobbying matters. This is a variable that Michael Grow uses in his book U.S. Presidents and Latin American Interventions and which deserves much more attention than it gets. Knowing how to deal with U.S. political institutions (especially Congress) and the public is so important.

Fourth, it takes on a lot of existing literature (including my own). Long argues that he is part of an "internationalist" school of thought, versus "establishment" or "revisionist" schools. Both of the latter tend to downplay Latin American agency, albeit for different reasons. That's true, but I think there's actually a lot more potential than Long even gives himself credit for, especially in theoretical terms.

More specifically, one point I would've liked to read more about was the critical obstacle Latin American policy makers found in each case. For each, I found the following, in an obviously simplified manner:

1. OPA: overcoming US resistance to providing large amounts of aid
2. Panama Canal: overcoming US concerns about security
3. NAFTA: overcoming US caution about an FTA with a developing country
4. Plan Colombia: overcoming US suspicions of Colombia

These are all different, so what strategies mattered most? Some of these are economic, and some are political. This stuff could get modeled on some way that could provide a new strand of literature but also potentially contribute to theories of foreign policy more specifically.


Kissinger Didn't Understand South America

The Argentina Declassification Project has been getting some attention for the bits on Henry Kissinger. As anyone with a passing interest in Cold War Latin America knows, Kissinger was a big fan of the Argentine dictatorship, and the Dirty War did not bother him a whit. So the fact that he continued to praise the dictators shouldn't surprise us.

What I found more interesting about the documents is how nicely and accurately Robert Pastor skewered Kissinger. Pastor was a Latin America expert whereas Kissinger knew very little.

Pastor expands on that:

So it's not just indifferent to human rights abuses. It's a lack of understanding about how South American governments relate to each other, which then made him believe such indifference was necessary. Court authoritarian Argentina in order to avoid South American dictatorships come together? This is not a reasonable argument, for the reasons Pastor lays out.


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Venezuela's Impending Clash

I suggested that maybe the Venezuelan government would simply hold the referendum one day after the deadline to require a new election. Turns out that might literally be true.

National Elections Council President Tibisay Lucena said Tuesday that critics of the socialist administration will likely be authorized in late October to try to collect signatures from 20 percent of voters needed to force a recall. 
Elections officials would then have 90 days to confirm the signatures and schedule any vote. That means the vote might happen in January or February.

Naturally, the government is so very sorry about the delay.

Meanwhile, the opposition is calling for a protest on September 1. All the frustrations will come out, from the empty shelves to the refusal to hold a referendum in a timely manner, and the increasingly militarized government will have to deal with it. It will be a miracle if it remains peaceful.

This is really a problem as the police face protestors. As David Smilde noted, Nicolás Maduro is surrounding himself with military officers:

The logic of cultivating a loyal core among security officials extends beyond those who are on some sort of US blacklist. The recent designation of Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino López as the head of the “Grand Supply Mission” that will take control of Venezuela’s entire food supply system, effectively makes him and the military direct stake holders in the government’s weakest flank: food scarcities. If there is mass social unrest because of shortages, it will not be aimed at a government who then needs to hope the military defends it, it will be aimed at the military itself.

Protests like these, then, may be seen as existential threats. Military officers now control both the police (through the Minister of the Interior) and food distribution.


Bernie Bungles Brazil

Bernie Sanders has just released a letter condemning Dilma Rousseff's removal from power. The timing is odd, almost calculated to have the least possible impact. If you mention it during the campaign, you get headlines. If you mention it right before the Olympics, as many of his colleagues did, then you get some attention on the cusp of the games.

What he chose, though, is a time when he no longer has the national and international stature as a serious candidate, and in the United States people are focused more on the excitement of the games. In short, who will pay attention besides people like me?


Monday, August 08, 2016

Michelle Bachelet's Downward Slide

Michelle Bachelet's approval has dropped to 19%, as she faces problems from just about every angle (most recently it is protests about pensions). The general response has been to continue pressuring her to shuffle her cabinet. It's funny how that sort of action is viewed as potentially effective, when in fact part of the problem is that her entire coalition is falling apart.

It's also funny how the political response is to go back to the past.

The two names that emerged in the poll as most likely to be president after elections due in 2017 are both veteran ex-presidents who have already begun 'soft' campaigning - Lagos and center-right Sebastian Pinera. 
But when asked to choose between the two, most people said they would prefer not to vote (40 percent). The 78-year-old Lagos received 28 percent support, and 66-year-old Pinera 26 percent.

It's exactly like Hillary Clinton trying to position herself as the agent of change. People are not buying it and would prefer to sit it out in disgust.


Sunday, August 07, 2016

Biden and Bachelet Talk Colombia

Vice President Joe Biden had a phone conversation Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. They also had a meeting back in April. What really struck me was that in both conversations, Biden brought up the Colombian peace negotiations.


The Vice President welcomed Chile's continuing commitment to the Colombian peace process and the two leaders pledged to deepen their collaboration as the peace process reaches its conclusion, in concert with their Colombian partners. The Vice President also highlighted the robust support of the U.S. Congress for the implementation of a Colombian peace deal. 


The Vice President praised Chile's constructive role in addressing a number of regional challenges in the Americas, including its support for the development of the Northern Triangle countries of Central America and its vital role as a facilitator of the Colombian peace process. 

Remember that the Democratic platform this year somehow mentions Colombia while entirely ignoring the peace process. Kudos to Biden for making sure to emphasize it and acknowledging Chile's role.


Friday, August 05, 2016

Venezuelans Seek Asylum in the US

Via the Pew Research Center:

Venezuela is now among the top nations of origin for asylum applicants to the U.S., accounting for 10,221 applications filed between October 2015 and June 2016 – up from 3,810 filed during the same time period the year before.

My first reaction was to question how likely it was that asylum would be granted. I've testified in asylum cases and "well-founded fear of persecution" is a high bar. It's not just about country conditions, no matter how awful they might be. But because the U.S. immigration courts are so horribly clogged, we just don't know--the article notes that some Venezuela cases have been sitting since 2011.

Regardless, right now more Venezuelans are seeking asylum than any other country except China and Mexico. The signs of political and economic collapse are just everywhere.


Thursday, August 04, 2016

Cuban Argument Against Cuban Adjustment Act

Granma has an article on Cuban migrants that ends with a call for revoking the Cuban Adjustment Act:

La política de Pies secos-Pies mojados vigente desde 1995 establece que aquellos que to­quen suelo estadounidense tienen derecho a quedarse, a diferencia de quienes son interceptados. Destacan además que si llegan a Estados Unidos por un tercer país vía terrestre —como pretenden hacer los que se encuentran en estos momentos en Turbo—, basta con que vayan al puesto fronterizo y demuestren que provienen de la Isla para acogerse a ese mecanismo. 
Otra de las formas con la que EE.UU. promueve la migración ilegal es el programa de Parole para Profe­sionales Médicos Cubanos, creado durante la administración de George W. Bush. En este caso se estimula que los galenos abandonen las mi­siones médicas en los países donde laboran. 
Ambas iniciativas, que pueden ser cambiadas por el presidente de Estados Unidos, tienen su trasfondo en la Ley de Ajuste cubano de 1966 que concede una vía expedita para la residencia a los ciudadanos cubanos que la pidan. Nacida en los tiempos de la Guerra Fría, su objetivo sigue siendo desestabilizar el país.

This is all accurate, though of course it neatly sidesteps the question of why so many Cubans are trying to leave.

More importantly, it is a reminder that the days of the Cuban Adjustment Act's days are numbered. The negotiations are assuredly going on now. It has to be entirely secret, however, or there will be a flood of people trying to leave Cuba before it happens. It's even harder in the current U.S. political climate because Congress needs to be involved.


Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Petrocaribe and Venezuelan Hunger

Petrocaribe was going to be a way for Venezuela to lead a bloc of left-leaning countries in solidarity. It would end dependence on the United States. As Hugo Chávez put it back in 2007:

"We have begun to create a new geopolitics of oil that is not at the service of the interests of imperialism and big capitalists," Mr Chavez said in his speech.

Ironically, it strengthened dependence on oil prices and Americans (among others) buying oil. As oil prices unraveled, so did the agreement. Now it has reached a new low, where Jamaica is going to pay off its debts with food and other necessities because Venezuelans are going hungry and hospitals need supplies.

In a statement to the state news agency, Jamaica Information Service, government minister Ruel Reid said: "This decision is taken primarily to give support in the form of medicine, food and fertiliser".

To be fair, part of the Petrocaribe concept was to allow countries to pay back as they could, including with food or whatever else. But that was supposed to be determined by their need, not the dire need of the Venezuelan people themselves.

This is perhaps the final nail in the coffin of Venezuelan foreign policy, which was based on merging ideology and oil money. Once the oil money started to dwindle, so did external interest in the ideology.


Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle Book 1

Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, Book 1 is one of the most intriguing books I've read in a long time. It is often compared to Marcel Proust, as it is the first of six autobiographical "novels." He details his life, bouncing around chronologically, in a way that kept me reading even when the particular topic was mundane (and some, like his father's death, are not mundane at all). He is an excellent writer, and has a knack for simultaneously remembering, explaining (in one part, he acknowledges the "meta" aspect of that sort of introspection) and putting it all into almost a spiritual context.

Of course, for such writing to work it has to be honest, and he doesn't spare anyone, including himself, and he is often filled with shame and doubt. Many people now hate him for his brutal truth (which seems to be the reason he left Norway for Sweden). Even in what we typically consider an age of narcissism, with selfies everywhere, we're still faking it--we don't much want people seeing us naked, so to speak.

It's the sort of book that makes you feel more aware of how you're dealing with any particular situation. I've already ordered book two.


Venezuela Recall Moves Along

We all should know by now the importance of timing for a possible recall referendum in Venezuela. If it happens before January 10, 2017 there will be a new election. The government, knowing a loss is quite likely, is stalling as much as possible. But it also knows that completely shutting down the recall effort could lead to serious consequences, so it has let the opposition through the first hurdle, which is certifying 1% of voter signatures in each state. It took three months to make that decision.

The next step is to get 20% of voter signatures (about 4 million) and it is widely reported that must happen within three days (that is not in the constitution--I haven't actually seen the relevant law). The opposition has traditionally been fractured, but I have to assume they've been planning that effort for months--it will take a ton of organization.

The government is stuck. It does not want this to go forward quickly, and is undermining it in a number of different ways (such as lawsuits). But it also cannot just say it won't happen, especially since the international community has set its mind on having a vote. The most likely scenario is allowing a vote on January 11 (yes, I could even see it being that brazen) which, if lost, would still keep Chavismo in power a little longer.


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