Monday, July 31, 2017

AMLO and Venezuela

Andrés Manual López Obrador isn't too happy about accusations of being close to Nicolás Maduro. The PRD is demanding he make a clear statement about the Venezuelan crisis. AMLO went so far as to say his opponents want to "scare" people. In other words, Nicolás Maduro is a boogeyman, even for AMLO.

The political impact in Mexico is obvious. AMLO is a serious candidate for president and the other parties want to torch him. They've been trying to link his ideas to Venezuela for a while and laying it on as thick as possible.

But it also says a lot about Venezuela's regional presence. This is what being a pariah state means--even a hardcore leftist insists that he doesn't want anything to do with Venezuela. Latin American leftists seeking office don't want to associate with Maduro or the Venezuelan economic model more generally.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Venezuela Vote Explainer Explained

Venezuelans are voting today on members of a Constituent Assembly. TeleSur's handy explainer tells us a lot, actually more than it probably intends. Three main points:

1. The nine stated goals (as laid out in a decree from Nicolás Maduro) make no sense. Somehow this assembly will mean Venezuela is no longer dependent on oil and Venezuelans will all get along. Laying them out so uncritically would be amusing if it weren't so perverse.

2. The sectors are confusing and the voting system chaotic.

A post at Caracas Chronicles highlights how confusing it is for voters. Even if you sort out your sector (there are nine sub-sectors within workers too) then you have to figure out who the candidates actually are and where to vote.

Conditions change by the minute, and because there are so many candidates, people will vote for a number, not a name. Chances are, people will just pick them at random.   
The grandpa scratched his cheek. 
“Well, first I’ll vote for number one, that’s Delcy (Rodríguez). Then I’ll vote for the number a friend is going to tell me, someone she knows and I like.”
There's too little information available and the voting system is intended to be opaque. Just choose a number and get a Chavista. The state will work out the rest.

3. The process is an explicit rejection of representative democracy.

This has been described as an attempt to deepen the kind of participatory democracy mentioned in the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution, but developed more explicitly after 2005 by the government of Hugo Chavez. However it is anathema to those who believe representative democracy – electing representatives every four or five years and leaving it to them – is the only acceptable form of democracy.

This almost renders #2 moot. Who cares about the name of the candidate when they have no plans to represent you anyway? And that really sums up the explainer and the process itself.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review of Murder on the Orient Express

On a whim, I bought Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express at a used bookstore, in Julian CA, of all places. It was a perfect book for traveling. I had read it years ago and in fact about 1/3 of the way through remembered the solution, but several things stood out for me anyway.

First, it begins in Aleppo, then quickly discusses Mosul and Baghdad. Right away it is showing you the places involved in the current fight against ISIS. And of course everyone in the novel sees the area as both a necessary part of the British Empire and a nuisance because of the locals. Later the British train official doesn't want the "Jugo-Slavian" police involved because they get all puffed up and indignant when talked down to.

Second, it engages in the worst stereotypes about "Latins" (in this case an Italian, but obviously it could be a Spaniard, Chilean, or anyone else). Of course they would be more likely to stab someone 20 times. That's what they do!

Third, it makes the same sorts of stereotypes about women, who also are more likely to get crazy and stab someone in his train bed. Couldn't be the stiff-upper lip British guy because they're so non-violent.

At least it is true, though, that the stereotypes are used to distract the reader because the truth is not so clear. Nonetheless, those stereotypes are accepted as generally accurate anyway.


Jeff Sessions in El Salvador

Attorney General Jeff Sessions went to El Salvador where he emphasized that MS-13 had its "base" in El Salvador, when in fact it originated in Los Angeles and is based there and many other places. He then asked President Salvador Sánchez Cerén to put "emphasis" on gangs, as if that was something that perhaps a Salvadoran president doesn't already do. All of that to promote a mano dura policy that is widely seen as counterproductive, especially in a country with abusive police.

It's a seductive approach, as it drips with masculine images of being tough, hurting "bad guys," throwing people in prison and throwing away the key, etc. When it doesn't work, you can easily just say you didn't do it hard enough. And every so often you can go down to El Salvador and tell them to work harder, then head back to tell your boss how tough you are.


Friday, July 28, 2017

The Administration Has No Positive Role to Play in Venezuela

Lots of discussion about the Trump administration's sanctions on Venezuelan officials and more generally what kind of role the administration can/should play.

I think what David Smilde recently wrote is characteristic of those who argue that the administration needs to be careful and that unilateral sanctions will likely be counterproductive:

The Trump administration can certainly do a lot to facilitate logistics and diplomacy around the negotiations. However, it must refrain from trying to lead and must resist adopting distracting unilateral actions.
Increasingly I am leaning toward the idea that the administration has no positive role to play at all. The idea that it could bring countries together, provide logistics, or talk to Nicolás Maduro in any sort of productive manner, seems silly. The Secretary of State has shown no ability to do any such thing, and in any case is peripheral to (or perhaps even absent from) decision-making. Indeed, the president undercuts him all the time. Lots of lower level positions are unfilled, and even qualified people need their instructions from above. There is no one above with the diplomatic skills to explain what's needed. For whatever reason, Secretary Tillerson himself seems to be avoiding the issue of Venezuela.

In short, the United States should and could be playing a role in bringing hemispheric partners together but it is simply unable. The Trump administration has alienated almost everyone, has no leverage anywhere, and tends to make things worse when it acts. Therefore it's preferable that it does nothing.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mexican History in Wax

Like last year, I took my kids across the border today into Tijuana for a little excursion. As I wrote last year, Mexico needs tourists and if you're in San Diego, I strongly encourage you to go and even just spend a few hours in Tijuana. This is all especially true now as anti-immigrant and anti-Mexico sentiment is so high and alarming. It is easy to park and walk over. The primary challenge is waiting in line to return (we waited about an hour mid-afternoon). Even walking around with three kids, I felt as safe in Tijuana as in any large U.S. city.

We even checked out the wax museum, which is near the border. It's a blend of history and kitsch. You see ancient history, the revolutionary leaders, some current leaders and artists, but then also some of the stars of the early 1990s when the museum was opened. So there's Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes along with Catinflas. We chatted a little about Mexican history, and my 12 year old daughter actually recognized Vicente Fox (whose pointing finger is inexplicably broken!) because of his viral Trump videos.

Especially with kids, it's good to walk around and just talk about stereotypes of rapists and criminals, and about how tightly connected border cities are. You can literally look at how a global economy works.


Saturday, July 08, 2017

Blogging Break

I haven't posted and likely won't for a while. My dad was hospitalized and I came to San Diego* to help. It was scary for a while but he is doing much better. I'll come back when I have the time and brainpower.

I don't know what condition Venezuela will be in by then.

* Where I grew up. I mean, how many Padres fans are out there who grew up somewhere else?

Update: My dad gives his own take on his near death experience.


Monday, July 03, 2017

LASA Resolution on Venezuela

There is a new LASA resolution up for a vote:

Whereas: we recognize that different political forces have contributed to the crisis in Venezuela, we are particularly concerned about the recent events and government decisions that undermine democracy in Venezuela; be it Resolved, that the Latin American Studies Association (LASA); 
  • firmly condemns the violation of human rights and the undermining of democracy in Venezuela;
  • urges the Venezuelan government to ensure free and impartial electoral processes, to cease the arrest of activists, to release political prisoners, to halt violence against peaceful protestors, and to respect human rights and civil liberties for all citizens;
  • invokes Venezuela to seek a peaceful resolution of this crisis, within the framework of international law and humanitarian norms.

Disclaimer: This resolution reflects the Executive Council’s belief that the membership of LASA should express their opinion on this issue. Nevertheless, it does not necessarily reflect the unanimous view of the Council. 

This comes a few weeks after the LASA Executive Council refused to issue any resolution, which I noted was an embarrassment. This one doesn't have any nonsense about "historicizing" the conflict or claiming the state and civil society are equally culpable. It is straightforward and clear, just like the Brazil resolution last year. No rambling, ideologically-laden screeds. The Venezuelan government needs to democratize.

I voted yes.


Sunday, July 02, 2017

Evo Morales Tweetstorm on Chile

Evo Morales is tweeting denunciations of Chile, which is currently doing naval (submarine) exercises with the United States.

In just three tweets, he packs in paranoia, ideology, accusations of imperialism, and even a dose of anti-Semitism. It's pretty odd to think of Chile as a lapdog of the United States, frankly at any time in its entire history, but things always get clouded when a Bolivian president talks about Chile. The Israel reference is also weird and he first made it a week ago in a similarly offbeat reference.

Think about these tweets whenever an OAS discussion about Venezuela returns, because it also shows the grim determination of the Bolivian government to oppose anything the U.S. does.


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