Friday, November 30, 2018

AMLO Is A Bit of Everything For Everyone

I don't tend to pay much attention to who attends presidential inaugurations, but it feels like AMLO's is about a diverse as you can get. And that's something he's making a big deal of. His choice as Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard, keeps tweeting as he gets confirmations.

You have Mike Pence, Nicolás Maduro, Ivanka Trump, Daniel Ortega, (or someone close to him), Evo Morales, Miguel Díaz-Canel, Michelle Bachelet, governors, mayors, and former mayors of U.S. cities, there is Palestinian representation, Iván Duque, Jeremy Corbyn, and the list goes on.

At this particular moment, AMLO is a bit of all things to all people outside the country. He is the leftist who can influence Venezuela, he is the non-interventionist with regard to Venezuela, he is the pragmatist who can handle Donald Trump, he is the leftist who will help the poor, he is the pragmatist who won't radicalize economic reforms, he is center-left like Lula.

It will be very hard to be all these things and we know you can never tell until the person has been inaugurated. A lot of Latin American presidents have acted very differently from what was expected at the time of their election, which in some cases created serious rifts or even crises (e.g. Juan Manuel Santos and Lenín Moreno recently, with Carlos Menem and Alberto Fujimori in the past).

It is a positive sign, however, that he begins his term in office with a sense of universal goodwill from abroad. He will need it because so many of his challenges have international connections of some sort.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Podcast Episode 60: Foreign Policy in Latin America

In Episode 60 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Luis Schenoni, who is a Ph.D. student in Political Science at Notre Dame University. His research focuses on the interaction of domestic and international politics in Latin America. They discuss his work on Latin American foreign policy change and U.S.-Latin American relations, and how he uses different methods to analyze them.

If you subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or elsewhere it will be showing up soon.

As a reminder, check out my Open Access textbook Understanding Latin American Politics.


U.S. Priorities in Latin America

Chris Sabatini has an op-ed in The New York Times on U.S. policy toward Latin America. I agree with his argument that the U.S. is focusing so much on authoritarian governments that it is completely ignoring the democracies. The U.S. can walk and chew gum at the same time, and it should.

What this means is paying attention to what Latin American themselves want. Not what we want or what we think they should want (which has been a consistent problem in U.S.-Latin American relations).

Public opinion surveys show that Latin Americans care primarily about economic opportunity, corruption, security and immigration — none issues addressed by Mr. Bolton. Ignoring citizens’ concerns will mean derailing the chance for long-term partnerships between Washington and countries in the region, and sacrificing potential support for human rights and democracy.
Chris notes the importance of addressing corruption in particular. This is the ideal focus because you can simultaneously focus on dictatorships and the pent-up disgust in democracies. Nail money launderers from Venezuela and Guatemala alike.

Immigration is, of course, a lost cause. Trade is too. So there aren't even many potential avenues of engagement anymore.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Latin America Links: Lots of Bad News

Bad news abounds and there is commentary on it.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Maduro Invites Bachelet

Nicolás Maduro issued a formal invitation to Michelle Bachelet to visit Venezuela in her capacity as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

La misiva, firmada por el presidente Nicolás Maduro, convida a la exmandataria a observar y conocer en detalle “las repercusiones negativas que las medidas coercitivas unilaterales impuestas por factores adversos a Venezuela, han tenido contra los Derechos Humanos del pueblo venezolano”. 

She said she would visit all parties involved. Maduro had said before that she was welcome to visit Venezuela. She puts him in an interesting spot. She has leftist credentials, which makes it quite a bit harder for him to stiff arm her. By the same token, he might figure she is the most likely to give him a sympathetic report. If she writes a report that suggests equal blame for everyone, it would be a big PR win. I don't think she would do this, but I imagine he is clinging to that hope because if she assigns primary blame to the government, it hurts him.


DoD's Take on Latin America

Here is an interesting contrast. Secretary of Defense James Mattis talking at SOUTHCOM:

“To some who look around the globe, the last two years might have seemed like bad ones for democracy. But not so when I look at our hemisphere,” Mattis said. “From Ottawa to Buenos Aires to Santiago, we increasingly find an island of hemispheric opportunity and democratic stability, amidst a churning and ever-changing global sea.”
And then outgoing commander Admiral Kurt Tidd, who prefaced it by saying he would be more candid:
"Gang violence is rampant and growing across Central America, and is spreading from major South American cities into transnational groupings. Illegal armed groups and transnational organized crime are carving out tacit control of swaths of territory, pushing out state and local governments,” Adm. Tidd said. “This produced wide swaths of under-governed or semi-governed spaces, which have become centers of corruption, of economic hopelessness, of illegitimate power centers that have already eaten away at the fabric of many societies, co-opting ruling elites and businessmen.”
Mattis' take is not what you would call a common one. But I have also noted in the past how Tidd overemphasized Middle Eastern terrorism and Russia's threat in Latin America. What he says is certainly true in some places, but it's not everywhere. For Tidd, the glass is not half empty, it is totally empty and smashed on the ground.


Monday, November 26, 2018

Russians Want Their Money From Venezuela

The head of a major Russian oil company, Rosneft, went to Venezuela to let Nicolás Maduro know he was not happy about delayed oil shipments that were repaying loans. Reuters estimates Rosneft loans to equal about $17 billion since 2006. The added twist is that he complained further that Venezuela was paying China on time, but not Russia. The Russian government also recently made it clear it would not loan any more money to Venezuela given the current situation.

The point here is one I have made before about both Russia and China, but it bears repeating. You need to look beyond the simple "They are in our backyard to cause mischief and threaten us." The fact of the matter is that they want their money back. They are doing this in large to make a profit and fuel their own economies. The more Venezuela collapses, the more concerned they get. There is every reason to believe that if the government falls, a new one will try to get debt relief. So they need to balance the urgency of getting money back with trying to keep the government just afloat. This becomes just as much a matter of money as it is politics.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle Book 6

I read the sixth and final book of Karl Ove Knausgaard's autobiographical My Struggle, which was far longer and less cohesive than its predecessors.

The first part of the book is meta, and not necessarily in a good way. The previous books were about his life, but now he has caught up and his life is centered on the reception of the books. So you end up in a loop as people you've already read about now themselves read the same for the first time and respond to Knausgaard. His uncle is apoplectic, which worries him. That got old for me fairly quickly, though Knausgaard is just so good at capturing emotion that I was still drawn to it.

Since the book came out so long ago in Norwegian, I knew there was a long middle part about Hitler. Knausgaard was trying to figure out whether he, in the midst of his own struggle with life, could have ended up the same way as Hitler if placed in the same context. So he reads Mein Kampf (it's a bit of "I read Mein Kampf so you don't have to"). Hitler as a youth was into art and did not stand out in any particular way, then as he matured figured out how to give a "we" to people that he could manipulate. I actually found this part interesting mostly because of our current political situation than as a connection to Knausgaard. Since it was written so long ago, it is totally unrelated to the fascism (or proto-fascism) that we face today but it's still relevant. People search for meaning and fascism gives it to them, with ready made enemies.

As he tries to explain his feelings about his own place in the world, and how he wants to relate to it, he tends to fall back on what to my untrained eye feels like literary theory jargon, citing novels, poems, and paintings (sometimes densely packed together in a string) and using words like "intertextuality" in sentences that seem never-ending. Here, in the middle, the book slowed to a crawl for me.

"Explanation is anathema in these texts, all meaning must be extracted from the events portrayed, which are not relative, only unfathomable" (p. 682).

That gets old. Hundreds of sometimes overwrought pages bring us to his conclusion that we find "we" in being human. "I am you" (p. 830). It took me weeks to get through it. The "I" vs. "we" permeates his life after the first volume of My Struggle was published, because writing alone about your life is "I" but as soon as it is published, the "I" becomes "we" since so many other real people are portrayed and, more importantly, hurt. That is where all the angst comes in.

After the Hitler digression, Knausgaard returns to his life, but again it is primarily about being the author of a biographical novel. Unlike all the other books, I can't connect to this. The previous books all had universal qualities (at least, I hasten to add, to a cisgender middle aged white male who grew up in the 80s), parts of growing up that I could see in myself. That was not so often the case with this book. But he is still such evocative writer that I enjoyed it, albeit less on a personal level. The same goes with his discussion of his wife Linda, with whom he seems perpetually annoyed and who he seems not to be in love with at all. He describes her manic episodes, both high and low, in detail that must be awful to her. He loves his children but not her so much. It is sad to read and clear that they will not be married much longer (they are divorced now).

I'm glad in a way. With the five previous books, I wanted to read the next one immediately. Now the narrative is done and that feels right.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Race 13: University City Turkey Trot 5K

In my year of running I did the University City Turkey Trot 5K (here is my first post about running this year). We've done this or some other run for many years, as a way to get some exercise before spending the rest of the day cooking and eating. It is a simple, relatively flat there-and-back course not too far from where I live.

It was a perfect morning for running, clear, sunny and probably high 30s at the start. It was the biggest ever, with over 800 runners. That is quite a thing for a basic suburban race, but there were a lot of kids, a lot of walkers, and just a lot of people interested in getting out early on the big day.

Next up: the Kiawah Island Marathon in just two (gulp) weeks.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

How Mexico's Militarized Drug War Screws Up Everything

Gustavo Flores-Macías, "The Consequences of Militarizing Anti-Drug Efforts for State Capacity in Latin America: Evidence From Mexico," Comparative Politics 51, 1 (October 2018): 1-20.

Abstract (ungated, at least right now).

In response to the threat posed by drug-trafficking organizations, developing countries are increasingly relying on the armed forces for their counter-drug strategies. Drawing on the literature on violence and state capacity, this article studies how the militarization of anti-drug efforts affects state capacity along two dimensions: public safety and fiscal extraction. It advances theoretical expectations for this relationship and evaluates them in the context of Mexico. Based on subnational-level analyses, it shows that the militarization of anti-drug efforts has decreased the state's capacity to provide public order and extract fiscal resources: homicide and kidnapping rates have increased while tax collection has decreased. Given the wide-ranging consequences of diminished state capacity, the findings have implications not only for Latin America but also across the developing world.
Really interesting qualitative analysis. The first point is intuitive--as the state focuses on militarization, it actually ratchets up violence. Homicides increase as Drug Trafficking Organization generate greater firepower in response. Meanwhile, the military itself was also responsible for deaths.

The second point, about tax collection, is something that has not occurred to me before. All the increased violence increases a general sense of dissatisfaction with the government.

In addition to dissatisfaction, the prevalence of extortion in the context of deteriorated public safety has also affected fiscal extraction. As media reports have shown, extortion payments often prevent people from fulfilling their tax obligations, since people’s resources are limited and the threat to their physical integrity is imminent if they do not pay extortionists. For example, mining companies are forced to pay high protection fees to ship minerals through certain parts of Durango. In Michoacan, mining companies pay DTOs 7 USD per ton of iron ore extracted. In Veracruz, media reports point to the choice small businesses face of meeting their tax obligations or paying extortion fees in order to stay afloat.
People are mad, businesses are being shook down like never before, and so tax revenue also goes down. Lose-lose-lose.


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Impact of Making Venezuela A State Sponsor of Terrorism

The Trump administration is considering putting Venezuela on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, which currently only has North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Sudan. There are variety of angles here, such as criteria (which Boz discusses), purpose, and utility. I want to focus on something else, which is human impact. The notion of putting Venezuela on the list has been around a long time, but the difference now is that there is a humanitarian disaster in Venezuela.

If Venezuela is put on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, the administration will have hoops to jump if it wants to provide humanitarian assistance. From Section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act:

PROHIBITION.—The United States shall not provide any assistance under this Act, the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954, the Peace Corps Act, or the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945 to any country if the Secretary of State determines that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.
The President can, however, call for a waiver:

(1) the President determines that national security interests or humanitarian reasons justify a waiver of subsection (a), except that humanitarian reasons may not be used to justify assistance under part II of this Act (including chapter 4, chapter 6, and chapter 8), or the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945; and (2) at least 15 days before the waiver takes effect, the President consults with the Committee on Foreign Affairs 951 of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate regarding the proposed waiver and submits a report to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate containing— (A) the name of the recipient country; (B) a description of the national security interests or humanitarian reasons which require the waiver; (C) the type and amount of and the justification for the assistance to be provided pursuant to the waiver; and (D) the period of time during which such waiver will be effective.  
The waiver authority granted in this subsection may not be used to provide any assistance under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which is also prohibited by section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act. 
A legitimate question to ask here is whether the administration would ever bother sending aid to Venezuela in the first place. Aid is aimed at neighboring countries dealing with refugees, since any aid sent to Venezuela would certainly disappear.

But there is also the question of oil. In 2018, the United States has imported anywhere from roughly 13,000 to 20,000 barrels per month from Venezuela. That has been on a decline over the years, given that when Hugo Chávez took office it was more like 50,000. But still, this is not an insignificant amount and cutting it off (i.e. embargo) would have a major negative impact on the Venezuelan economy and by extension on the average Venezuelan.

Section 620J of the Export Administration Act lays out the hoops:

(j) COUNTRIES SUPPORTING INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM.—(1) A validated license shall be required for the export of goods or technology to a country if the Secretary of State has made the following determinations: 
(A) The government of such country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. (B) The export of such goods or technology could make a significant contribution to the military potential of such country, including its military logistics capability, or could enhance
the ability of such country to support acts of international terrorism.
(2) The Secretary and the Secretary of State shall notify the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate at least 30 days before issuing any validated license required by paragraph (1).
In short, potential humanitarian assistance and oil exports would be affected, but there are ways around the restrictions. I might write some other time about why the U.S. should bother doing this to Venezuela.


Trump and Colombia

Lara Seligman has a curious article in Foreign Policy about U.S. policy toward Latin America. The U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff was in Colombia, which was "part of a broader administration effort to reinforce alliances across Latin America."

All the U.S. did, though, was to complain. Is this what we call "reinforce" now? We're upset you're working with China. We're upset you're not buying our weapons systems. We're upset about the Russians. The article mentions "new alliances" but the U.S. does not appear to be pursuing any.

It boils down to the core idea that the U.S. is desperately holding onto existing military-military relationships so that they don't slip away entirely. The Colombian example is especially illustrative in this regard because it should be the simplest--the two countries and their militaries have been working closely together for many years. And yet even that one is more challenging these days.

Why is it so hard nowadays? Well, you know.

Donald Trump just recently cancelled a scheduled trip to Colombia, which is his second cancellation in a presidency less than two years old. Just a year ago he threatened to decertify Colombia for narcotics, which was a clear insult. Two months ago he mentioned the need for Colombia to combat the scourge of cocoa.

Diplomats, the military, and everyone else is fighting an uphill battle when the President of the United States has made abundantly clear that he does not particularly value the bilateral relationship. Perhaps the main goal for the moment is to maintain those personal relationships developed over years of such visits until someone else occupies the Oval House.


Monday, November 19, 2018

Maduro's Off Ramp, Or Is it?

Patrick Duddy, a former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela who is now at Duke, wrote a blog post for the Council on Foreign Relations about creating an "off ramp" for Nicolás Maduro. He hopes AMLO will play an important role.

While some ex-presidents from around the region have expressed their alarm over what they see as AMLO breaking ranks with those countries advocating for the restoration of democracy, it is possible AMLO’s independent streak may position him to play a decisive part in bringing this agonizing chapter of Venezuelan history to an end. Because he has played no role in recent regional efforts to force change in Venezuela, he may be the one leader acceptable to both the opposition and the Venezuelan government, and thus able to convince the Maduro administration to leave office.
This makes sense to me, but two points need more attention.

First, there is a huge difference between Maduro and "the Maduro administration." The former is an individual and the latter is a large, tightly bound web of corruption that includes the military. I feel like the two get conflated in the post. It is one thing to ease out Maduro, but doing more requires the military, which is not mentioned. AMLO could be up to the former task, but the latter is so much bigger. Anyhow, simply replacing Maduro with another regime figure does not necessarily entail much substantive change.

Second, Duddy writes something I've seen elsewhere: "This situation is not indefinitely sustainable." Well, define "indefinitely." No, it is not sustainable until the end of time, but it is definitely sustainable for quite a long time. Like Fidel Castro's, the regime's demise has been predicted for many years. This brings us back to the military. Robert Mugabe was ousted when the army finally decided it was time. The whole thing might collapse tomorrow but it is not inevitable.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review of When They Call You a Terrorist

Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele's When They Call You A Terrorist is a powerful memoir by the woman who started Black Lives Matter. BLM is so demonized by the right that many people likely know nothing about it but form negative opinions anyway. The book is so eloquent because it just describes a family, whose lives the state has really decided don't matter. Her brother has schozaffective disorder, but is arrested and then tortured (in ways that rival Abu Ghraib) in prison because no one is interested that his episodes can be effectively treated. In general, prisons are there to make money and the lives within them literally do not matter. Black lives in particular simply do not matter--men are automatically guilty and women have to pick up the pieces with inadequate resources. Children suffer all the consequences and too many live without hope.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors dedicated her life to organizing against discrimination and hate, in the face of all kinds of structural obstacles, all the more challenging as a queer woman. She gains and then loses her biological father, gains and loses the other father who had been in her life at times. She deals with the prison system in ways most of us with comfortable (and white) lives simply cannot imagine.

The media generally treats BLM as radical, but the only radical idea here is that people should literally be treated equally. You don't see rancor in this memoir. There's far more worry and longing, with hope sprinkled in. You should read it.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Evangelicals and Democracy in Brazil

Amy Erica Smith writes in Americas Quarterly about evangelicalism and politics in Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro uses it to justify violence, but there are other issues. Evangelicals in Brazil, like the U.S., see their values as threatened, which increases the chances of pushing to pass laws related to things and people they deem immoral. Democracy in the abstract, restriction of democracy in practice.

Evangelicalism has been on the rise for quite a while in Latin America and as its adherents gain the presidency or even perhaps congressional majorities (or at least pluralities) that tension will only become more common.

Across the region, evangelicals are increasingly mobilizing for conservative candidates and causes. In Colombia, for instance, they helped defeat the 2016 peace referendum. And in Costa Rica and Chile in recent years, evangelicals suddenly sprang from quiescence into action when faced with the imminent threat of the legalization of gay marriage and abortion rights. In Brazil, a fear of what has been called “gender ideology” fired up the religious vote that in turn contributed to Bolsonaro’s victory on Oct. 28.
And although the U.S. is not the cause of this development, it can give it inspiration and perhaps even a model.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Chileans Want Out of Venezuela

The Chilean government is sending an Air Force plane to get hundreds of Chileans in Venezuela who want out. They've already rescued Haitians from there. The idea is to get people who do not have the means to leave themselves, though it's unclear how that is defined or checked. I can't get the iconic image of the last people trying to leave Vietnam on a helicopter off the top of a building out of my mind.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government is retrieving Venezuelans in Chile, who initially fled but then could not find work or for whatever reason do not want to stay in Chile. We do need to put that in context, because around 177,000 Venezuelans arrived in Chile last year alone and only about 200 want to go back. So that's more of a PR thing (the capitalists lied to you!) than reality. The Venezuelan government has been doing this on and off all year.

If you take a step back, it's just madness. Way back in 1979, sociologist Saskia Sassen, who has published a ton on migration, wrote the following about Venezuela in International Migration Review:

Since 1973 there has been a pronounced increase in the numbers of permanent residents, registered entries of foreigners, naturalizations, and legalizations of undocumented workers. By October 1977, the total number of foreigners in Venezuela with residence permits had reached almost 1.2 million in a total population of 13 million. This figure is quite high considering that, in 1961, after a decade of massive immigration, there were only about half a million such foreigners and that by 1971 their number was only slightly higher. Although the 1960s saw the addition of almost 80,000 foreigners, there was also a loss of 57,800 persons with permanent residence permits. With the exception of 1969, each year of the 1960s recorded a loss of permanent residents. The reversal of this trend toward large increases in the number of permanent and temporary residence permits granted occurred over a rather short period of time, doubling the resident population between 1971 and 1977.
Venezuela was always known as a haven for those being persecuted by dictatorships. But it was also a magnet for immigrants because of economic growth and labor scarcity. For a long time, it was the most desirable location for Latin America. Everything now is literally the exact opposite.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Podcast Episode 59: Using the Venezuelan Crisis in the U.S.

In Episode 59 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I go solo and take a look at an issue that has bugged me, which is the use of the Venezuelan crisis in the United States. That revolves around the argument that Democrats will turn the U.S. into Venezuela. As you might guess, this is an argument without merit but it raises interesting questions about how Venezuela got to where it is today.

If you subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or elsewhere it will be showing up soon.

As a reminder, check out my Open Access textbook Understanding Latin American Politics.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

What US Aid Does in Guatemala

Great story by Sandra Cuffe at The Intercept on U.S. military aid to Guatemala. Ostensibly it's just about jeeps, but that reveals a deeper problem. And not really new. The U.S. pours money into small, less developed countries, and ends up making things worse, in no small part because the aid ends up helping authoritarian forces.

Roughly two hours after the jeeps were first spotted outside the offices of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala — CICIG, by its Spanish acronym — Morales stood inside the National Palace flanked by military and police officials and announced that he would not renew CICIG’s mandate, sparking legal challenges, protests, and an ongoing political crisis. The deployment of the jeeps deepened concerns among many Guatemalans about Morales  — all the more so when the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala revealed that the vehicles had been donated by the United States for use in border regions, not the capital. Morales and his backers have been courting the support of the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers against CICIG, and there are signs that the U.S. government’s longstanding support for the commission is weakening.
Jeeps alone are not the point. It's more about what green lights the U.S. government, meaning the Trump administration, is giving. These days the message is that you can use our aid to fight against democracy. We don't mind. In fact, we do not particularly like fighting corruption anymore.

Jimmy Morales is a sycophant to Trump and so this and other incidences will go unremarked by the administration. Guatemalan democracy--already in tatters--will suffer as a result.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Moving Away from Anti-Relations in Latin America

Chris Sabatini has a rundown of the possible impact of the midterm elections on U.S. policy toward Latin America. One thing that really strikes me is that there is no agenda at all for engagement. Trump is anti-trade, anti-immigrant, anti-leftist, anti-CICIG etc. whereas some of the more prominent members of the new House majority are anti-trade but also anti-anti immigrant, anti-Bolsonaro, anti-Venezuela, and so on.

What are we for?

Chris mentions accountability for foreign aid, which is fine, but it's oversight more than policy itself. When John Bolton gave his speech, it was all anti. Here is what we really dislike. Is there anything in the hemisphere that we like? Even with Democrats in the House: beyond trying to treat immigrants with humanity, what are their positive priorities in the region beyond platitudes about democracy?

What about the Colombian peace deal? What about CICIG? What about trade? What about climate change?

Update (11/11/18): Pushing for TPS is certainly one good example.


Friday, November 09, 2018

Bolsonaro's International Priorities Do Not Include Argentina

Jair Bolsonaro announced his first trips as president: he will be going to Chile, Washington, and Israel. Dilma Rousseff's first trip was to Argentina, which makes sense given the historical importance of the bilateral relationship, and it's a common choice for either Brazilian or Argentine presidents. But Bolsonaro is not particularly interested in Argentina or Mercosur.

All three are highly ideological choices. There is an obvious affinity between Bolsonaro and Trump, even though their ideologies sometimes take them in diametrically opposed directions. Both are nationalist, which puts up an automatic barrier to trade discussions even as they agree on many other things. Israel (and where embassies are located) is just part of the same ideological track. Chile is more pragmatic--Sebastián Piñera is not an ideological soulmate, but Bolsonaro's Economic Minister is a fan of the Chicago Boys and in fact Bolsonaro once praised Augusto Pinochet and said he should have killed more people.

For the moment, this leaves Argentina behind. Mauricio Macri is conservative but the economy is not doing well and Bolsonaro does not want to be tied to it. Interestingly, the Argentine and Brazilian militaries show signs of wanting to deepen relations, which can occur regardless of the presidents' priorities, just as U.S. military to military relations continue no matter what's going on at higher political levels.


Thursday, November 08, 2018

Venezuela and MTurk

Economic crisis generates unexpected consequences. A group of political scientists write in The Monkey Cage blog about Mechanical Turk (MTurk), which is an online survey program hosted by Amazon. You can put a survey out there and users who fit your requirements can fill it out. You get data and they get a bit of Amazon credit, like a nickel or a dime at a time (you can go check it out here). It is widely used, both by marketers and researchers. Political scientists use it extensively.

This actually connects to Venezuela. Economic deprivation has led people to use VPN to get into MTurk and take tons of surveys they aren't qualified to take, and in fact the user may not even speak English. They then can build up credits, buy something, and then resell it for cash.

Some researchers suggest that the fraudulent respondents were based in India. We looked at the number of international respondents who apparently forgot to turn on their VPSs, allowing us to see from where they were connecting with the Internet. While a number of connections were from India, making up about 12 percent of the international IPs, even more — almost 18 percent — came from Venezuela. 
We also combed online forums for MTurk users and found several Venezuelan Turkers who bragged about subverting the restrictions on international users. One detailed how he would acquire credit from MTurk, use that credit to purchase cellphones, and then have a friend in Miami ship him the cellphones.
All of this suggests that the MTurk crisis may have a surprising root. Venezuela’s economic crisis, with inflation heading toward 1 million percent. Some desperate Venezuelans are using online games to win virtual goods that they can sell for real money. Something similar seems to be happening on MTurk.

Shoot, if I were in Venezuela I would probably do the same.


Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Immigration and the Midterms

Some thoughts on the midterm elections, where Democrats took the House while Republicans strengthened their Senate majority by a bit.

In our book Irresistible Forces, which came out 8 years ago, my dad and I discussed public opinion, which is hard to pin down on on immigration because there are so many different angles. The snapshot we gave was basically 2006-2010, and one point was that despite all the rhetoric, voters deemed undocumented immigration be to be the 4th or 5th most pressing problem. We added:

As the demographic fit concludes over the next several years, however, these numbers may well become more negative (p. 106).
That seems to have played out. Xenophobia was definitely a problem back then, but not on the scale that we see now, so the negativity has not just grown, it has become more virulent and openly racist.

Preliminary exit polls suggested that health care was by far the most pressing issue, while immigration was pretty close to tied with the economy. What has changed most noticeably is the partisan divide. Immigration is big (negatively, of course) with Republicans but not for Democrats, who are focused much more on health care. How much those issues affected any specific race is up for debate and likely will never be known for sure.

And the Latino vote? I have not seen any numbers yet. Instead, we have the same message we've heard for at least a decade, with lots of talk of promise and expectations. Empirically, this has usually translated into incremental increases in vote totals that have yet to become a decisive factor in many races. But let's wait and see once we get some more concrete numbers.


Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Foreign Policy Change in Latin America

Merke, Federico, Diego Reynoso, and Luis L.Schenoni (2020) "Foreign Policy Change in Latin America: Exploring a Middle-Range Concept." Latin American Research Review, forthcoming, pp. 1-33.

Abstract (full text here):

In this article, we examine patterns of change and continuity in Latin American foreign  policies. We do so by asking two interrelated questions: How can we conceptually and empirically account for foreign policy change? And why do states change their foreign  policies in Latin America? To answer these questions, we used the results of a new expert survey on foreign policy preferences in the region between 1980 and 2014. The results we obtained using both linear and non-parametric specifications are very clear and consistent: presidential ideology is what matters the most. Simply put, a change in the ideology of the president produces a change in foreign policy that is almost equivalent in magnitude, all other theoretically relevant factors set to their means.
Using a survey of experts, this article confirms what has often been argued, that Latin American presidents drive foreign policy. Therefore it can change dramatically according to ideology.  The authors note that presidents can be limited by state bureaucracies (i.e. the infamous "deep state") but their whims matter. The international system matters but again, presidents have a lot of leeway.

From a theoretical perspective, this raises the structure/agency issue (though it is not their specific goal). On the one hand, presidents can make a lot of changes. On the other, they face structural restraints at the international level. Peripheral realists (a theory developed in Latin America) have made the argument that presidents can and should make decisions for the good of their own citizens, and the international system does not necessarily make that impossible. However, they have to be cognizant of what decisions might generate backlash (i.e. from a hegemon) and be wary of making them.


The U.S. is Losing to China in Latin America

China imposed a 25% tariff on U.S. soybeans in response to President Trump's launch of a trade war.  China's strategy is to wean itself off U.S. soy. A major part of this effort is to pay closer attention to Latin America, which I mentioned two months ago in a sort of "wait and see" kind of way. Now we are seeing. Here are some results this year:

  • Chinese business has developed a strong soy export sector in Paraguay.

  • China wants to import soy from Bolivia but this year announced there was something wrong with it, so was going only with quinoa and coffee. Stay tuned, I guess.
The implications here are obvious. The trade war has deepened and accelerated China's economic relationships with South America, which had already been growing rapidly in the last decade or two. Once those kinds of ties are forged, they do not disappear quickly. If Trump insists on dragging out the trade, U.S. soy farmers will eventually have to fight for re-entrance in a market they lost.


Monday, November 05, 2018

Cuba's Economy Slows

The Cuban government reduced its 2018 growth projection from 2% to 1% (here is a longer article in Granma about the Council of Ministers meeting, where the low projection is buried among a load of other things). The Minister of the Economy and Planning did not elaborate beyond saying the state was not receiving as much with regard to the harvest (zafra), tourism, and minerals. But hurricanes have hurt the economy, not to mention Hurricane Trump.

I assume many will take this as vindication of rolling back some of the changes made during the Obama administration. This depends on your goals. If you want simply to punish Cubans, this can be seen as successful. If you want regime change, this does not seem like such a good thing, especially when viewed in historical perspective. To put it mildly, there is no evidence that U.S. sanctions encourage state actors in Cuba to do anything you want them to.

I am not saying anything new here but there is no harm in repeating it. Clubbing Cuba over the head has not worked before.


Sunday, November 04, 2018

Lempira Restaurant

The latest in my periodic look at Latin American restaurants in Charlotte, businesses run by the same immigrant community being vilified for the midterm elections. These are U.S. businesses contributing to the economy and to the diversity of the community. I went to Lempira, a Salvadoran-Honduran-Mexican restaurant (this trio is not uncommon here). Lempira, incidentally, is also the name of the Honduran currency. There are actually four locations around Charlotte. We went to the one on South Boulevard. It was clearly a popular place for families on a Sunday afternoon.

Among us, we tried pupusas with beans and rice on the side, the tacos dorados Aztecas (my 10 year old daughter, who was looking for something familiar), and baleada, a Honduran dish, of which there are several options for fillings (in this case it was eggs, cheese, and avocado). Everything was delicious and there was a lot of food. The service was wonderful.

The last place I wrote about was Panadería y Restaurante Salvadoreña.


Saturday, November 03, 2018

Venezuela's Economic Helpers

I imagine Nicolás Maduro first turned to the Cubans to come up with an economic stabilization plan. Since the Cubans are serious debtors who don't know much about economic prosperity beyond finding patrons, they were not the best advisers. They're quite good at dictatorship, though, and have been helpful in that regard.

So now he is asking the Russians for advisers. That is according to the Russians, who also make clear that since Venezuela has also not been so good with debt, they will be receiving only advice, not money. In fact, Vladimir Putin has not even decided yet whether he wants to provide such an adviser. I can't imagine why he wouldn't, as it seems a low-risk way of maintaining and even increasing Russian influence.

The Russians think Maduro may have also asked the Chinese government for an adviser. The Chinese are similarly wary of giving more money but they also like influence.

I wonder, though, whether they can advise much beyond just saying, "You're totally screwed."


Friday, November 02, 2018

John Bolton's Troika of Tyranny Speech (With Text)

I finally had a chance to read the text of John Bolton's speech yesterday about U.S. policy toward Latin America, though really mostly aimed at Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba. The "troika of tyranny" phrase is just so...Russian.

The timing of the speech is aimed at the midterm election to get out the South Florida vote, and it is a pretty standard "get tough" thing, without much content. And there is also no mention of the dicey problem of how without the 14th amendment, many Cuban-Americans in the audience would now be Cubans (like, for example, Marco Rubio).

It is well known that the first half of the George W. Bush administration was a disaster in Latin America, with lots of insult hurling ("You're Hitler!" "No, YOU'RE Hitler!") that Hugo Chávez used to his advantage. Especially after Tom Shannon took over as a top Latin America advisor, that toned down and more actual work got done. Well, we're back to where we started. Shannon is out and Bolton is back in. How else to explain inane comments like these?

These tyrants fancy themselves strongmen and revolutionaries, icons and luminaries. In reality, they are clownish, pitiful figures more akin to Larry, Curly, and Moe. The three stooges of socialism are true believers, but they worship a false God.
Diplomacy becomes the equivalent of primates throwing poop around and waiting expectantly for some to be thrown back.

The text of the speech, as given to the press, is below.

Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor Ambassador John R. Bolton Delivers
Remarks on the Trump Administration’s Policies in Latin America at Miami Dade College

Miami, FL
Thursday, November 1, 2018
Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Representative Ros-Lehtinen, for your kind introduction. I also want to thank Dr. Rodicio
for the invitation to speak with all of you today in such a beautiful setting.

It is an honor to be in Miami to address so many friends on a subject of utmost importance to the
President, to me, and to this entire administration: U.S. policy toward Latin America.

Across our administration, we are working hard to strengthen bonds and deepen ties with several
responsible governments throughout the region.

The United States is thrilled to be partnering with nations such as Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and many others to advance the rule of law and increase security and prosperity for our people.

The recent elections of likeminded leaders in key countries, including Ivan Duque in Colombia, and last weekend Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, are positive signs for the future of the region, and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent, and accountable

Yet today, in this Hemisphere, we are also confronted once again with the destructive forces of
oppression, socialism, and totalitarianism.

In Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, we see the perils of poisonous ideologies left unchecked, and the
dangers of domination and suppression.

This afternoon, I am here to deliver a clear message from the President of the United States on our
policy toward these three regimes.

Under this administration, we will no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores in this

We will not reward firing squads, torturers, and murderers.

We will champion the independence and liberty of our neighbors.

And this President, and his entire administration, will stand with the freedom fighters.

The Troika of Tyranny in this Hemisphere—Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua—has finally met its

There is no better place to deliver this message than right here in Miami, at the Freedom Tower.
Miami is home to countless Americans, who fled the prisons and death squads of the Castro regime in Cuba, the murderous dictatorships of Chavez and Maduro in Venezuela, and the horrific violence of the 1980s and the brutal reign of Ortega in Nicaragua.

In every corner of Miami, you will find someone who has endured years in Castro’s infamous
Combinado del Este political prison, or has been tortured in Maduro’s Helicoide prison, or has a loved one still languishing in Ortega’s El Chipote prison.

Others who call Miami home have escaped anti-Semitism and prejudice that has unfortunately existed in the region.

Anti-Semitism has no place in the United States, or anywhere in the world. We all have a responsibility to confront this heinous hatred, whether it occurs in Pittsburgh, Caracas, or in any other city.

Many of you in the audience today have personally suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of the
regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, only to survive, fight back, conquer, and overcome.

You breathe the free air of this beautiful city. Your children have experienced the possibilities of liberty.

And your grandchildren will never know the firsthand heartache of repression.

Your descendants can be anything, and achieve anything. They can attend this great institution, Miami Dade College, or even stand one day alongside the President.

And as they grow and flourish in America, they will carry with them your history, your sacrifice, and the memories of your incredible triumph. Their success will be your enduring legacy.

In the United States, we frequently hear the stories of Americans who came to our country for a better
life, and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, through hard work and sacrifice.

Today, I would ask that when you think of the American Dream, and this iconic imagery, you also
envision something else.

Generations of Americans have been inspired to thrive in liberty and freedom not only because of the
rewards of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice, but also because of the inalienable rights bestowed on every American and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

These fundamental liberties are represented forever by the red, white, and blue of our Old Glory, and
defended from harm by the greatest military on the face of the earth.

The American Dream depends on hard work and self-sufficiency, yes, but even more so on the
knowledge of what freedom makes possible: the awareness that you can chart your own destiny, the
cognizance that you are free to speak, to think, to write, to pray, to live.

Everyone here today understands this fundamental truth. There is no glamor in gulags and labor camps, in death squads and propaganda machines, in mass executions and in the sound of terrorizing screams from the depths of the world’s most notorious prisons.

These are the true consequences of socialism and communism. This is the price of freedom’s
extinguished flame.

As the President has said, the problems we see in Latin America today have not emerged because
socialism has been implemented poorly. On the contrary, the Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan
people suffer in misery because socialism has been implemented effectively.

In Cuba, a brutal dictatorship under the façade of a new figurehead continues to undermine democratic institutions, and jail and torture opponents.

In Venezuela and Nicaragua, desperate autocratic leaders, hell-bent on maintaining their grip on power, have joined their Cuban counterparts in the same oppressive behavior of unjust imprisonment, torture, and murder.

This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the
cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a
sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere.

Under President Trump, the United States is taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty, and basic human decency in our region.

As the President has repeatedly made clear, America’s security and prosperity benefits when freedom
thrives near our shores.

In Cuba, we continue to stand firmly with the Cuban people, and we share their aspirations for real,
democratic change.

Members of this administration will never take a picture in front of Che Guevara, plastered over the
Cuban ministry that runs the National Revolutionary Police.

As you know, this organization is responsible for oppressing dissidents and suppressing every kind of
freedom known to man.

We will not glamorize Marxist guerillas to promote a delusion of our own glory.

Our concern is with sanctions, not selfies.

Under this administration, there will no longer be secret channels between Cuba and the United States. Our policy is transparent for the American people and the world to see.

It is encapsulated in National Security Presidential Memorandum-5, “Strengthening the Policy of the
United States Toward Cuba.” And, in June of last year, President Trump came right here to Miami to outline this administration’s new policy and to announce the cancellation of the last administration’s one-sided and misguided deal with the Cuban regime.

As he said then, the United States will not prop up a military monopoly that abuses the citizens of Cuba. Under our approach, detailed in NSPM-5, the United States is enforcing U.S. law to maintain sanctions until, among other things, all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized, and free and internationally supervised elections are scheduled.

Importantly, our policy includes concrete actions to prevent American dollars from reaching the Cuban military, security, and intelligence services.

Today, I want to emphasize that NSPM-5 was just the beginning of our efforts to pressure the Cuban
regime. Since NSPM-5’s release, we have been tightening sanctions against the Cuban military and intelligence services, including their holding companies, and closing loopholes in our sanctions regulations.

Further, today, the State Department added over two dozen additional entities owned or controlled by
the Cuban military and intelligence services to the restricted list of entities with which financial
transactions by U.S. persons are prohibited.

The Cuban military and intelligence agencies must not disproportionately profit from the United States, its people, its travelers, or its businesses. In response to the vicious attacks on Embassy Havana, we have also scaled back our embassy personnel in Cuba. This President will not allow our diplomats to be targeted with impunity. And we will not excuse those who harm our highest representatives abroad by falsely invoking videos, or concocting some other absurd pretext for their suffering.

The United States will stand up for our citizens, our allies, and our friends, whether they frequent our
new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, chant for reform in Tehran, or fight for freedom in the streets of

We will only engage with a Cuban government that is willing to undertake necessary and tangible
reforms—a government that respects the interests of the Cuban people.

In Venezuela, the United States is acting against the dictator Maduro, who uses the same oppressive
tactics that have been employed in Cuba for decades.

He has installed an illegitimate Constituent Assembly, debased currency for political gain, and forced
his people to sign up for a corrupt food distribution service or face certain starvation.

These actions have created damaging ripple effects throughout the region. The crisis in Venezuela has
led to a massive humanitarian disaster and the largest mass migration in the Hemisphere. More than 2
million desperate Venezuelans have fled Maduro’s oppressive rule since 2015.

Sadly, this human tragedy was entirely preventable. Maduro and his cronies are the singular cause of all of this suffering.

The Venezuelan regime’s repression is of course enabled by the Cuban dictatorship. The United States calls on all nations in the region to face this obvious truth, and let the Cuban regime know that it will be held responsible for continued oppression in Venezuela.

In the United States, our demands are simple and straightforward. We call for the immediate release of all Venezuelan political prisoners; acceptance of international humanitarian assistance; free, fair, and credible elections; and legitimate steps to restore democratic institutions and the rule of law in

Since taking office, this President has signed four Executive Orders targeting corruption and the looting of the Venezuelan economy. This administration has sanctioned over 70 Venezuelan individuals and entities, including the President and his wife, along with senior members of his regime. And, we have levied a Kingpin drug-trafficking designation on a member of Maduro’s inner circle.

We have also condemned the regime’s involvement in the death earlier this month of a Venezuelan
opposition councilman in the custody of the intelligence services, and we have likewise spoken out
against the apparent-August torture of yet another opposition councilman.

Today, I am also proud to share that President Trump has signed an Executive Order to impose tough,
new sanctions against Venezuela.

The new sanctions will target networks operating within corrupt Venezuelan economic sectors and deny them access to stolen wealth. Most immediately, the new sanctions will prevent U.S. persons from engaging with actors and networks complicit in corrupt or deceptive transactions in the Venezuelan gold sector, which the regime has used as a bastion to finance illicit activities, to fill its coffers, and to support criminal groups.

The United States will not tolerate Maduro’s undermining of democratic institutions and ruthless
violence against innocent civilians.

Finally, in Nicaragua, the United States continues to condemn the Ortega regime’s violence and
repression against its citizens and opposition members. Ortega and his allies have completely eroded
democratic institutions, stifled free speech, and imposed a policy of jail, exile, or death for political

The government continues to illegally detain protestors and manipulate laws to target innocent civilians. Earlier this month, a student protestor was detained unlawfully, and to this day, his whereabouts remain unknown to his family.

This behavior is unacceptable anywhere, and especially in the Western Hemisphere. Free, fair, and early elections must be held in Nicaragua, and democracy must be restored to the Nicaraguan people.

Until then, the Nicaraguan regime, like Venezuela and Cuba, will feel the full weight of America’s
robust sanctions regime.

The Troika of Tyranny in this Hemisphere will not endure forever. Like all oppressive regimes and
ideologies, it too will meet its demise. The people of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua are fearsome
opponents, and if I were Diaz-Canel, Maduro, or Ortega, I would fear their virtuous power.

These tyrants fancy themselves strongmen and revolutionaries, icons and luminaries. In reality, they are clownish, pitiful figures more akin to Larry, Curly, and Moe. The three stooges of socialism are true believers, but they worship a false God.

We know their day of reckoning awaits. We see its origins in the brave Ladies in White, who
courageously take to the streets to defend their families and all of Cuba. We feel its shiver in the crowd around the flag-draped coffin of fifteen-year-old Orlando Cordoba, killed in a peaceful protest in Nicaragua. We hear its echo in the piercing chants outside of a Venezuelan military base: “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”

The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the triangle fall: in Havana, in Caracas, in Managua.

While we await that fateful day, the people of the region can be assured that the United States stand
with them against the forces of oppression, totalitarianism, and domination.

Look to the North; look to our flag; look to your own. The Troika will crumble. The people will
triumph. And, the righteous flame of freedom will burn brightly again in this Hemisphere.
Thank you very much.


Thursday, November 01, 2018

Venezuela's Gas Shortage

Venezuela now has gasoline shortages. The problem starts with oil production, which has been shaky under Nicolás Maduro and then went even more steeply down in the past 2-3 years.


PDVSA has to export in order pay off debts--it just did so for India--even as production is plummeting, such as from a tanker collision. And its creditors are taking action:

Besides a steady decline in production, Venezuela’s state-run oil company earlier this year ran into problems with its storage capacity and export terminals in the Caribbean as U.S.-based ConocoPhillips took an aggressive approach to enforcing a court ruling that awarded it US$2 billion in compensation for the forced nationalization of two projects in Venezuela. The company this summer seized several of PDVSA’s assets on Caribbean islands, which made it difficult for the Venezuelan state company to meet its export obligations. Having few options, PDVSA eventually caved, settling with Conoco.
All this eventually had to trickle down to Venezuelans themselves, who pay very little for gasoline. The loss of fuel really hammered Cuba during the Special Period and it doesn't take a genius to see it wreaks havoc on the economy (perversely, it is good for the environment).

Oil, oil everywhere and not a drop to put in your vehicle or machine. This becomes the ultimate failure. Venezuela always did one thing, and that was oil. Now it can't even do that.


Ignoring Latin American Scholars

Victor Ray, a sociologist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, published a piece in Inside Higher Ed about racial bias in academic citations. It's well worth reading.

Much of the bias in citation patterns may be unintentional, as a path of dependency is built into them that reflects, reproduces and legitimates racial inequality. Inequality is reflected through a veneration of the classics. In the social sciences and humanities, many of these works were written during a period when racial and gender exclusion was simply expected and taken for granted. What counts as canonical is shaped by who had access to existing knowledge and the tools and institutional resources to produce new knowledge.
This immediately made me think of the study of U.S.-Latin American relations. In my book project I am using the Latin American concept of autonomy to understand the evolution of relations in the 21st century. After a bit of digging--and only a bit, it's all out there to be found--I realized that U.S. scholars were ignoring just about everything south of the border. This is from a draft of my intro chapter:

As it turns out, Latin American academics study the issue in ways that their U.S. counterparts seem mostly unaware of, at least if their citations and references are any guide. My goal is to consciously step out of both the U.S.-based academic literature and U.S. policy-centric viewpoints.
I can only speculate why this is the case, but there are several pretty obvious possibilities:

1. No one has heard of the Latin American journals so assume they are inferior.

2. No one has heard of the Latin American scholars because they cannot afford to attend conferences in the United States.

3. U.S. scholars cannot read Spanish or Portuguese. These days Google Translate can get you through, but you have to do initial literature searches in Spanish or Portuguese.

4. It just doesn't occur to them to look.

For years, I'd say I was guilty of a bit of #2 and a good dose of #4, and it's embarrassing to think about. How did I write two editions of a textbook on the topic without digging more deeply into all these sources?


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