Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Op-Ed on Bilingual Education in North Carolina

I'm very pleased to link to an op-ed on bilingual education my student Julia Poppell just published in La Noticia, the main Spanish-language newspaper in Charlotte. She wrote it as an assignment in my U.S.-Latin American Relations course, which I taught this past semester. I was impressed and suggested some revisions before trying to send it out. She tried the Charlotte Observer without success and then I suggested a different audience. They even translated it into Spanish.


Monday, December 30, 2019

Review of Davis and Shear's Border Wars

Julie Hirschfield Davis and Michael D. Shear's Border Wars: Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration (2019) is your basic insider-view book, providing some interesting context to what we essentially already know. I like that sort of book from time to time.

The basic narrative is that Trump immigration policy is driven by the relentless and malevolent vision of Stephen Miller, who retreats into Hannah Arendt-ish arguments about just doing his job. The "just following the law" attitude flows downward, no matter how cruel the policy. Miller's view is that if even one criminal might enter the country, then you need to stop everyone, which is just a different version of Dick Cheney's disastrous one percent doctrine. Political appointees clutching at their positions scramble to make it happen.

Miller is a figure who, unlike just about everyone else in the book, is not forced out, and therefore is a permanent fixture. As such, he blows up every congressional effort to do anything. A typical scenario has congressional figures cook something up, talk to Trump about it, get Trump to agree in principle, then find Trump tweeting something incendiary that Miller told him and it all goes to hell.

Congressional leaders come off as well-meaning, which suggests the authors relied rather heavily in their interviews with them. The cabinet is characterized by infighting and desire not to look bad even while doing bad things--just resign already. Jared Kushner is an idiot who thinks lack of knowledge is a good thing for congressional negotiations. Trump himself is what you'd expect--ignorant and deeply attached to his base. Miller is an ideologue who knows how to destroy things politically but not build them.

The book tries very hard to be even-handed, but that strains credulity (poor Jared Kushner, who was so exhausted but didn't get a vacation!). For example, they commit the common error of seeing Trump as upending "many decades of bipartisan consensus in favor of immigrants and immigration" (p. 8). That makes no sense, given that congressional refusal to pass immigration laws is based on one party being increasingly and openly anti-immigrant. Guess why the DREAM Act had never passed? Trump didn't create the anti-immigrant attitude, he just tapped into it and made it worse. Immigration policy is a machine, and it will continue chewing up and spitting out people until it is radical overhauled.


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Getting Trump to Focus on Venezuela

Andres Oppenheimer writes that Trump needs to refocus on Venezuela.

Washington needs to create a strong international anti-Maduro coalition. Instead of vilifying Latin American immigrants, building a useless wall along the Mexican border, separating refugee kids from their parents, cutting foreign aid to Central American countries and slapping tariffs on friendly governments, the United States should build bridges with Latin America and help create a global agreement to impose effective collective sanctions on Venezuela.
This is unhelpful because those are the policies Trump believes will get him re-elected. He clearly does not view Venezuela as terribly important for the Florida vote.

BTW, if we are in the realm of unrealistic shoulds, then I would add pressuring the Russians, since Putin is a major reason the Maduro government has not fallen.

But it's unhelpful for another reason, which is that when Trump really pays attention to a foreign policy issue, he makes things worse for the country in question. He has no understanding of other countries and only understands blunt instruments. What I am saying is be careful what you wish for, because getting Trump to focus on Venezuela and getting him to do something productive in Venezuela policy are two completely different things.

I do, however, agree with him that the Democratic candidates should be pushed on the question. How they answer will say something about their broader approach to foreign policy. My hunch, though, is that most will stay with a vague "international cooperation" and leave it at that. You cannot argue against it and it does not require further details.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

Las Lupitas

This is an installment in my periodic series of posts about immigrant restaurants in Charlotte. Our city could not function without immigrants, and in this political climate we need to highlight them. Please spend your money at those places and support them however you can.

Today is a bit different, because Las Lupitas is not a restaurant. It's a tortillería and butcher. I do not eat meat, so I can't say anything about the latter, but the former is incredible. It is a small place (see Yelp here for some photos) and you just get in line for either the meat or the tortillas (handy signs hang from the ceiling, yes in Spanish but you know what tortilla means). You order tortillas by the pound and you can see them feeding the dough into the machine in the back. It's $1.25 per pound and I have seen people order massive amounts. I always order two pounds for my family, which is a meal and more.

They come freshly wrapped and very warm. When you check out, you can add a baggie of limes, a baggie of cilantro and onion, and/or a variety of freshly made salsas. All of these are delicious and begging to be eaten quickly.


Nicaraguan Revolution Revisited Podcast

I recommend this four-part podcast on the Nicaraguan revolution from the Watson Institute at Brown University. It stemmed from a conference the institute held in May, which included participants. The podcast itself is well-produced and includes the voices of those participants (at the website you can also watch a short video). The basic theme is the cycle from dictatorship to revolution to civil war to democratic elections and then back to dictatorship.

I could easily see using something like this in class. It is not long and it allows a lot of the participants simply to tell their story, so it's engaging.


Friday, December 20, 2019

How Not To Assess Latin America

The former Latin America editor for The Financial Times gives his end-of-year look at Latin America and it is frustratingly bad.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War geo-political divisions are increasingly evident in Latin America. Recent elections in Mexico (2018) and Argentina (2019) have given new life to nationalist, anti-American and left-wing populism, even though its results have been so disastrous in Venezuela. In the pro-US camp a virulent right-wing populism has emerged with a vengeance in Brazil. At the same time successful pro-western and market friendly democracies such as Colombia and Chile are facing social unrest that could lead to new political challenges from the populist right or left.
No, no, no. Repeat after me: there is no us/them in Latin America. There is no left/right in Latin America. AMLO is kissing up to Donald Trump and so is hardly anti-American. At this point, populism is often a throwaway term for the left you don't like. Comparing Mexico and Argentina to Venezuela is just lazy.

As for Colombia and Chile, the fact that massive protests erupt might just suggest those market-friendly systems aren't quite as successful as you think, though of course this depends on your definition of success.

I don't even know what geo-political divisions he claims because he doesn't explain that.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Podcast Episode 69: Understanding the Chilean Crisis

In Episode 69 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast I talk with Pablo Rubio, a historian who is currently Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University/Investigador de la Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile. He researches the political transition in Chile and U.S.-Chilean relations. We discussed the long-term impact of the transition, the possibilities of constitutional reform, police violence, and even the right's belief that Venezuela is behind the protests.

You can find this podcast at iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and anywhere else podcasts can be found. If there is anyplace I've missed, please contact me. Subscribe and rate, even if just to tell me I am a crazed leftist professor.


Forum on Bolivia

Go take a look at Hispanic American Historical Review's forum on contemporary Bolivia. In particular, I recommend my friend and colleague Carmen Soliz's essay. She looks at the balance between his accomplishments and the things he is criticized for.

Although Morales still has massive support from urban and rural sectors (he received 47 percent of the popular vote in the 2019 election), these practices have alienated an important portion of the coalition that put him in power in 2005, 2009, and 2014. As of today, I consider his legacy—the enfranchisement of the majority Indian population, a massive distribution of wealth, the consolidation of national sovereignty, and economic and political stability—to exceed the most controversial elements of his government. However, his attempt to remain in power at any cost has endangered the democratic character of the political process that started in 2003 and has yielded the card of democracy to the right wing of Bolivia and Latin America.
This last point is on the mark. Evo Morales' refusal to step aside didn't only damage Bolivian democratic institutions. It also opened the door to the right that otherwise never would have opened. If he had groomed a successor, the MAS would have won a presidential election. In trying to win it all, he lost it all, both for himself and his party.


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Venezuela Presidential Twitter

The Atlantic Council takes a look at the social media connections of Nicolás Maduro versus Juan Guaidó. One main conclusion is that Maduro had more followers but Guaidó had more interactions. But what does this mean? My hunch is not much.

At various times I've looked at presidential Twitter, which can be entertaining and yields some insights into the leaders. As an independent variable, however, presidential Twitter falls flat. No one has found causal links anywhere between, say, interactions and policy effectiveness.

In the case of Venezuela, it also appears that over the year, people paid less attention to both of them.

This makes sense as protests and coup attempts failed to dislodge Maduro or achieve much of anything. That works to Maduro's advantage, of course, and at least one study found that in the past, he tried to defuse protests by tweeting a lot about things unrelated to the protesters' concerns. How much that mattered is impossible to say.

For now, looking at presidential Twitter is occasionally interesting but not terribly enlightening, and comparing Twitter sizes, so to speak, doesn't accomplish much.


Monday, December 16, 2019

Evo in Argentina

Evo Morales is currently in Argentina and met with MAS leaders to come up with the "ten commandments" of the 2020 election.

It's all about unity, revolutionary spirit, self-criticism, inclusion, and the like. But the biggest question that obviously cannot be discussed publicly is what Evo's own role will be not just in 2020 but beyond. It seems unlikely he will run in 2020 and although I have not seen anything concrete, public comments suggest he might be blocked entirely. The interim government is clearly scared of him politically and has issued an arrest warrant for sedition. It has also accused him of terrorism.

But what about the longer term? The key political problem has been that Evo did not groom political successors and then leave power. What is his version of the "consulta orgánica en las bases para una candidatura que exprese unidad de nuestro pueblo"? Of course, in 2016 he asked Bolivians if he could run for a fourth term and they said no.

Even more interesting will be if he does not run and a MAS candidate wins. As we've seen so clearly in Colombia and Ecuador, you can groom successors but you cannot control them.


Friday, December 13, 2019

Peter Sagal's The Incomplete Book of Running

I read Peter Sagal's The Incomplete Book of Running, which is his extended reflection on what running means to him, especially in the context of facing middle age and going through a difficult divorce.

As a middle-aged runner, I identify with the former, though I have to say that Sagal is such a fast runner that I would occasionally roll my eyes at his pace frustrations, which for me would've been triumphs (a 3:09 marathon in your 40s is inconceivable to me). But he's a funny person and perfectly brought out the various ways the middle-aged body responds to marathon training (just read about egresses). He describes the Boston Marathon, which he's run several times (and in fact was quite close to the bomb in 2013) and I talked about those passages with my wife, who ran it in 2000 while I made my way to cheer her on late in the race around Heartbreak Hill.

He sees running as a very social activity and encourages others to follow his example, though I am not sure how much he realizes extroversion plays into that. His accounts of running groups, talking to everyone he sees, and dressing up in weird costumes made think about how I would hate running if it involved all that. My own enjoyment of running stems from it being a bit social and mostly solo.

But overall, I feel like he nicely summarizes how running provides a structure within life's chaos. I have started training for a marathon in the spring, and my wife and I set up a mileage schedule. During the week, I run almost exclusively in the evening on treadmills, which (as he accurately points out) is sub-optimal but for a variety of reasons unavoidable for me. No matter what's going on during the day, though, I look forward to that time, when I can clear my head. No matter how tired I feel at the beginning, I feel better as I go, and I sleep really well. On weekends, we run longer distances together.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

55th Anniversary of Che Guevara's Speech

Fifty-five years ago today, Che Guevara gave a speech to the United Nations. If you focus on his view--as opposed to his prescriptions and mentions of the socialist camp--of international relations, it stands up quite well. The U.S. did see peaceful coexistence as something on its own terms that did not take the developing world into account. The U.S. was going to "threaten millions of human beings" in Vietnam and its neighbors. The U.S. did support apartheid in South Africa. Developed countries did pillage and terrorize the Congo. The U.S. was trying to get rid of Fidel Castro. The U.S. did have a history of imperialism in Latin America.

Fast forward to today, and you only need tweak his words to make them relevant. The millions of human beings are more in the Middle East than Southeast Asia. The U.S. is trying to get rid of Nicolás Maduro and not so much Miguel Díaz-Canel. The U.S. still sees "peace" in its own nationalist terms.

And in 2019, much like 1964, we don't have good prescriptions with either domestic or foreign policy. The Soviet Union was a disaster and Russia offers no good model either. Marxism-Leninism is a disaster. Venezuela is a disaster. U.S. foreign policy is a disaster. U.S. capitalism is accelerating inequality. Chilean capitalism has generated mass protests. Brazil is a disaster.

There is no particular reason to believe 2020 will be any better.


Monday, December 09, 2019

Weak Democracy in Latin America

Using LAPOP data, Dinorah Azpuru gives us bad news on her Washington Post piece on Latin American protests and democracy.

My research, based on survey data from 2019, shows that in the countries that have had the most serious turmoil in recent weeks, citizens display moderate levels of support for democracy — and high levels of dissatisfaction with its performance. Further, in those countries, the public has only meager trust in important democratic institutions, especially political parties.
People are unhappy about the economy, personal security, and corruption. And it gets worse.
Interestingly, Latin Americans trust the military more than other institutions, with 55 percent trust in 2019. But of course, the military is not an elected body. What’s especially important is that the gap in Latin Americans’ trust in the military and in institutions of representative democracy has been growing. In a region where not long ago, authoritarian military regimes governed with an iron fist, this could spell trouble for democracy. We have already seen that in many countries, the military can still be the final arbiter of political change.
For me, this is the essential point. Despite Bolivia's history of coups, Evo Morales had seemed adept at keeping the military on his side. The presidents of Ecuador and Peru felt compelled this year to appear in photos with their military leadership as a sign of political stability. Chilean president Sebastián Piñera surrounded himself with military officials as he made the ridiculous claim that he was "at war with a powerful enemy."

It's not just that the elected leadership turns to the military, though, it's that many people in the country still consider that a perfectly legitimate option, and they trust the military. As Dinorah shows, 55% of Latin Americans have confidence in the military, compared to 30% in the legislature and 17% in parties.

Now, simply having confidence in the military does not necessarily mean support for military political intervention. But as a minimum it is suggestive of that, which is a bad sign for democracy. In the past decade, we've seen quite a few unscheduled changes of government, from the fishy (Paraguay and Brazil) to clear examples of coups (Bolivia and Honduras), not to mention public calls for a coup (Venezuela) and instability that led to discussion about whether a coup attempt occurred (Ecuador). All the while we debate about whether instability is actually a "coup," it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the military's political role is entirely normalized.

Given the amount of unrest this year, it is unlikely 2020 will be free of a strong military political role.


De-Personalizing U.S.-Mexican Relations

In the context of the U.S. backing off labeling drug cartels as terrorist groups, Alejandro Hope writes that U.S. officials are not sure who in AMLO's administration to talk to regarding security issues.

He doesn't mention Jared Kushner, who has been the main interlocutor with Mexico for Trump. I've argued that over-personalizing U.S.-Mexican relations was a bad idea, and this actually seems to be an opportunity for using institutional channels. Hope refers to the "aparato de inteligencia estadounidense," though I am not sure precisely who this means. Under Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican government seemed to just have to accept Kushner. There was no other option. Here there at least appears to be an opening for Mexican officials to engage with regular policy makers.


Thursday, December 05, 2019

Decay of the Venezuelan League

Alfonso Tusa writes at The Hardball Times about the Venezuelan League. He starts with the fact that MLB cut ties to the league because of sanctions, but just yesterday the U.S. government exempted the Venezuelan League.

But that doesn't detract from the story, which is about a league in decay, with or without U.S. players. He starts with a description of its storied past, with Luis Aparicio, Bob Gibson, Dave Parker, Rollie Fingers, and so many more. And then now:

Going to the ballpark is not an option for many people anymore. Public transportation is almost not available, and the few vehicles still working are extremely expensive. The league has tried to help by setting 6 p.m. as the new starting time for weekday games, earlier during weekends. The other reason for playing earlier is the rampant insecurity in the streets, which forces people to go home much earlier than they used to. The cost of the tickets is about the cost of a single meal, so many fans cannot even think about going to the stadium because they first have to try to eat. They can’t think about buying beverages and food at the stadium, which is as expensive as the tickets, or even more.
They don't even have enough balls and players cannot throw them into the stands. The play is sub-par and the stands emptier. Even many Venezuelan players prefer to play elsewhere in Latin America during the winter.
How many more times there will be a season like this? The optimistic expect this will be the only time this happens, but that implies the end of the political regime, and that needs much more than simple optimism. But perhaps it is healthier being a dreamer, expecting to leave behind all of the depressing and unhappy images of the totalitarian reality. Better than staying anchored to this dark reality that consumes all of us little by little, every day, like a frog being boiled over a slow fire.
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about the players killed in Venezuela after being attacked on the road. I have to imagine many players will stay away even if they have the option of going. The collapse of the Venezuelan state touches everything.


Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Diplomatic Realism in Latin America

Mike Pompeo gave a speech the State Department heralded as being about U.S. "diplomatic realism." It is quite a statement, full of inconsistencies, logical fallacies, and falsehoods. Basically, diplomatic realism means the U.S. pursues its interests while lying about it.

--"No one in the region any longer believes that authoritarianism is the way forward." Sadly, this isn't true, as Latinobarómetro results show that 28% of Latin Americans think authoritarianism is no worse than democracy. Indeed, support for democracy down dangerously, and we should not assume otherwise.

--He mentions Hezbollah and Iran, which signals he ignores his own analysts about their importance.

--"There is more democratic cooperation in our hemisphere today than at any point in history." This makes no sense.

--"Colombia has closed its border to Venezuela out of concern that protesters from – terrorists from Venezuela might enter." Quite the slip of the tongue there. Protesters are terrorists are far as he is concerned.

--"We cannot tolerate these regimes inviting bad actors in, and trying to turn allied democracies into dictatorships.." This makes no sense.

--He argues that Obama's Cuba policy made everything in Cuba worse, without evidence (because there isn't any).

--After discussing Cuba, where economic sanctions have failed, he notes that sanctions will succeed in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

--He does reject armed force in Venezuela, so there is at least something positive.

--After noting how much the U.S. has punished governments, then going on to discuss punishing Central American countries with aid cuts, he insists U.S. foreign policy is based on "respect for how our neighbors and allies run their affairs." Laughable.

--He then argues that U.S. immigration policy is based on respect for its neighbors, which is too stupid a claim to bother getting into.

--he mentions religious liberty multiple times, which is code for discrimination against the LGBTQ community, contraception, etc.

--He says the U.S. will be "Vigilant that new democratic leaders don’t exploit people’s frustrations to take power, to hijack the very democracy that got them there." There is no shortage of irony there.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Stop With The Cold War 2.0 Stuff

A Stratfor analyst says there is a "Cold War 2.0" in Latin America. This is a lazy argument--anything with 2.0 is lazy--and also wrong.*

Indeed, with threats to Russia's periphery more daunting than ever, it can be argued that the Cold War never really ended for Moscow. But regardless of whether Russia's current actions in Latin America constitute a second Cold War, or if they're instead merely a reinvigoration of the original struggle, it's apparent that many of the same actors are actively involved in the unfolding unrest in Washington's backyard — and largely, for the same reasons. 
The Cold War had the U.S. and the Soviets on opposite ends of an ideological spectrum. The current era does not. There was extensive guerrilla struggle during the Cold War, and now there is not. Latin America suffered military dictatorships, sometimes of long duration, during the Cold War, and now it does not (notwithstanding the Bolivian coup). China is now a major player in Latin America, whereas during the Cold War it was not.

The actors now are different, Russian interests are different, U.S. interest in the region is different, and the Latin American context is different. There is, in fact, virtually no resemblance to the Cold War at all.

I am all for recognizing Russia's threat to democratic institutions around the world, but this is a paranoid narrative that views Russia as responsible for literally everything happening everywhere. Maybe the best resemblance to the Cold War is that there are people who cannot distinguish between domestic and foreign influences on Latin American events.

* Just Google "Cold War 2.0" and you see the myriad ways we are "on the brink" or in the middle of it. Some of them are quite James Bond-ish, so much more dangerous than the original one. Mostly it refers to Russia, but also sometimes to China. Many of the authors write as if they're making a pitch for a TV show.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Don't Support Coups

In a New York Times op-ed, Steve Levitsky and María Victoria Murillo remind us what we should already know: don't support coups.
For a coup to bring democracy, interim governments must exercise extraordinary restraint. Unelected and without a popular mandate, they must limit themselves to forging a consensus around democratic rules of the game and overseeing clean elections. 
Yet anti-populist coups rarely produce such restraint. Having come to power in a polarized environment, with many supporters driven by intense anger and animosity toward the former government, interim leaders are often tempted to engage in partisan revanchism: They indulge in policy reversals, purge the bureaucracy of the former government’s supporters, prosecute former officials and their allies. 
Such measures almost invariably prompt a new round of polarization and conflict. Supporters of the previous government tend to close ranks, radicalize and mobilize against the new government, which, in turn, brings repression. This spiral of mobilization and violence tends to strengthen the hand of government hard-liners who call for the jailing, exile and even banning of the populists in a retreat into authoritarianism.
They warn against the too-common view that the Bolivian coup is good for democracy, because of course the interim government is busily purging and radically changing foreign policy. Plus, it rolls back much of the progress Bolivia was making.
Establishing a civilian rule is a long and difficult process. Each time military officials step in to resolve a crisis, no matter how benign or even democratic their motives may appear to be, the process of institutionalizing civilian control is undermined. Only recently has Latin America began to break out of this vicious cycle. After 1980, the number of coups declined significantly. At least partly as a result, the last three decades have been the most democratic in Latin American history. The renewed willingness to accept and even seek out military intervention is deeply troubling.
I don't care what you think of Evo Morales. His removal by the military is bad, period. Same with Chávez in Venezuela or Zelaya in Honduras. Same with Juan Perón. These coups did terrible long-term damage to democratic institutions and led to so many unnecessary deaths. Bolivian institutions and Bolivians themselves will suffer much more because of this.

It should be so obvious that we don't want the military to be a moderator force, to take Alfred Stepan's term. And yet we don't learn from history.


Monday, November 25, 2019

António Costa Pinto's Latin American Dictatorships in the Era of Fascism

I read António Costa Pinto's new book, Latin American Dictatorships in the Era of Fascism: The Corporatist Wave (2019), which examines corporatism and dictatorship in the 1930s. Given the experiences of Jair Bolsonaro and even the coup government in power now in Bolivia, it is a topic and era worth revisiting.

The 1930s was a time of political experimentation, with elites sometimes equally fearful of electoral democracy and Marxism. Corporatism offered a third way.

During the 1930s, social corporatism became synonymous with the forced unification of organized interests into single units of employers and employees that were closely controlled by the state and which eliminated their independence: especially that of trade unions. Social corporatism offered autocrats a formalized system of interest representation to manage labor relations, legitimizing the repression of free labour unionism (p. 2).
Political corporatism is where these state-controlled units replace representative institutions. The collective as defined by the state eliminates individualism, which is unpredictable and therefore undesirable.

Corporatism was diffused globally during the 1930s. Many saw it as the best alternative to the ills of socialism and liberal democracy. This line of thinking was especially strong in the Catholic Church. The church was, Costa Pinto argues, the first vehicle for diffusion of corporatism in Latin America, as it countered secularism and communism. The economic crash of the late 1920s opened the door in Latin America for modeling Portugal, Spain, and to a lesser extent Italy (the church preferred the Iberian models). Between 1930 and 1934, there were 13 successful coups in the region in an authoritarian wave.

There was significant variation in Latin America, with some more fascist than others, some more social than political. This variation held within countries as well.

He looks at the corporatist experiences across the region with short case studies. What we see is variation and inconsistency. Sometimes it lasted only a short time and faced major opposition. Sometimes there was only a fascist flavor or influence, as in Bolivia, where there was "military socialism with a fascist overtone" (p. 58). Other examples, like the Estado Novo in Brazil, went further in consolidating a corporatist state, though the military overthrew Vargas when he shifted toward populism. And then there was Lázaro Cárdenas, who built a corporatist political system that didn't resemble anything else in Latin America, with its secularism and progressive social policy. Fascists were opposed to Cárdenas.

Aside from the important role of the Catholic Church, Costa Pinto notes that existing Latin American political parties often prevented consolidation of corporatism, for example blocking the creation of a one-party state. Further, the U.S. government pushed back, so that corporatism could co-exist with declaring war against Axis states.

Final note: this book could have used some better proofreading, given its misspelling of names. The author gives special thanks to "Kurk" Weyland, for example.


Thursday, November 21, 2019

Impossible Game of the Bolivian Crisis

Santiago Anria and Kenneth M. Roberts have a nice piece in Foreign Affairs summing up the situation in Bolivia. As they point out, the challenge is to push through the binary arguments between "right-wing coup" and "necessary military action against autocratic government." Evo Morales had been centralizing power, but much of his legacy is very positive and, yes, this was a coup.

More pressingly, the new government is worse in many respects, and could worsen still.

The danger today is that a post-Morales government will focus not on restoring the democratic principles that had eroded under his rule but on rolling back the inclusive policies that were the hallmark of his presidency. Indeed, the self-appointed interim government that succeeded Morales, led by one-time Senator Jeanine Añez and a bevy of staunch right-wing figures, is already taking steps in this direction, with cabinet members seeking to discredit the former president and threatening to arrest “seditious” Morales supporters and journalists. Yet for all his missteps, Morales retains considerable popular support, and any outright attempt to undo his legacy risks sending the country down an uncertain and perilous road to prolonged political conflict and violence.
The point that needs to remain front and center is that Evo Morales presided over one of the most stable and successful eras in Bolivia political history. He guided the economy well, avoiding the Venezuelan pitfalls, and he promoted social policies that remain popular. It is dangerous to focus exclusively on the problems of personalization because you lose sight of why he was so popular in the first place. This isn't Nicolás Maduro we're talking about.

They conclude with some classic political science:
Instead, Bolivian politics is being fought in the streets and could become an impossible game in which forming stable governments is less and less feasible. However this turbulent era ends, the Morales presidency will stand as a lesson for governments in the region—both on the opportunities for lasting reform and on the pitfalls of autocratic temptation.
The "impossible game" reference is to Guillermo O'Donnell's book Modernization and Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism, where among other things he uses game theory to argue that 1955-1966 Argentina was a political game that could not be won, in large part so many political factions were committed to preventing Peronists from holding power even when much of the population supported them. In the Bolivian case, of course this would refer to the MAS. As O'Donnell says, "it is the 'rationality' of party leaders and voters that lead to the erosion and final destruction of the existing political system" (p. 196).

As a result, statements like this from Jeanine Añez are step in the wrong direction:
“President Morales destroyed institutions,” Áñez told the BBC. “That’s what all 21st-century socialists do. We saw that movie in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. And that’s the fear that all Bolivians have.”
She has called for new elections, where the MAS needs free reign to advance candidacies and win elections without fear. Otherwise you really do face "erosion and final destruction."


Buttigieg Called Out For Use of Military in Mexico

I did not watch the debates, but The Washington Post did some fact checking and this caught my eye.

REP. TULSI GABBARD: I think the most recent example of your inexperience in national security and foreign policy came from your recent careless statement about how you as president would be willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels. …. 
BUTTIGIEG: I know that it’s par for the course in Washington to take remarks out of context, but that is outlandish even by the standards of today’s politics. 
GABBARD: Are you saying that you didn’t say that? 
BUTTIGIEG: I was talking about U.S.-Mexico cooperation. We’ve been doing security cooperation with Mexico for years, with law enforcement cooperation and a military relationship that could continue to be developed with training relationships for example.
He continued on:
“Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?” he asked to loud applause. “I’m talking about building up alliances.”
I got some pushback from my original post on this subject, with people arguing that this was just "cooperation." I think Buttigieg is reinforcing what I wrote, which is that in the U.S. we have become horribly casual about the deployment of our military in other countries. Sending troops to Mexico is a bad idea and you should not raise it as a possibility, even with cooperation caveats.

As for his applause lines, it is ignorant to claim that U.S. troops in Mexico would build up our alliance. It would be deeply resented and whatever Mexican president who allowed it would see his or her approval plummet. More people, both Mexicans and U.S. troops, would die than if there was no such troop deployment.

A better answer is "I cannot see a scenario where I would send U.S. troops to Mexico."


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Chile's Economic Legacy

I recommend Paul Posner's take on the Chilean economy and how it left many Chileans behind. I do think, though, that we need to be careful about referring quite so much to Augusto Pinochet.
Chile’s current constitution, which dates back to 1980, was written under Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the dictator who ruled the country from 1973 to 1990. Pinochet is reviled for overseeing several thousand extrajudicial executions, torture and forced disappearances. He was arrested in 1998 on charges of crimes against humanity but died before being tried. 
But he also implemented the free-market reforms that are often credited for Chile’s celebrated economic dynamism. After growing at an average of 4.7% a year, Chile’s economy today is nine times larger than it was in 1990.
All of this is 100% accurate. But 1990 is a generation ago. Since then, Chile had a load of center or center-left presidents. We should not leapfrog them as we lay blame for Chile's political and economic systems.

In other words, this isn't just Pinochet's legacy. It is the Concertación's legacy, even the Socialist Party's legacy. They had years and years to make a dent, and they failed. I wrote all the time about how Bachelet got lumped together with the "pink tide" even though she presided over and did not much change the most capitalist system in the hemisphere.

Yes, Pinochet created the constitution and the economy, but the center-left accepted them and worked within them. As my friend and colleague Silvia Borzutzky wrote in the book we co-edited in 2010:
The end of the Pinochet regime failed to produce dramatic transformations in Chile's political economy. The Concertación governments enhanced the market approach while introducing modifications in the social policy area (p. 88).
Although all Concertación administrations have increased spending in the social policy area, the market model that inspired those policies was not modified (pp. 89-90).
So I agree with everything Paul writes in his article, but this isn't just about Pinochet. It's about the presidents and parties who did very little to alter what he created.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Elizabeth Warren's Twisted Take on Venezuela

Yesterday I criticized Pete Buttigieg for his terrible comments on Mexico. Today it's Elizabeth Warren's turn on Venezuela. On the Pod Save America podcast, she was asked about it. She supports sanctions, but with a particularly twisted logic. I have transcribed a snippet that you can see here. It's right at the end:

Refugee camps are springing up. We should be leading the international community to get help to those people, to make sure they've got food, they've got medicine, they've got care. And frankly, that makes it easier for people who are in Venezuela, if they have fewer people to divide the resources, more people seeing an option that if they get out of the country, at least for a period of time, and that puts more pressure on Maduro.
What she's saying is that she supports providing humanitarian assistance at the border to entice Venezuelans to leave their homes and go to the border, which in turn will put pressure on the Maduro government. Now that is just plain horrible.

She talks vaguely of diplomacy, which I take to mean she is not paying much attention to what's going on. At this point, I am not feeling particularly good about the Democratic candidates' takes on Latin America.


Monday, November 18, 2019

Don't Ever Say You'll Send Troops to Mexico

Of course, we are in the period where a ton of Democratic candidates vie for the nomination. Latin America does not seem to come up very often, though I can't say I am paying close attention. These comments from Pete Buttigieg, however, caught my eye.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said at a Latino forum in Los Angeles on Sunday that he’d be willing to send U.S. troops into Mexico to combat gang and drug violence. 
“There is a scenario where we could have security cooperation,” Buttigieg said. 
Even so, he added a caveat: “I’d only order American troops into conflict if American lives were on the line and if it was necessary to meet treaty obligations.” 
His campaign later clarified that Buttigieg would only be open to military use as a “last resort” in response to Mexican cartel violence or an outside threat that endangers the country’s security.
Even with the caveats and the walk-back, this is a sign of a serious and long-standing problem in the United States. We are utterly careless with regard to use of force abroad, with no discussion at all of the human cost or ethics in general. The catastrophe of Iraq, for example, seems not to have had an impact at all. When Buttigieg says something like this, he figures he is looking tough, which candidates believe they need to do. After all, he was just repeating what a Republican Senator already recently said. This is a bipartisan problem. The average person in the U.S. just shrugs--invade a country, whatever. If we need to.

Can you imagine the result if the United States sent U.S. troops into Mexico to fight the drug war? The human cost would be immense and the operation would be guaranteed to fail. Guaranteed. The entire hemisphere--regardless of ideology--would be united in opposition, which would jeopardize any number of other initiatives and totally isolate the U.S.

On the ground, ask General John J. Pershing how it worked out when it came to the local population. True to the U.S. tradition of ignoring the disasters of foreign intervention, Pershing's failure in Mexico led to him becoming head of U.S. forces in the western front during World War I.


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Judging the Bolivian Coup

In the context of Bolivia, Erica De Bruin is troubled by the U.S. government to accept what it considers to be "good" coups.

A response to the crisis in Bolivia consistent with promoting democratic rule would involve simultaneously condemning both the alleged electoral fraud that triggered the recent crisis as well as the military’s response to it. The temptation to rely on the military to check would-be authoritarians will continue to crop up in the context of mass protests. But the longer-term survival of democratic rule depends on resisting it.
There is an academic/analytic issue here as well. As always, there was (and is) considerable discussion about whether what happened in Bolivia was a coup. In my opinion there was, and my sense is that this is a majority academic view. The military stepped into a political crisis and forced out the president with implied threats in a manner that was not consistent with the constitution.

But then was it a "good" coup, one that opens the door to democratic transition? De Bruin forcefully argues no, saying that there coups rarely lead to democratic outcomes. She provides a link to a political scientist who questioned the idea that all coups were bad (based on the case of Burundi). Now, Javier Corrales has an op-ed in The New York Times leaning that direction. If it's not necessarily good, it might just be the only option.
The best that can be hoped for is that the military sides with moderate civilians, democratic norms, and constitutional rule.
I find this unsettling. All of the "good" coup arguments rely on the assumption that we feel there is an optimal candidate out there with characteristics we like. A "moderate." But what does that mean anyway, beyond just being the person we like? The U.S. has often sought out this fabled moderate, with the Cuban and Nicaraguan cases coming immediately to mind. So Batista and Somoza were too authoritarian and the rebels were too radical. Trying to find Goldilocks tended to mean ignoring local political realities, These so-called moderates weren't acceptable to anyone.

So let's condemn coups, no matter who they overthrow, and let's not just sit back and hope the Latin American militaries make great undemocratic decisions on behalf of democracy. That history is not one we want to repeat.


Friday, November 08, 2019

Generalizing About Latin American Politics

Francisco Toro and James Bosworth have a piece in The Washington Post about how we have to avoid the temptation to generalize too much about Latin American politics, especially in this era of crisis. They note the different demands we see across the region, the stability here with instability there, right, left, and center all mixed up, etc.

For decades, Latin Americanists have been ritually repeating that each country
in the region is different, that each has its own history, social dynamics, political
traditions and cultural idiosyncrasies. For just as long, the rest of Washingtonʼs foreign policy establishment has been ignoring our warnings.
I agree, though comparativists would always leave room open for generalization. The problem is that U.S. policymakers tend to come up with their own that are wrong. All we're hearing now is socialism, socialism, socialism, which is useless when it comes to Chile and any number of other cases. For years we had "pink tide" even while the term had nothing to do with, for example, Colombia and Mexico.

You know what this is? It's really a call for Latin America policy that is more like Barack Obama's. There were certainly problems there--immigration and Honduras come to mind in particular--but I still agree with something I wrote back in 2014:
I like the general thrust of President Obama's policy toward Latin America. More specifically, I like the lack of a one-size-fits-all grand strategy, a focus on positive day-to-day relations on the ground, and hesitance to act too quickly. This does not mean I have agreed with everything the administration has done and I've written about that too.
For Obama, that was part of his general "don't do stupid shit" advice. We don't need a huge Alliance for Progress 2.0. We need careful, reality-based policy.


Thursday, November 07, 2019

Demography and Central America Migration

Longtime readers will know I've done work on demographics of immigration to the United States, which is chronically understudied. Therefore I am always happy to see it placed front and center, such as in this piece by Michael Clemens and Jimmy Graham from the Center for Global Development.

The Northern Triangle has recently begun to fall off a demographic cliff. There will be fewer youths entering the labor market in the region in years to come than since the 1950s. In roughly a decade, migration pressure is likely to fall sharply as a result. Much of today’s pressure will naturally ease.
This sounds good, except for the fact that my dad took a look at the numbers and they're wrong.
The problem with their analysis is that the data simply don't show what they say. The United Nations demographers' medium projections show that the youthful, migration-age populations in Guatemala and Honduras will continue to increase in number for at least another decade, and after that we will see only a gradual slowdown. It is true that the number of youths in El Salvador will be a bit smaller in 2030 than now, but the change is not dramatic. There is no current evidence that any of the three Northern Triangle countries are falling off a demographic cliff. As much as I would have liked for their story to be true, the data simply don't paint the picture they have put out there.
So no cliff.

They note how the same happened with Mexico, which my dad and I pointed out back in 2010 in our book Irresistible Forces:
[T]he end of the demographic fit should also mean that the Mexican labor pool, in particular, will be smaller, thereby increasing the chances that a given individual in Mexico will find employment in Mexico (p. 89). 
The other two facts the authors point out are the efficacy of work visas (i.e. legal avenues for immigration) and the complexity of aid. Some aid can, in fact, increase migration.
National poverty contributes to the lack of local opportunity for the girl, certainly, but her own family’s emergence from poverty is part of what places migration within their reach. This is why, as poor countries get rich, emigration typically rises at first, only falling later.
This is true, and is related to what I just wrote about yesterday with regard to Guatemala.


Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Microfinance and Guatemalan Emigration

Research shows that the most poor are less likely to migrate to those who are poor but have access to some resources. As Benjamin Helms and David Leblang note:
For countries with low levels of per capita income, we observe little migration due to a liquidity constraint: at this end of the income distribution, individuals do not have sufficient resources to cover even minor costs associated with moving abroad. Increasing income helps to decrease this constraint, and consequently we observe increased levels of emigration as incomes rise.
This excellent Washington Post story shows how U.S.-backed microfinance loans in Guatemala spur people to emigrate.
What enables those payments is a vast system of credit that includes financial institutions set up and supported by the United States and the World Bank, part of the global boom in microfinance over the past two decades. The U.S. government and the World Bank have each extended tens of millions of dollars in funding and loan guarantees, money that helped create what is now Guatemala’s biggest microfinance organization, Fundación Génesis Empresarial, and backed one of its largest banks, Banrural. 
But in Nebaj and communities like it around the country, those financial institutions now serve Guatemalans eager to migrate.
In short, these loans give people in a very poor country access to the necessary resources for emigration. They wouldn't have access otherwise. It would be one thing if they managed to reach and stay in the United States, but often they don't. They end up back in Guatemala and in deep debt, from which they cannot recover.

I am teaching a graduate seminar on U.S.-Latin American relations this semester, and we were just talking about the difficulty of explaining the jump of Central American migrants in 2014. You have to separate constants (i.e. poverty and violence) from variables. This is something that did change.

We also talk about unintended consequences, which are a constant in U.S. policy. Decision-makers routinely fail to see long-term ramifications, some of which should be obvious while others are harder to foresee. In this particular case, microfinance--which does work for some people--just becomes just another hustle.


Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Alberto Fernández Visits AMLO

I am quoted in this Associated Press story about Alberto Fernández visiting AMLO. The basic question is whether this means much for the future. Nicolás Maduro, for example, claimed AMLO could lead a new front against imperialism, with Argentina by his side. My take was that this wasn't going to happen.

On the Mexican side, AMLO does not seem to be interested in being a regional leader. He said as much:

"No (encabezaré un eje progresista), porque cada país tiene su propia realidad... su propia historia. Por eso es el principio de autodeterminación de los pueblos, de ahí viene, cada pueblo tiene su propia historia, su idiosincrasia, y cada quien tiene que actuar de acuerdo a sus circunstancias", expresó el mandatario mexicano.
He has his own problems and isn't going to make international enemies. He has been careful not to get Donald Trump's negative attention, so a high-risk, low-payoff anti-imperialism front does not appeal to him.

On the Argentine side, why travel to AMLO? My take here was that Alberto Fernández wanted to make a symbolic statement about his political orientation. That means a country with a stable leftist (or center-left) government. That rules out Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela. He could go to Uruguay, I suppose, but there are indications the left won't be ruling there much longer. That left Mexico. I will be surprised if there is much more to it than that.

Lastly, visiting a leftist president first allows Fernández to next visit countries in the southern cone that are much more important to Argentina.  I don't see a "Latin American left rising," as Reuters put it.


Monday, November 04, 2019

The Eternal Latin American Military

It was just about a generation ago that studying civil-military relations was a hot topic. It's what I did in Chile and plenty of others were doing the same around the region. Most, like me, shifted to over topics over time (David Pion-Berlin is a notable exception--he's been studying this forever). By the mid-2000s or so, people tended to return to ignoring the role of the armed forces, deeming them as just another political actor (defending its bureaucratic interests) in an era of democracy.

Now interest is starting to perk up again as presidents either use the military to keep order or make a point of having the military's support.

I wrote a blog post about Javier Corrales' article on the topic. The New York Times warns of the military's return. The Mexican military (through a retired officer) is criticizing its president, which is highly unusual there and is a bad sign. Over the course of this year, we've seen analyses about the military's (re)growing power in Latin America. This all sounds so familiar.

As Brian Loveman reminded us in his 1999 book For la Patria: Politics and the Armed Forces in Latin America, "The armed forces' role as "guardians" in a system of "protected democracy" is thus part of Latin American political culture and is not restricted to the military subculture and militarylore" (xiv). This does not mean the military wants to govern or even to control decisions, but it does mean that presidents lean on the military for political support in ways that are often not healthy for democracy, while military commanders see themselves as ultimate guardians of the national common good, which at times means making political statements. Ousting the president or even taking over entirely is just the extreme version.

Added to the mix, of course, is the fact that democracy's shine has currently lost its luster in the region. As we see in LAPOP polling, support for democracy is down, from 67.6% in 2004 to 57.5% in 2018/2019. That is a dismaying drop. In 10 countries support is under 50% (versus 6 above 50%). The lowest is in Peru, and the highest in Costa Rica (which famously does not have an army).

Folks, the military never went away. We just weren't paying very much attention for a long time.


Saturday, November 02, 2019

Russia Goes All In On Maduro

I recently talked to Jason Marczak about China's role in Venezuela, which along with Russia is Nicolás Maduro's lifeline. What we're seeing, though, is that ideology and rivalry is showing the clear differences between the two countries' approaches. China is the pragmatic one, looking for return on investment, not wanting to throw good money after bad. Rivalry with the U.S. doesn't make that worth it.

Russia, on the other hand, is literally showering the government with euro and dollar bills, sent by planeload, to keep Maduro afloat. This is money the Russians will never get back, and they know that. But they're all in. This is all about Russia's position vis-a-vis the United States. Russia wants to project into the western hemisphere as tit for tat, and does not want to look weak (either at home or abroad) by losing or giving up on Venezuela.

It's not a particularly risky diplomatic move for Vladimir Putin. The U.S. is not going to retaliate, and certainly as long as Donald Trump is in office, Putin knows there will be no real repercussions. The problem Putin faces is financial, because this there are diminishing returns. As time goes on, the benefits flatten out and eventually become negative, in part thanks to Russia itself.

Think of it as something like this:

As long as the military backs the regime, this can go on a long time. As in Afghanistan, the Russians will likely feel compelled to keep going given sunk costs. Would Putin just decide one day to walk away? Maybe, but it seems unlikely.


Thursday, October 31, 2019

What is a Coup, Anyway?

The word "coup" is now used to mean almost everything. Donald Trump even uses it to describe an entirely constitutional investigation. Evo Morales uses it when talking about the opposition complaining about an unplanned and unexplained stoppage of vote counting. Nicolás Maduro uses it, and he's actually right. It's bandied about all the time.

Andrés Malamud amd Leiv Marsteintredet have done a study--a forthcoming academic article in Political Studies that you can see capsulized here as a blog post--about this phenomenon. Her are the three main points they make:

1. Coups are are increasingly rare, but Latin American instability is not.

2. Inertia leads us to keep expanding the old term rather than employing new ones.

3. It allows the targets to present themselves more as victims.

They go on to classify interruptions of government according to various types based on the perpetrator, the victim, and the tactic. The "classic" coup is when the perpetrator is a state agent, the victim is the executive, and it is illegal.

Actually, this sounds like Clue. It's the president, with the military, in the hall with the candlestick.

Anyway, other outcomes are revolution, autogolpe, and political judgment (e.g. impeachment). Unfortunately, I don't see much relief from the overuse and abuse of the term. Their third point is too tempting for presidents under fire: "coup" sounds bad so you use it, just as you use terrorist, fascist, socialist, leftist, genocide, and other loaded terms with specific meanings that people often ignore and don't understand.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dealing With Double Standards

Steve Ellner and Teri Mattson have a piece in Jacobin making what I would consider the uncontroversial point that the Trump administration has a double standard with Venezuela vs. Honduras. Honduras is run by a deeply corrupt elite tied to drug trafficking and that's pretty much OK for the United States.

Double standards are worth pointing out to the general public, and in fact it is even more useful if you explain that they are a permanent fixture of U.S. foreign policy globally. The U.S. does not forcefully push for human rights in Saudi Arabia, and happily trades with China while blocking Cuba. The authors argue that "Under Trump, these inconsistencies and gaps between rhetoric and practice have widened." I disagree--Reagan lavished praise on genocidal maniacs and Trump's open support for the Saudis just follows a long tradition.

However, pointing them out is the easy part. It is much harder to draw a policy conclusion from them, which analysts rarely, if ever, do. If we accept there is double standard, then we should make a policy recommendation to remedy it. In the Venezuela-Honduras case, here are the options:

1. Do nothing in Venezuela as we do nothing in Honduras

2. Attack Honduras as vigorously as we do Venezuela

3. Something in the middle, with muted criticism and use of multilateral approaches

This exercise is particularly useful because it seems to me that most critics of double standards would prefer that the U.S. treat corrupt allies forcefully. But to avoid a double standard, that would require doing the same with other corrupt countries.

Some of this comes down to perception. They argue the following:

Even if one accepts as accurate the denunciations against the government of President Nicolas Maduro put forward by most of its critics, Venezuela doesn’t reach Honduras’s level of unethical and undemocratic behavior.
This is not obviously true. But setting that aside, the authors do not follow up with a discussion of what should happen in Honduras and Venezuela to get rid of the double standard. That, I think, is where the meaty debate would be.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Podcast Episode 68: Understanding the Bolivian Crisis

On Episode 68 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Miguel Centellas, who is Croft Instructional Associate Professor of Sociology & International Studies at The University of Mississippi. He does research on Bolivian politics, electoral politics, and measuring democracy as well. He was on the podcast way back in December 2016. At that point, Evo Morales had decided to run despite the failed referendum. This time we discuss the current crisis, what the opposition is like, and the state of Bolivian democracy, complete with a Star Wars reference.

You can find this podcast at iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and anywhere else podcasts can be found. If there is anyplace I've missed, please contact me. Subscribe and rate, even if just to tell me I am a crazed leftist professor.


Monday, October 28, 2019

Sorting Out the Chilean Protests

The social and political explosion in Chile seems on the one hand to be so simple. Academics and activists have been arguing for a long time that the economic model generates inequality, and the political parties have been in disfavor for quite a while.

Lucas Perelló notes that Chile is unequal, economic elites are grabbing whatever they can, and the political establishment doesn't care. Patricio Navia points to "high dependence on copper, high levels of inequality and an increasingly unresponsive and corrupt political system." Pamela Constable, who has reported on Chile for many years and co-authored a very good book on it, calls it "a democracy that has restored political freedom but failed to meet rising expectations of economic fairness." Irina Domurath and Stefano Palestini Céspedes make a similar argument: "While the immediate trigger of the protests was an increase in subway prices, underlying the unrest is a deep social discontent over the results of decades of neoliberal policies."

But none of this explains timing. Protesters call for a constituent assembly, but that's not new either. The 1980 constitution has long been a bone of contention given its authoritarian origin (Google Jaime Guzmán to get a feel for that). Student protests have been happening for years, but not like this. The subway fare increase was a few cents, but it was a straw that broke the camel's back. The difficult is understanding when the camel's had enough, so to speak. From a comparative perspective, this is a huge question.

Therefore we move to solutions. Interestingly, a new constitution won't resolve the economic issues, but it would address the military response. This isn't likely any attack on capitalism per se, but rather a demand for greater attention to working class problems, public transportation being one of many. At least Sebastiám Piñera appears to have changed course, though new elite faces in the cabinet don't necessarily mean real change. There are comparisons to 2013 Brazil, but we need to be careful about that because the political context is quite different: Chile has experienced electoral shifts from left to right and back again, whereas Dilma was president after years of PT rule. And the corruption aspect is less evident in Chile than it was in Brazil. But Piñera needs to put together a broad-based group that will start proposing economic solutions.

Convincing Chileans that you actually care about their problems is no small project. Hopefully this just doesn't devolve into arguments about "populism." Do that too much and you'll end up with more protests.


Friday, October 25, 2019

New Articles on Latin America

The Latin Americanist, Volume 63-3, September 2019, is now live through Project MUSE.

Articles in this issue:

·         Galia Benitez, Mapping Colombia’s Counternarcotic Networks: Latin America Increase Partnerships

This paper aims to explain the emergence of an antinarcotics network operating between Colombia and several other Latin American and Caribbean countries. This paper first maps out Colombia's antinarcotics deep collaboration, using formal Social Network Analysis (SNA) and centrality measurements to identify the structural locations and evolution of Colombia's transnational joint antinarcotics operations from 2010 to 2015. Second, it explores the reasons why Colombia has engaged in an increasing number of multilateral operations at a regional level with its neighboring countries in the last years. The results illustrate that since 2015, there have been policies that embrace a growing number of multilateral operations at the regional level, despite the fact that Colombia's coordinated antinarcotics responses have so far been mostly bilateral (e.g., coordinated with the US and UK). This diversification has been promoted by multilateral regional antinarcotics agreements like AMERIPOL, whose structures are more conducive to a cooperative approach, and reflects an emergent sense among Latin American countries that drug trafficking is their shared problem and responsibility.

·         Jürgen Buchenau, The Rise and Demise of a Regional Power: The Multilateralism of Mexican Dictator Porfirio Díaz, 1876-1911

This article sketches the international policies of Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz, whose long reign (1876–1880 and 1884–1911) coincided with the evolution of a multilateral approach that sought to limit the growth of U.S. influence in the circum-Caribbean, balance U.S. investments in Mexico with European ones, and assert its own interests. Eager to ascribe significance to the manifold failings of the Díaz regime in order to explain the coming of the Mexican Revolution, few historians have undertaken to understand Porfirian foreign policy on its own terms. The fact that Díaz's balancing act ultimately failed should not detract from the conclusion that it registered modest successes for many years.

·         Leopoldo Pena, Calling on Difference in Javier Castellanos Martínez Dxiokze xha … bene walhall/Gente del mismo corazón

This article analyzes the discourse of difference in Dxiokze xha. . . bene walhall/Gente del mismo corazón (2014), a novel by Javier Castellanos, Zapotec writer, poet, musician and author of three other bilingual (Zapotec/Spanish) novels: Wila che be ze lhao/Cantares de los vientos primerizos (1994), Da kebe nho Seke gon ben xhi'ne Guzio/ Relación de hazañas del hijo del Relámpago (2005), Laxdao yelazeralle/El corazón de los deseos (2007). In Dxiokze xha. . . bene walhall/Gente del mismo corazón difference is a trope echoing the language of twentieth century indigenous movements and allowing the author to revisit historical events in an effort to demythify national narratives. The article argues that in revisiting historical episodes, Castellanos proposes polycentrism as an alternative to the liberal notion of a harmonious pluricultural nation. To do so, Castellanos employs the dilla guka-dillaxiwi, a Zapotec narrative genre that subdues the individualistic, Promethean and hegemonic position of narrative authority. Moreover, his use of the dilla guka-dillaxiwi responds to a cultural turn in which anthropology and literature were seeking to break away from the policies of indigenismo and set out to form indigenous intellectuals, cultural workers, as agents for a pluricultural nation. Considering the importance of this cultural turn, the article contributes to Latin American and indigenous literature by analyzing the interaction between anthropology and literature. And, as a way of inviting further research on the connections between Mexican indigenous literature and anthropology, the article highlights Castellanos' encounters with national figures, Guillermo Bonfil Batalla and Carlos Montemayor, driving forces for Mexico's turn to pluriculturality at a moment when difference became a disputed topic for indigenous and national intellectuals in multiple fields.


Thursday, October 24, 2019

Politicizing the Latin American Military

Javier Corrales has an article in Americas Quarterly warning that the political use of the military that we're seeing around Latin America will not lead anywhere good. I agree. However, I think we need to shift the argument a bit.

Latin America used to be known as the land of the military junta. It is now at risk of becoming the land of militarized democracies.  
I would argue that it already is, and has been. I studied civil-military relations extensively at the beginning of my career almost twenty years ago and that was clearly evident. It's not always every country all the time, but it's always been there. Brian Loveman wrote a lot about how deeply embedded Latin American militaries are in their constitutions, which in many cases are not amended or not enough.

I think it's more useful to consider this a long-standing problem because it requires structural changes and not just policy shifts. Specifically, it requires constitutional changes to the military's role and to the president's ability to decree emergency powers.
Empowering the military is worrisome, even when most citizens support the idea. Governments end up being indebted to generals. Generals get too used to certifying or setting policies. Policies become too focused on the need to maximize security. And security is conceptualized mostly in terms of repression.
Once again, I totally agree, so let's re-examine all those constitutions, all the myriad laws that allow presidents to give in to the temptation to use maximum force when faced with crisis.


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Podcast Episode 67: China & Venezuela

In Episode 67 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Jason Marczak,  Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. He’s been active in studying Latin America for a long time, previously with the Americas Society and Council for the Americas. Yesterday the council hosted an event “China, Oil, and Venezuela: Myths, Reality, and the Future.” (Here is the link to video of that event) In particular, we talk about what interests China has in Venezuela and what role it might play in an eventual political transition.

You can find this podcast at iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and anywhere else podcasts can be found. If there is anyplace I've missed, please contact me. Subscribe and rate, even if just to tell me I am wrong about everything.


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Joshua Davis Talk

Joshua Davis wrote Spare Parts, which I reviewed last year and which became the common reading for the university this year. As chair of the Common Reading Committee, I had the pleasure of having dinner with him and seeing him give a talk on campus this past week (big crowd, 700ish). He's very engaging, and had a message for students about how your career is not a linear thing. He told a great story about how on a lark he went to an arm wrestling competition to watch and was encouraged to participate. He paid the $20 entrance fee and promptly lost two matches. Since there were only four people in his weight, he came in fourth, which made him eligible to go to the world championships as an alternate. Since someone was on probation, he did, to Poland. He then told his neighbor about the adventure, and that person happened to be the Executive Editor of Wired. He was encouraged to make a pitch, and his journalism career began.

He gave us an update on the protagonists of the book, now adults, which like his book is neither entirely negative nor positive. He had never imagined the book would be so relevant this long. He wrote the book some years ago, and in 2013 remember that the Senate passed an immigration reform bill, and there was hope--not very high, but still--of some real legislation before House Republicans killed it.

If you haven't read Spare Parts, it is well worth your time. There is also a movie with some stars in it, which I have not seen but which Davis says is pretty good, though they Disneyfied it and ended with the competition rather than the struggles that continued afterward.


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mixing Military and Police Functions in Chile

The Chilean army is at the northern border to fight drug trafficking. They will "track and identify criminals."

El Comando Conjunto Norte, dependiente del Estado Mayor Conjunto de Chile dirige la coordinación de las distintas capacidades de las Fuerzas Armadas con las fuerzas policiales. Los militares prestan el apoyo logístico y tecnológico para rastrear e identificar a los criminales, mientras los elementos de las fuerzas policiales son responsables de aprehenderlos.
Augusto Varas, who was at the forefront of publishing on Chilean civil-military relations in the 1980s, published an interesting article at the Fundación EQUITAS site on the military and internal order under Sebastián Piñera. This isn't just about drugs--it's about concern over what the military mission should be. In July he decreed the military would become part of the fight against drugs at the border, even in May he had said this wasn't a it was trained for.

Varas notes how expanding the military's mission beyond its profession has been a hallmark of Piñera's two terms, and goes hand-in-hand with a market orientation that sees the military budget as something to be used for whatever the government wants rather than strategically constructing the military's proper mission and leaving other pressing problems--climate change, fires, earthquakes, drugs, etc.--to other state agencies.

Further, and more troubling, it gives the military an internal orientation and the mission to keep internal order, which is consistently a source of violence.
Así, el Decreto 265 es una mala idea y debe ser abandonada. Con malos y peligrosos resultados en otros países, tiende a consolidar un espacio en el que se diluyen las fronteras entre lo militar y lo civil, lo nacional y lo extranjero, lo castrense y lo político, lo republicano y lo autocrático.
The same goes in the United States, where the military should not be involved in patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

New LAPOP Data

The Latin American Public Opinion Project has released their 2018/2019 AmericasBarometer data. This "Topical Brief" provides an introduction, then you can look at specific country reports on their website. There are a handful now and I assume more to come.

The upshot: Latin Americans are decreasingly happy about democracy. In fact, people who use social media are least satisfied with it. I can see that--swim around in political Twitter (or your friend's incessant political Facebook posts) for a while and see how you feel about the world afterward.

If you read through the reports from Central American countries but also Mexico, you can easily answer the question of why people are emigrating. They see the economy as bad and security as worse, and many have been victims of crime.

Some other interesting tidbits:

--Mexicans are more satisfied with democracy after AMLO's election.

--Guatemalans have more confidence in the military than in CICIG

--Guatemalans have the most confidence in the evangelical church

--both the least educated and the richest Hondurans have the highest support for democracy

--almost 2/3 of Salvadorans are satisfied with public education

--perception of corruption has been declining in Ecuador.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Evo's Bid To Stay In Power

Ben Raderstorf and Michael J. Camilleri have a good op-ed in The Washington Post about Evo Morales, who is running for president (yet) again in Sunday's election. They note that Bolivians show clear signs of tiring of his presidency and they express concern that he will gradually govern in a more authoritarian manner. He has centralized power over time.

Basically, this is a question of whether Bolivia looks more politically like Venezuela and Nicaragua, with suppression of dissent and closing off of democratic spaces, or more like Ecuador, where Rafael Correa walked away. Correa's choice is more democratic and better for the country in the long term, but unfortunately he doesn't make that choice look very attractive. He is living in exile, hounded by the Ecuadorian judicial system and funded by the Russians, where he frantically and unsuccessfully tries to make himself politically relevant using Twitter. That doesn't tilt the decision-making calculus in a democratic direction.

One twist here that they point out is the notion that Morales is courting agribusiness. As Linda Farthing argues in a recent issue of Latin American Perspectives (a leftist academic journal):

Over its 12 years in power, Bolivia’s MAS government has made significant advances in expanding inclusion and reducing poverty. In the process, it has steadily been transformed into a hegemonic force that is increasingly dependent on expedient and pragmatically based compromises with economic elites. Concurrently, social movement influence and participation in the government have steadily declined. After 2009, when an uprising by Eastern elites had been quashed and MAS gained a congressional majority, the MAS missed an opening to advance its original project of structural change, opting instead for a more expedient strategy that has kept it in power at the cost of accommodating elites and debilitating social movements.
That sounds rather Nicaragua-like. But will it make him lose?

Morales currently leads in the polls, though there was controversy (and even threatened legal action) when a new poll showed him failing to win a first round. He needs either 50% or 40% with a 10% margin over the second place finisher, and the opposition is not united. It would be a surprise and a major shift if he actually lost.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Will Trump Lose the Hardliner Vote in Florida?

The clash of bases for President Trump is, as so many other things in the administration, unusual and self-defeating. On the one hand, we have the traditional appeal to Cuban-Americans and now also Venezuelan-Americans about harsh policies toward those respective governments. Freedom and all that. On the other, we have the appeal to the racist and rabidly anti-immigrant base, which does not want non-white immigrants of any kind.

That creates what the Associated Press describes today for Cuba.

Since the end of the Obama administration, the number of Cubans deported from the U.S. has increased more than tenfold to more than 800 in the past year as the Trump administration enforces a new policy inked just days before it took over. It is also imposing its own sharp limits on who is eligible for asylum. That’s an unwelcome development for growing numbers of asylum-seeking Cubans who had long benefited from a generous U.S. approach and their government’s unwillingness to take its people back.
So remember that Obama ended the infamous "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, so that part is not new. The big difference is that Obama viewed it as part of an overall policy of engagement:
During my Administration, we worked to improve the lives of the Cuban people - inside of Cuba - by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world. Sustaining that approach is the best way to ensure that Cubans can enjoy prosperity, pursue reforms, and determine their own destiny. As I said in Havana, the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people.
Trump kept the new immigration policy and ended the engagement, and even though Obama was an active deporter-in-chief, Trump takes it to an entirely new level with a blanket policy of basically wanting to deny asylum to anyone. And he also cut consular services to make it almost impossible for anyone to get a visa legally.

I've written before about how he touts his hard line against Venezuela, which exacerbates emigration, then refuses to allow Venezuelans to find refuge in the United States.

The big question is how this affects Florida in 2020. Trump won the state by only just over 100,000 votes so he cannot afford to lose many voters. Now, many of those voters are the other base, the one that likes tough talk but does not want more non-white people coming in. But what would it take for Trump lose the hardline Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American vote? Whoever becomes the Democratic candidate would be well-served to bring up the refugee/asylum issue.

For the time being, Trump's position is entirely anti-immigrant and everything else is subservient to that. People who have his ear (such as Marco Rubio) will try to get him to find some solution, but there is no way to know if he would follow it.


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