Thursday, February 28, 2019

Possible Sign That US Intervention in Venezuela is Less Likely

I've expressed my concern that being seen weak could prompt Donald Trump to launch some type of military operation in Venezuela. A week ago I laid out some of the possible outcomes after the failed February 23 attempt to get aid into Venezuela. But there is something I missed. Something so obvious that I almost slapped my forehead for missing it. A Trump classic.

When you lose, declare victory and move on.
President Trump said Thursday that U.S. aid supplies had gotten into Venezuela, despite the country's authoritarian leader publicly refusing to allow shipments. 
"We're sending supplies, supplies are getting through a little bit more. It's not easy," Trump said during a press conference in Vietnam after nuclear summit talks failed with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 
 We're getting them into some of the cities and some of the areas that need them the most. It's very difficult, not an easy job."
This is good news. If Trump convinces himself that he did not fail, then he does not feel weak. If he does not feel weak, he will not intervene to make up for it. That doesn't mean he won't intervene, of course, but it decreases the overall probability.


Is Political Science Relevant?

Michael Desch makes an oft-repeated argument at The Chronicle that Political Science is no longer policy relevant. I've refuted this argument many times over the years:




2014 (which was Nicholas Kristoff)

There are problems with translation, especially with sophisticated methodologies (I organized a LASA panel about the academia-policy connection in 2014). We need to consciously bridge that gap. Many, many people already are.

There are boatloads of political scientists publishing op-eds in major newspapers, writing posts at The Monkey Cage (which has a national, and definitely DC, audience) or other online outlets, giving presentations at conferences hosted by the government (e.g. State and DoD), getting grants from the U.S. government (not just NSF but also Minerva, which is aimed at the social sciences), tweeting to thousands, or even tens of thousands, of people on policy, talking on podcasts, or even working in the government (which has been true in recent years of a number of political science professors).

I think there is a case to be made that political science is more widely read and relevant now than ever before. There are far more avenues to reach the eyeballs of the public and policy makers than in the past. If I had these ideas 30 years ago, what could I even do? Maybe write them in an email to the few people who had an account. That's about it.

Barack Obama talked about reading How Democracies Die, written by two political scientists. How much more relevant do you want?


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Bad Takes on Venezuela

People are opining non-stop about Venezuela. Including me, of course. I have collected examples of what I consider bad takes or erroneous arguments. I am not linking because I am not trying to start fights with anyone in particular.

1. Just because people with hard currency can shop does not mean there are not widespread shortages, especially for people without hard currency.

2. Opposing Maduro is not the same as supporting Trump.

3. The converse is also true--just being a Trump opponent should not make you a knee-jerk supporter of Maduro.

4. If you call for dialogue without preconditions, it means you prefer the status quo and hope it remains.

5. Just because Venezuela has oil is not automatically a reason for the U.S. to intervene. (We already have good access to it.)

6. The group of Venezuelans you spoke to is not a representative sample. So don't claim it as such.

7. You cannot call the 2018 presidential election free and fair, unless you consider those words to include imprisonment of political opponents, intimidation, media harassment, etc.

8. Don't argue that the U.S. is not infringing any more on Venezuelan sovereignty than Cuba is. (One is invited, one is not, even if you do not like it).

9. Stop comparing this to Chile in 1973. Even Ariel Dorfman calls BS on that.

10. Whether or not you label Maduro a "dictator" is meaningless and nit-picky.

11. The Venezuelan economy has nothing to do with any policy being proposed in the United States.

12. U.S. sanctions (which were quite limited) did not cause the Venezuelan economy to collapse, though the PDVSA sanctions are exacerbating it.

There, got those off my chest.

Update (2/28/19): I've been told there is some confusion about whether these are bad takes or good takes. Or perhaps bad takes made good. The answer: read them however you want.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Chances of US Armed Intervention in Venezuela

I am quoted in this Deutsche Welle article about the possibility of U.S. intervention. See my post yesterday on how there is no good policy options as well. As of now, I see all of the following as true.

1. Intervention is more likely now than it was before February 23. The aid gambit failed and the Trump administration is on its heels. As I've written a number of times, my main fear is what Trump will do if seen as weak (especially if combined with #7).

2. Latin America does not want armed intervention. The Lima Group said so explicitly. Brazil and Colombia--key U.S. allies--were clear on that.

3. Europe does not want intervention. The European Union has been clear on this.

4. The United Nations does not want military action.

5. The United States has a history of intervening unilaterally (or mostly so) in Latin America and elsewhere even without support.

6. Given the lack of support, land invasion is very unlikely. Aerial bombing is more so as a way to frighten the Venezuelan military into defection.

7. A spark can throw all the above into disarray. For example, famed Univision reporter Jorge Ramos and others were detained and their equipment because he didn't like their questions (more specifically, they showed Nicolás Maduro images of Venezuelans eating from garbage trucks). This reinforces what I already thought, which is that Maduro is not a particularly smart person and could easily do something that gives a perfect excuse for military action. This has a long history in U.S.-Latin American relations.

8. However, Mike Pence made a statement with the Lima Group and promised only sanctions while asking other countries to freeze assets. It was definitely un-warlike.

In sum, chances of armed intervention are not high, but they are very real and highly contextual, in the sense that an unexpected and unintended spark can start a fire.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Venezuela: No Good Options.

The Washington Post reports on the push for armed intervention of some kind in Venezuela.

Vice President Pence will travel to Colombia on Monday to meet with regional leaders — including the head of the Venezuelan opposition, Juan Guaidó — and discuss potential options for a more muscular front against Maduro. While the White House originally cast Saturday’s aid push on the Venezuelan border as a potential tipping point for ousting Maduro, administration officials said Sunday that the weekend’s violence had frustrated those plans, making new action necessary.
Pence plans to announce “clear actions” to respond to the weekend’s clashes, though he is not likely to address whether the U.S. military would get involved, a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plans, told reporters Sunday.
Marco Rubio is trying to stir everything up with bloody tweets of Gaddafi. He left up the Manuel Noriega one, just adding to the inaccurate parallel to Panama. All of the U.S. war mongering only makes it harder for the Venezuelan military to defect.

So what now? Adam Isacson runs down details about what an invasion might look like. It's lengthy and not easy to just summarize, so I strongly suggest you read it yourself. Frank Mora, who as a former DoD official knows his stuff, had a few comments about it and puts the chance of U.S. intervention at less than 10%. Noel Maurer separately argues why the U.S. won't invade Venezuela (though with plenty of caveats, specifically not ruling out aerial attacks). The bottom line is that armed intervention will inflict damage and death, and possibly be very drawn out.

My worry, as I've said before, is the Trump Factor. He has been reticent to use force, but is also highly sensitive to being viewed as weak. And, of course, he has people around him who want to invade. Juan Guaidó also wants it, or at least something more forceful. At least Trump is currently distracted by North Korea and the border obsession, but Guaidó will want immediate attention to avoid losing all his political momentum, just as every past opposition effort did.

The only alternative viable option is negotiation that includes an interim president and presidential elections, along with freeing political prisoners and opening up media, among other things. At this point, Maduro has no incentive to accept that, so would have to be forced into it internally. We have not seen evidence of that yet from the outside.

If there is no invasion and no dialogue, then we stay in stalemate, essentially waiting for the Venezuelan economy to fall apart completely, perhaps by more multilaterally imposed sanctions. This entails deep suffering for Venezuelans, who we are purportedly trying to help. Then we're back to my Zimbabwe comparison. Suffering alone does not prompt regime change.


Friday, February 22, 2019

There is Venezuela Consensus: Trump Not Following It

We have reached a point of truly remarkable consensus on Venezuela. I have two views below. One is from a conservative former Bush administration official. The other is from a former editor at TeleSur, the media mouthpiece for Hugo Chávez. You can probably tell which is which, but their messages are so similar.

Here's one:

Stalin González, a top opposition lawmaker, suggested earlier this month that a transitional government should include representatives of the ruling “chavismo” movement and military leadership to guarantee the political stability needed to hold new elections. “We need to give space to the chavismo that is not Maduro because we need political stability,” he said. It is important to remember that not all officials who follow Chávez are crooks or human rights abusers.
Here's the other:
Governing institutions should not be confused with people, and solidarity with states behaving badly only discourages the self-criticism that a genuinely revolutionary movement should crave. In Venezuela, this encourages the same self-defeating behavior, escalated since the defeat of 2015, that has led a majority of Venezuelans to feel their government does not act with their best interests in mind.
The consensus is that Venezuelans deserve a free and fair (and inclusive!) presidential election and that unilateral action by the United States is counter-productive. Obviously their views diverge on whether military force should ever be considered a serious option. But that is a huge consensus from polar ideological opposites.

This is why it is so frustrating to hear that Mike Pence is going to Colombia so that he can berate the Maduro and the Venezuelan military some more. The Trump administration seems to be oblivious to the consensus and so acts completely against it. This is a "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" kind of thing. There is unheard of political consensus. Don't screw it up in a misguided attempt to claim all the credit.


Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Humanitarian Aid Plan in Venezuela

According to diputado José Trujillo, here is the plan for the humanitarian aid on February 23.

1. Go to Cúcuta, Colombia; Roraima, Brasil; la isla de Curazao; Puerto Cabello y La Guaira. Note: the government says it is closing borders at Curazao, Aruba and Bonaire.

2. Get a human chain of volunteers who have signed up through a special website.

3. If the Venezuelan military intervenes, inform them they are committing a crime of war and against humanity and therefore they will be subject to "international action."

4. If it gets worse, use Article 187 of the Venezuelan constitution, which gives the National Assembly the right to bring foreign forces. Note: this seems to be a shaky use of the language in that article, which refers to foreign contracts. Add Article 13 and you have a problem:

Artículo 13. El territorio no podrá ser jamás cedido, traspasado, arrendado, ni en forma alguna enajenado, ni aun temporal o parcialmente, a Estados extranjeros u otros sujetos de derecho internacional. 
El espacio geográfico venezolano es una zona de paz. No se podrán establecer en él bases militares extranjeras o instalaciones que tengan de alguna manera propósitos militares, por parte de ninguna potencia o coalición de potencias.
Meanwhile, the Commanding General of the Colombian military visited U.S. Southern Command, where SouthCom commander Craig Faller threatened the Venezuelan military and said the U.S. was still considering invasion. Marco Rubio is saying the Venezuelan military is already rebelling and will let the aid in.

This will likely be a major turning point. There are two dramatic possibilities:

First, the military rebels and sparks a broader coup action.

Second, the military blocks the aid and we soon see a U.S.-led invasion.

But there are also less dramatic possibilities:

Third, on its own the the military lets the aid through and then we go back to stalemate.

Fourth, Maduro grandiloquently calls for the military to let the aid in to preserve peace, thus retaining symbolic control, then we go back to stalemate.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Taiwan Keeps Daniel Ortega Afloat

The Trump administration has focused on pressuring Latin American countries to recognize Taiwan and push back against the Chinese presence. In Central America, Marco Rubio has been active in criticizing and trying to punish El Salvador for recognizing China. Both China and Taiwan use money as a carrot.

Enter Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega, ever the political chameleon, recognized Taiwan in 2017. That turned out to be a great move because Taiwan just loaned him $100 million to keep him afloat. Ortega desperately needed an influx of cash as he faces isolation and domestic upheaval. This comes just after Donald Trump said he wanted to come after Ortega.

The competition between Taiwan and China in Latin America gives governments greater autonomy. The United States alone cannot force regime change in Nicaragua solely with economic pressure because there are escape valves. In this particular case, Ortega is actually just doing what the U.S. wanted in the first place.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Americanizing the Venezuelan Crisis

Here is the text of Donald Trump's speech in Miami yesterday about Venezuela. The administration is pushing very hard to Americanize the crisis, to suck up as much of the attention as possible. In his book U.S. Presidents and Latin American Interventions, Michael Grow makes the case that presidents chose regime change not because of economic or national security interests, but for a combination of three other factors:

1. U.S. international credibility
2. U.S. domestic politics
3. Latin American lobbying

#2 is so strong here it's palpable. The speech is all about connecting Democratic candidates to Venezuelan socialism. Yes, it is also about whipping up hardliners in Florida. In that's sense it's easy red meat, but there is a broader, more national strategy.

As a result, Trump and others (especially Marco Rubio) desperately want credit for overthrowing Nicolás Maduro. This Americanizes the crisis and increases the perception that things are being driven by the White House and not by the opposition. As you read, you can see the "USA!USA!" chants during the speech--this is good old nationalistic drum pounding. Let's go get the bad guys. Marco Rubio goes to the border and lectures the Venezuelan military (and my goodness, check out the replies to my tweet on that subject. Hoo boy!). In the speech, Trump threatens the Venezuelan military yet again--it's been threatened numerous times at this point.

This is a very risky proposition. The chances of an invasion going smoothly is slim and the chances of long-term instability are high. Now, maybe that doesn't matter for 2020. Invade, kick out Maduro, and proclaim victory. It depends on how unstable the country is at that point.

My own take is that the more you Americanize the situation, the worse the eventual result for the average Venezuelan. It badly undermines whatever government comes next and increases the chances of armed insurrection. The U.S. should stay in the background as much as possible and let Juan Guaidó do all the talking. But that isn't going to happen.


Monday, February 18, 2019

Dana Frank's The Long Honduran Night

It is most useful to think of Dana Frank's The Long Honduran Night as a memoir. Frank is Professor Emeritus of History at UC Santa Cruz and both a scholar of and activist in Honduras. The book is about her experiences with labor organizers and many others in Honduras as they dealt with the 2009 coup and all its after-effects. It is a highly personal account, with her opinions and her own life laid bare--how she celebrated, traveled, got sick, was afraid, danced, and cried.

It may sound odd given the often grim circumstances, but the underlying theme of the book is joy. She is so glad to see the energy and dedication of Honduran activists, how they persevere and overcome seemingly overwhelming obstacles. The government is trying to kill them on a constant basis but they don't stop.

She hates Juan Orlando Hernández with a passion and shows frustration for how the U.S. media gives him favorable coverage (she took to using the term "axe murderer" for what he was doing in the country*). More specifically, she asks that we stop seeing immigrant flows as stemming from "gang violence" because it inaccurately suggests that the state is trying to stop it, as opposed to being deep in it as well. Giving aid to JOH is just increasing the violence.

I like the fact that she is ideologically nuanced. She apologetically is on the left, to be sure, but she show some skepticism of Manuel Zelaya and how his personality dominated the resistance so much. She is deeply critical of U.S. policy, but has a detailed understanding (based on her own hard legwork) of how the U.S. government is no monolith and how there are lots of sympathetic ears if you know how to find them. You can use those to make positive changes, even if small. She offers no simple answers, understanding there aren't any.

As an accessible book in English, you can't beat it for an informed overview of what's going on in Honduras. We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of the coup and it just keeps affecting (and infecting) everything.

*This generates memorable sentences like "At a commencement ceremony at my university, I sat next to the provost, Alison Galloway, and casually mentioned my axe murderers fixation" (p. 208).


Effects of PDVSA Sanctions on Venezuelans

Isabelle Laroca at Caracas Chronicles expresses her fear about the effects of U.S. sanctions on Venezuelans. Going after PDVSA creates economic ripple effects that hit everyone. For example:

Given that oil exports are responsible for way over 90% of the dollars flowing into Venezuela, the imports of CLAP boxes, for example, will come to a halt. And while the products sucked and the corruption scheme reached epic proportions, many today depend on those boxes. According to preliminary results of the Life Conditions Survey (ENCOVI) of 2018, 94% of those surveyed don’t make enough money to fulfill their basic needs, while an estimated 7.3 million Venezuelan homes receive CLAP boxes (on an irregular basis.)

I've argued against sanctions like this precisely for this reason. Maduro gets stronger each day that he remains in power while Venezuelans suffer more. For a long time, we could say with confidence that blaming U.S. sanctions for Venezuela's woes was nonsense. It's not nonsense anymore--Maduro is to blame for the policies but sanctions make their effects worse.

The post's comments show that many believe that some combination of the Venezuelan people and the Venezuelan military will hit a breaking point. This is dangerous logic that has not necessarily worked elsewhere. A suffering people and co-opted military can co-exist in a repressive context.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

How Democrats Flounder on Immigration

Political scientist Anita Isaacs and Economist Anne Preston have a great op-ed in The New York Times about the Democrats' deal to reduce ICE beds. In short, it shows the bankruptcy of the party on the issue of immigration.
But while well intentioned — the list of problems with the immigrant detention system is long — if the Democrats gets their way, they will likely make conditions much worse for the tens of thousands of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in limbo on both sides of the border.
Donald Trump will not detain fewer people just because there are fewer beds. They will just be detained in worse conditions. The core problem is that immigration is now a huge prison business. This is what I discussed in my talk at Washington College last year, which I put up as a post. Immigration is a machine.

 Changing the machine’s nature is difficult. You have to pass new laws, which requires congressional majorities. You have to make a lot of people lose their jobs. You have to spend tons of money.  
We can better understand why Latino support for Democratic presidential candidates is not currently high. 
This machine can be dismantled or reprogrammed, but we have to decide whether we have the will to do it.
This is why Democrats flounder on the issue. They tinker at the margins of the machine and do not challenge its existence.

Back to the op-ed. Here are their proposed solutions:
To the extent that Democrats are serious about immigration reform, restricting beds is more a gimmick than a solution. Absent the comprehensive reform desperately needed, Democrats should use their new political capital to protect migrant rights. That means demanding more humane treatment at detention centers, guaranteeing the right to asylum for refugees from the region, assuring due process for the majority of undocumented migrants who are upstanding members of our society, and requiring that ICE focus its resources on detaining and deporting only those migrants who have committed truly serious crimes.

I would submit that even these suggestions, while important, are not radical enough. Challenge the idea of private prisons, of the ethics of imprisoning children ever, of separating families ever, etc.


Friday, February 15, 2019

AMLO's Cautious Foreign Policy

I have a post up at Global Americans about AMLO's cautious foreign policy. My basic take:

Contrary to expectations, AMLO is no leftist firebrand in foreign policy. He has an ambitious and contentious domestic policy agenda and his current inclination is to avoid foreign policy conflict that distracts too much from advancing those. His approval rating is a stratospheric 86 percent, so for now the strategy is working. But a number of his foreign policy audiences have opposing views and over time he will find it harder to reconcile them.
I am giving a local talk next week on U.S.-Mexican relations, which will be pitched differently but this is a sneak peek at part of it.


Venezuela Stalls

Events in Venezuela are of course moving and changing constantly, but there seems to be a stalemate vibe at the moment. What got me thinking along those lines was that for the first time, Juan Guaidó felt the need to say publicly that he wasn't failing. To be fair, he was responding to Nicolás Maduro jibes, so might not have said anything on his own.

Maduro also noted how his representatives met with Elliott Abrams and got the impression the U.S. was more flexible than it sounded in public. The trick here is that there are mixed messages--a good cop/bad cop scenario that might not be intentional. Abrams has said things will take time, Marco Rubio and John Bolton want tough talk and to push military action, and Trump's attention is elsewhere. Who knows how far he is willing to go. My main concern is that he accepts the argument that letting this drag on makes him look bad. He does not like looking weak. But Maduro can see daylight through the cracks in the administration.

Just as in the past, there have been large protests over different days and the military is not budging. How long can people keep up those protests? Fatigue sets in. Undoubtedly this fact is making Maduro feel like he has some breathing room.

Maduro claims he can shift oil exports elsewhere, and India is already looking at ways to conduct transactions that avoid U.S. financial institutions. If Maduro finds more alternatives like this, he can hang on longer, or at least generate enough cash to keep the military happy for a while longer. Since oil production keeps dropping, who knows how long that would be.

I am still worried about the Trump administration throwing up its hands and using military force in some way. February 23 is going to be critical because that is when Guaidó said he was going to try to push humanitarian aid into Venezuela. If shots are fired, then all bets are off.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Podcast Episode 64: The U.S. and Juan Guaidó

On Episode 64 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Tim Gill, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UNC Wilmington. He has published on an array of topics largely involving U.S. global power, Venezuelan politics and human rights, and sociological theory. His work has been published in several academic outlets, including Sociological Forum, Journal of World-Systems Research, Social Currents, The American Sociologist, and Third World Quarterly.

We last talked in Episode 10, which was November 2016 after Trump’s election. Times have changed a bit.

For our discussion, he also co-authored an article with Rebecca Hanson (she came on the podcast two weeks ago) about U.S. policy toward Venezuela in The Nation (click here for the link) and people are all up in arms. Specifically, it is about the U.S. government’s relationship with Juan Guaidó. It generated some heat so we discuss the argument, the responses to it, and where Venezuela may be heading now.

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 moronic leftist academic.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Economic Alternatives in Latin America

Political scientist Thea Riofrancos writes at Dissent about how the Latin American left has relied on extractive industries, which is both damaging to local communities and increases dependent economic relationships (including to China). I totally agree and of course this argument isn't new. What she does, however, is offer concrete solutions.

The first is political. Forge relationships between affected and non-affected communities to stop the spread of extraction.

In direct response to the national anti-mining movement’s demands, deputies of the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) introduced a bill to ban large-scale mining in 2006. Eleven years later, the law was adopted unanimously by El Salvador’s legislature. A number of factors account for this success: dense organizational structure linking affected communities together; the movement’s ability to frame the national conversation around impacts on the country’s vulnerable water system; the innovative use of municipal consultas on mining (all of which registered community opposition); and the strong support of progressive Catholic bishops as well as FMLN deputies in congress. This movement-party dynamic, built on longstanding ties between rural community movements and the FMLN, was essential to channeling popular power into policy change.
It's much trickier to pinpoint what economic policies governments should enact in its place. There's less on that.
Those of us pushing for a post-extractive transition must grapple with two challenges: divestment from existing oil and mining projects and implementing moratoria on new projects, and replacing extractive revenues with taxes on the rich and reinvesting existing rents into non-extractive sectors.
100% of a new policy will be taxing the rich? That's a major challenge. This would be unprecedented and really tough politically given the history of tax policy in Latin America, where non-payment is rampant and governments have few to no means of enforcing it.

Setting that aside for the moment, the non-extractive sectors deserve more attention. Finding them has been the Holy Grail of Latin American political economy. The import-substitution model was a major 20th century effort.

Her article is worth your time. Someday Latin American policy makers need to find new solutions.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Where Maduro Would Go

Now there are discussions about where Nicolás Maduro would go if forced out. The article is based on four anonymous sources, though Elliott Abrams is talking openly about the subject as well.

It is unfortunate that the Trump administration is insisting that it make all the decisions and doing so loudly. This will damage the legitimacy of the new government. Talking openly about where to exile someone has an imperialist taste to it that is not easy to dispel.

In fact, it may well be that all this public talk is intended largely to send signals to Maduro and those around him that a) the U.S. is closing in; and b) no matter what John Bolton said, there are options besides Guantánamo. That talk was plain stupid. Anyway, the article notes that the Russians see this as psychological warfare and it's hard to argue the point.

It might be working on me too. I have heard so many times over the years about how the regime was about to fall and this is the first time I have actually felt like it could be imminent.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Does Venezuela Hurt Democrats in 2020?

I've seen this argument enough already and debated it on Twitter, so I want to just put it here and leave it. The New York Times writes about how Venezuela is "dangerous" for Democrats in 2020. Here is why this argument is problematic.

First, 2020 is one hell of a long way away and people's memories are short.

Second, beyond short memories there is so much time that the political context in Venezuela will not be the same. BTW, if Trump decides to invade and it becomes a bloodbath with Americans dying then you can guess who that will hurt politically. If he uses military force and it's deemed a success in the U.S. (which may or may not mean good for Venezuelans) then 99.999% of the electorate will soon forget about it entirely.

Third, these arguments disingenuously conflate opposition to invasion and support for the status quo. You can believe that Maduro is illegitimate and that invasion is a bad idea. The simplistic analyses are driving me crazy.

Fourth, no one outside a subset of Floridians care about this enough to put it front and center when voting. Donald Trump won Florida in 2016 but only barely. Pennsylvania was razor thin and they don't give a crap about Venezuela. Same goes for Wisconsin. Well, same goes for frickin every other state.

Fifth, these articles always mention comments from about 2-3 Democratic Representatives, who are representative of exactly nothing in the party. Plus, no one votes based on what one relatively unknown person across the country said 18 months ago.

The scenario that would hurt Democrats in 2020 would be one in which Maduro were still in power and Democrats were prominently opposing putting any pressure on him at all. I can't see this scenario happening, in large part because the Trump administration is committed to regime change and will certainly use military force of some kind if this drags on much longer. Further, the Democratic leadership believes Maduro is illegitimate and would not be doing that anyway.


Saturday, February 09, 2019

Manolo's Bakery

There were ICE raids in Charlotte recently, which are intended to terrorize the immigrant community. One small business, Manolo's Bakery, went locally viral with its plea for help. Business is down because people are afraid. It's heartbreaking. So I went with my son and daughter as a small token of support. The owner thanked us the moment we walked inside.

If you're Charlotte, please go check it and other immigrant businesses out this weekend. Manolo's is at 4405 Central Avenue. They have a great selection of pastries and cakes, but also empanadas. I was partial to the spinach while my son gobbled up the pineapple one. Here's just a part of our haul:

Terrorizing people is not just a human rights abuse. It also damages small businesses and therefore local economies by extension.


How Vice-Presidents Screw Up Latin American Politics

Leiv Marsteintredet and Fredrik Uggla, "Allies and Traitors: Vice-Presidents in Latin America," Journal of Latin American Studies (forthcoming 2019).


Vice-presidents in Latin America have often been at the centre of political turbulence. To prevent conflicts within the executive, most Latin American countries have therefore put in place formulae to elect presidents and vice-presidents on a joint electoral ticket. Still, it is common for presidential candidates to pick running mates from other parties in order to construct alliances and appeal to a broader set of voters. But the presence of such ‘external’ vice-presidents seems to increase the risk of presidential interruption in general and impeachment processes in particular. Accordingly, we argue that the frequently overlooked institution of the vice-president deserves attention as a possible intervening variable that can contribute to the explanation for government crises and their outcomes in Latin America.
The famous quote from U.S. Vice President John Nance Garner (under Franklin Roosevelt from 1933-1941) was that the position was "not worth a bucket of warm spit" and was the "the spare tire on the automobile of government."

Brian Winter noted this article at Americas Quarterly as he discussed the already highly problematic relationship between Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his running mate Hamilton Mourão. Latin American vice-presidencies are no bowls of spit because, unlike the U.S. now, they are often from different parties, intended to shore up an alliance. But once they are elected, they want the presidency. I remember writing about Julio Cobos, the Argentine VP who voted against Cristina Kirchner as a tie-break, then ran away.

Anyway, Marsteintredet and Uggla do a great historical dive and even use two original databases (one for each author, it seems). External running mates make electoral sense but often have undermined political stability. They led to, in the wonderfully phrased term, "presidential interruption." They acknowledge how many other factors are at play and how difficult it is to establish causation, but it's an interesting argument.

BTW, I chatted with Leiv about impeachment on my podcast back in Episode 31.


Friday, February 08, 2019

Podcast Episode 63: Nayib Bukele Wins in El Salvador

In Episode 63 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcasttalk about the Salvadoran presidential election with Christine Wade, Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Washington College. We talk about why Nayib Bukele won, the problems with the two dominant parties, the role of ideology, and much more. We end on a more optimistic note than normal!

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.


Thursday, February 07, 2019

Congress Debates Invading Venezuela

The Venezuela military invasion question is percolating in the U.S. Congress. As aid becomes the fulcrum of conflict and tension increases, members of Congress are trying to get ahead of the administration's actions before they are launched.

Marco Rubio was pushing to get congressional (or at least Senate) authorization for the use of force but Bob Menendez nixed it.

Menendez, who was co-authoring the measure with Chairman Jim Risch of Idaho, wrote language declaring that the resolution should be not be construed to allow the for the use of military force there, and was unwilling to go forward without that statement.
Meanwhile, yesterday Rep. David Cicilline co-sponsored a bill expressly prohibiting the use of U.S. Armed Forces in Venezuela "and for other purposes." The full text is not up yet but here is Cicilline's press release:
Cicilline’s legislation, introduced with the support of 20 co-sponsors, prevents the Trump administration from taking any military action related to Venezuela without the approval of Congress required by law.  This administration has frequently pushed the boundaries of the legal requirement to seek congressional approval for military action and this bill will prevent them from doing so in relation to Venezuela.
The discussion can be alarming. See, for example, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina (the "you lie" guy) in a one-minute statement about Venezuela:
We must continue to support hope in Venezuela. Free and fair elections must be held. The people of Venezuela deserve freedom and democracy. 
In conclusion, God bless our troops and we will never forget September the 11th in the global war on terrorism. 
Yes, you are reading that right. He is explicitly tying Venezuela to 9/11.

Not all was creepy, however, Rep. Gwen Moore (who co-sponsored Cicilline's bill) said the following:
The U.S. should support international efforts to achieve a negotiated resolution. Rather than trying to repeat all the mistakes of our failed foreign policy of the past in this region, I urge this Administration to engage with other partners in order to best facilitate a return to democracy.  
Lastly, I share concerns about the individual, Elliott Abrams, appointed by this Administration to serve as a ‘‘special envoy’’ to Venezuela. His history, particularly with regards to his views on U.S. policy in this region, disqualify him to serve as an impartial implementer of a strong diplomatic effort to reach a peaceful resolution. Among other concerns, this individual was twice convicted of lying to Congress and has long held troubling views on how the U.S. should engage with governments in the region with which it disagrees. 
This is a flexible response. Negotiation does not mean you simply sit around and talk. It also involves pressure, but that is applied in a multilateral manner.


Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Listen to Some Latin America Podcasts

The reason I have my own podcast is that I enjoy listening to them in general, in the car and while exercising. Here are some I've listened to recently related to Latin American politics you might be interested in checking out.

  • Two Gringos With Questions Podcast Chris Sabatini and Kenneth Frankel talk to Tom Shannon, a retired diplomat who played a major role in U.S.-Latin American relations for years. Ever the diplomat, he gives a nice overview of how Latin America views Venezuela without being overly critical of the Trump administration. He covers all sorts of things, including the fact that he's a NASCAR fan.
  • Intelligence Matters Podcast A former Acting CIA Director chats with Vicki Huddleston, who served as the top diplomat in Cuba from 1999-2002. She seems particularly happy to trash John Bolton.
  • Skullduggery Podcast: Yahoo News reporters talk about a new story on Operation Cobra, where a CIA operative clued U.S. officials onto the fact that there were nuclear weapons in Cuba. Great history, though it falls apart when they force a comparison to current day Venezuela, which just does not work.
  • The most recent episode of The Brazil Report with journalist Gilberto Ribeiro goes into the favela militias in Rio. They are dangerous and Jair Bolsonaro loves them. They talk about the history (dating back to the 1950s) and the threats they pose.
  • Off and on I listen to the Revolutions Podcast, which has episode after episode on the Mexican Revolution. Straightforward narrative history and well paced, though at times his pronunciations will make you wince. I just love the fact that this topic is popular to an English-language audience.


New Illegitimate Election in Venezuela

In one of the more pathetic twists in the Venezuelan crisis, Nicolás Maduro is pushing to have new legislative elections held as quickly as he can. The Constituent Assembly, which was originally created to take power away from the democratically elected legislature, wants yet another legislature as fast as humanly possible.

"Se designa una comisión constitucional para la consulta sobre las elecciones parlamentarias, esto es rápido, tiene que ser muy rápido también. El único poder que está establecido en esta Constitución que no ha sido relegitimado por esta ANC es el poder Legislativo", expresó Cabello durante la sesión desde el Palacio Legislativo en Caracas. 
En declaraciones transmitidas por Venezolana de Televisión, Cabello señaló que la consulta debe realizarse "a la brevedad posible".
This is farce in motion. For the first time ever, the legislature under Juan Guaidó exercised significant political influence and Maduro et al are scared. Their response is to pretend it doesn't exist anymore. It's never been "relegitimated" and so new elections must be held.

The problem is that no one will recognize these elections. Like it or not, Guaidó's authority is now set and cannot be stripped from him. 
“Hemos escuchado que la oposición ha pedido elecciones. Es una forma de complacer las peticiones de la oposición para hacer elecciones de la AN que es la única que no ha sido legitimada ante la soberanísima Asamblea Nacional Constituyente”, agregó.
This is about as dumb as you can get. Guaidó did not demand "elections." He demanded "presidential elections" and there is no lack of clarity on that point. This doesn't fool anyone.

More importantly, it won't have any substantive impact. Actually, no matter how fast they move the crisis may deepen before they can act. At the moment, aid is the center of controversy. If that sparks confrontation, then everything else stops.


Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Will Aid Spark Violence in Venezuela?

I am quoted in this Bloomberg article about the Lima Group meeting in Ottawa yesterday. I spoke about the effect of aid, making the point that the chances of confrontation are high if foreign countries try to force aid into Venezuela. I wrote about this a few days ago as well, laying out different scenarios.

The Lima Group official statement says the following:

They reiterate their deep concern about the serious humanitarian situation in Venezuela caused by the Maduro regime. They consider it imperative that access to humanitarian assistance be guaranteed in order to respond to the urgent needs of Venezuelans. They call upon the United Nations and its agencies and the international community to be prepared to provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations in that country, whenever possible, and based on their needs.

Nicolás Maduro's response was this:

 “A Venezuela no se le puede hacer una promesa falsa de una supuesta ayuda humanitaria, a Venezuela hay que convocarla al trabajo, a la producción, al crecimiento de nuestra economía, no somos mendigos de nadie”, dijo Maduro.
Right now, there is an impasse. Justin Trudeau's offer of aid appears only to be going to neighboring countries. However, Juan Guaidó announced that today the first order of business of the National Assembly is to discuss where the aid should go. He wants it inside Venezuela.

Making this discussion public ratchets up the possibility of armed confrontation because all forces will concentrate on those areas. I suppose it's possible to have it all be a fake and then move the goods into the country somewhere else entirely.

Guaidó wants to make the military choose. I take it he believes that when faced with the choice of shooting or feeding, they will choose feeding and the regime will collapse (incidentally, this may have been a Colombian brainchild). This is risky and scary (if indeed it was Colombian, they certainly are familiar with risky and scary).


Monday, February 04, 2019

Juan Guaidó and China

Juan Guaidó's messages to China are spot on. He recognizes that China's interest in Venezuela is overwhelmingly economic. So you do three things: you avoid all ideological references, emphasize how Nicolás Maduro has damaged your investments, and promise to honor every deal Maduro made.

“I will be very clear: all agreements that have been signed following the law will be respected,” Guaido said in a written interview. “If previous agreements were signed by adhering to the due process of approval by the National Assembly, they will be accepted and honored.”


 "We want to establish a transparent relationship with China and put an end to the plundering of our resources that has prevailed under Maduro’s government, which has ultimately also affected Chinese investors,” he said. “China’s development projects in Venezuela have been falling as they have been affected and destroyed by corruption or debt default.”
And China is ready to listen:

 Asked three times last week if China still saw Maduro as Venezuela’s president, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang simply noted that a special envoy of President Xi Jinping attended his inauguration in January. On Friday, Geng said China has “maintained close communication with all parties” and ties “shouldn’t be undermined no matter how the situation evolves.”
He also makes sure China knows he understands their initiatives in the region:

 “In Latin America and the Caribbean, China continues to promote trade within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative,” he said. “This initiative gives China a natural space to foster development across the region.”
Guaidó has laid the groundwork for a smooth Chinese shift from Maduro to him. This will be in jeopardy if it comes via U.S. invasion, which would set alarm bells off in China. China would see this as a threat to its investments and would be wary of the image of the U.S. government pushing it around. Yet another reason to avoid it.


Sunday, February 03, 2019

U.S. Food Aid as a Foreign Policy Tool in Venezuela

The Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Mark Green, tweeted out a photo of food aid earmarked for Venezuela. At this moment, aid is aimed at Venezuelans in neighboring countries but Juan Guaidó publicly pushed for distribution within the country as well. He even said specifically where. The goal is 1) to associate Guaidó with hunger relief; and 2) to push the Venezuelan military into a corner. Will you use guns to block your citizens from obtaining food?

This is combustible, so much so that the Red Cross does not like it. Here are possible scenarios, in no particular order.

1. The soldiers obey orders to block the aid. This could turn fatal very quickly, which leads to any number of consequences. It is impossible to know which side would win politically. Some of this depends on whether anyone traveling with the aid (not the aid workers themselves, who will not be) is armed.

2. The soldiers refuse to obey orders to block it. Maduro is left badly weakened and probably does not last much longer.

3. Maduro just allows the aid to come in, noting that the imperialists started the disaster themselves. The result here is determined by what role the police or military play. I assume they have to play some role just to keep basic order.

3a. Maduro allows the aid to come in. Meanwhile, Guaidó and especially U.S. officials tweet lots of pictures making it clear where the aid is and when. People flood there, riots break out, and it is a PR disaster for Guaidó.

3b. All the above holds, except soldiers are brutal and it is a PR disaster for Maduro.


Saturday, February 02, 2019

Gold Rush 5K

My wife, 10 year old daughter, and I ran the Gold Rush 5K this morning on the UNC Charlotte campus. It is the 17th annual and we've probably done about 10 of them. It is a really hilly race, with the middle mile overwhelmingly uphill, sometimes steep.

The course takes you in a loop around campus.

At least the very last part of the race is downhill, so you finish fast. Kudos to the guy who played the Star Spangled Banner on the trumpet and who then came to the starting line to play the theme to Rocky.


Friday, February 01, 2019

Podcast Episode 62: Understanding the Venezuelan Crisis

In Episode 62 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Rebecca Hanson, who is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida and affiliated with the Center for Latin American Studies. Her current book project Citizen (In)Security, Policing, and Violent Pluralism in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution uses 27 months of ethnographic, interview, and survey data conducted in Venezuela to explain why key tenets of democratic police reform do not make sense to many on the ground, and how these reforms can entrench support for the beliefs and practices that reformers set out to change.

She also is the author of a recent article co-authored with Tim Gill (way back in episode 10) in NACLA providing context for the Venezuelan crisis. We discuss how the crisis is unfolding, recognizing that everything might change not long after we talk.

You can find this podcast at iTunes, Spotify, and anywhere else podcasts can be found. If there is anything I've missed, please contact me.


More On Why Invading Venezuela Is A Terrible Idea

I have said and written lots of times that invading Venezuela is a bad idea. Now there is an article in Military Review, the U.S. Army's official journal, discussing the operational challenges (seven years ago I co-authored an article in that same journal outlining potential responses to a Cuban transition and I also said troops are a bad idea). The author, Jose Delgado, is director of the Counterintelligence Mission Center DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

He does not come out and just say it's a bad idea but the undertone is clear. He uses the Panama invasion as a basic comparison (because it is brought up in this regard) but brings in other invasions as well. I think this sums it up nicely:

Although the United States could easily overpower the smaller Venezuelan combatant forces, the tactics, techniques, and procedures that U.S. combatant units employed in other battlefield scenarios and environments may fall flat in Venezuela and unnecessarily prolong combatant and stabilization operations. Without exceedingly meticulous planning, intervention in Venezuela might quickly develop into an insurgency campaign that could drag on for decades.
The "meticulous planning" is virtually impossible because it is based on too many unknowns. The country is large--Caracas itself is large--and urban warfare would be a nightmare for all involved. Delgado notes that the army has no urban warfare units at all, and the government has been arming Chavistas for years.

How many times have U.S. policy makers falsely assumed military operations would be quick and easy? As Delgado points out, Panama--the ultimate example of that--does not fit the Venezuelan case. For this and many other reasons, the U.S. should not invade.


What is Intervention in Venezuela?

Patrick Iber has an op-ed in The New York Times arguing the United States should not intervene in Venezuela. This made me start thinking what we mean by this. We hear it broadly--the US should not intervene or interfere. Sometimes I feel this refers specifically to invasion, which is much more unpopular than other types of intervention. But that's easy to oppose. The fine details get tougher.

So what U.S. "intervention" is going on now?

  • recognition of Juan Guaidó
  • pressure on other governments to do the same
  • sanctions
  • pressure on other governments to spread those sanctions
  • threatening rhetoric
  • fake to-do list of sending troops
When people say they oppose U.S. intervention, do they oppose all of these things? If not, why not?
Washington is all too ready to lend a hand, but in doing so it could — as it has so many times in Latin America’s history — cause more harm than good.
What types of intervention cause more harm than good? This is not clear to me at all. Further, what is "harm" anyway? Harm could refer to the suffering of Venezuelan people, in which case oil sanctions might apply. But harm could also mean "action that reduces the incentive for military officers to switch their allegiance," in which case we don't know.

Overall, there is confusion within the U.S. left. James Bloodworth noted this in a recent Foreign Policy article. Some people support Maduro out of a knee-jerk ideological reaction while others see how authoritarian and destructive he has been, but don't know what to support in his place and--critically--what role the United States should play. There is no way the U.S. plays zero role.

In sum, the U.S. is currently intervening in a number of different consequential ways, though not yet invasion. It is worth it for all of us to ponder what level of intervention we support and to think hard about what the long-term impact of such intervention might be. For me, recognizing Guaidó is reasonable, as Maduro's claim to legitimacy is no stronger. I think oil sanctions hurt the Venezuelan people too much and that pressure can be applied in other ways. I think U.S. officials should stop with the blustery invasion talk. My own views might change but that is where I am leaning now.


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