Friday, March 29, 2019

SECOLAS 2019 in Oaxaca

I have not been on social media as much recently because I've been in Oaxaca for the conference of the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies, which is always a great conference. Oaxaca itself is gorgeous, as is our conference venue, the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca. Here is a shot I took just as I arrived at the opening reception:

There are also enough runners here that we started a SECOLAS running group. We met first thing this morning and yesterday to go run at a local public sports area (running around streets is challenging, even early!).

We do Latin America every third year (the next one is still being decided). Next year is in Austin, which is also a fun place. I will post the Call for Papers when it comes--it will be March 2020 and the specific days will be nailed down soon. You should come.

BTW, if you're on Twitter you should also follow @SECOLAS_org to keep up.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Using Military Force Is Not The Way to Achieve Democracy in Venezuela

I have a new piece out at The Monkey Cage, using political science (and some history) literature to argue that using military force in Venezuela is not likely to lead to democracy. It's not a typical op-ed, in the sense that I am just bringing together a lot of work on the topic rather than making an argument solely on the Venezuelan case. So it's a very comparative argument.

The fact that Russia just sent troops to Venezuela adds to the uncertainty. That's not included in my article, but I see it as a basic deterrent against U.S. use of force. Attack Venezuela now and you might be engaging Russians. Chris Sabatini added that it might be aimed at keeping Venezuelans generals in line.


Friday, March 22, 2019

Pence Points at Russia & China Support for Maduro

Mike Pence published an op-ed in today's Miami Herald saying "Nicolás Maduro must go." Aside from keeping the issue on the front-burner (because Trump is preoccupied and not tweeting about Venezuela) it has a Chinese and Russian audience.
The truth is, he does so with the help of nations who refuse to acknowledge that he has no legitimate claim to power, and who continue to prop up his dictatorship. 
Even now, Cuban military and intelligence services train, support, and equip Venezuela's secret police as they bully protestors and silence opposition. Turkey continues to deal in Venezuelan gold, providing Maduro with desperately needed cash to sustain his regime. 
Last month, Russia vetoed a resolution at the United Nations calling for unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela. 
And once again, China is advancing its own interests at the expense of the Venezuelan people. Later this month, China plans to host the Inter-American Development Bank's annual meeting. 
But despite claims of friendship, the Chinese are undermining the hemisphere's progress towards democracy by refusing to grant an official visa to Ricardo Hausmann, the lawful representative of Venezuela – the first time in the bank's history that a host nation has refused to seat a member.
We know that Elliott Abrams is talking to the Russians. And there had already been news of the high-level dispute about allowing Ricardo Hausmann to represent Juan Guaidó at the IADB meeting in Beijing. The Chinese were considering not inviting anyone from Venezuela, which actually would be an acknowledgment that Maduro's legitimacy was in doubt.

The two countries constitute Maduro's lifeline and we just don't know at what point they are willing to cute him loose. Neither wants to appear to concede to the United States or to lose their investments. I assume the latter can be worked out but the former is tough.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Should We Revive Wet Foot/Dry Foot?

David Bier at the Cato Institute argues that President Obama should not have ended the "wet foot/dry foot" immigration policy with Cuba. Here is the argument:

Whatever the case, ending wet foot, dry foot has exacerbated America’s immigration problems. Yes, the flow of Cubans is lower now, but under the old policy officials could simply parole the arrivals into the country without spending an enormous amount of resources on interviews, transportation, detention, and courts. Forcing Cubans to undergo the formal asylum process has only further burdened the system.
And here is the policy prescription that flows from it:
The administration should restore the wet foot, dry foot policy, which worked for this country for decades. The ultimate result was that more than a million Cubans freed themselves from a communist regime under the policy. 
And, he adds, we should include Venezuelans.

My own long-standing position has been that Latin Americans elsewhere face much worse repression than many of the fleeing Cubans--that's why we have a Central American immigration crisis. So it is unfair to treat them differently. I think we should treat all victims of repression the same--so either allow all of them in or spend the necessary money to reduce the asylum backlog.


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

More On Why Invading Venezuela Is A Bad Idea

At Foreign Affairs, Frank Mora writes about what a Venezuelan invasion would look like, with a stark cost-benefit analysis.

There are two plausible ways the United States might use force in Venezuela: a precision bombing campaign and a full-scale invasion. Either course would have to be followed by efforts to stabilize the country and establish a civilian government. That could take years, given the country's size and military strength. Venezuela has a population of 33 million spread across a territory twice the size of Iraq. Its military is 160,000 strong and paramilitaries, colectivos (armed leftist groups that support Maduro), and criminal gangs collectively have more than 100,000 members. Even if a military intervention began well, U.S. forces would likely find themselves bogged down in the messy work of keeping the peace and rebuilding institutions for years to come.
For both bombing and invasion, he lays out best case and worst case scenarios. All of them involve U.S. troops being in Venezuela for years, which would involve ripple effects of violence, death, ruined hemispheric relations, and damaged relations outside the region.

And yet other former officials are saying invasion would be easy.
Venezuela’s constitution ­explicitly allows foreign military missions. That provision would grant legal legitimacy to a multinational force of Venezuelan citizen-soldiers and foreign troops to help keep the peace. Without being drawn into a prolonged campaign, US forces could be deployed to areas liberated by Venezuelans, to detain regime leaders who have been indicted in US courts. Prosecutors can do their part by seeking or unsealing indictments against them; hefty rewards would make it hard for them to hide.
There is every reason to believe it could not possibly be that simple. Put differently, given Venezuela's reality, what reasons do we have to believe it could be?


Monday, March 18, 2019

No-Confidence Vote in Mexico

Mexico's lower house passed a constitutional reform allowing a president's term to be cut short.

Si se consolida la Reforma en el Senado, se permitiría al primer mandatario mexicano y al Congreso (con el 33% de legisladores) convocar para la revocación de mandato del presidente de la República o gobernadores el mismo día de las jornadas electorales que organiza el Instituto Federal Electoral y serían vinculante si participa al menos 48% del electorado.
The idea seems to be framed as a no-confidence vote, which is lacking in presidentialist Latin America. Executive-legislative disputes instead get resolved by shady constitutional means (e.g. Dilma Rousseff's impeachment and removal) or outright coup. The key difference here is that the vote would come from the electorate and not the legislature, and it cannot be done at any time. It must coincide with other scheduled elections. Which really just makes it another election.

Critics say it is a way to start pushing for re-election, though AMLO says he would sign a pact saying he wouldn't. But this effectively means the presidential term is cut to three years with a new election that does not include any competitors. If the president loses (to themselves, just like Augusto Pinochet!) then you must spend a lot of time and money running an entirely new election with lots of candidates.

It also makes referendums easier:
Para el caso de las consultas populares, se reduciría el porcentaje del número de firmas requeridas de los electores para que éstos puedan solicitar al Legislativo federal la realización de estos ejercicios (del 2.0 al 1.0%) de la lista nominal y los resultados serán vinculatorios para los poderes Ejecutivo y Legislativo federales y autoridades competentes cuando la participación sea mayor al 25%.
This is all about popular votes, which when done a lot can create havoc. In a representative democracy, the representatives are there for a reason.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

UNASUR Is Probably Dead

Lenín Moreno announced Ecuador was pulling out of UNASUR because "ha concluido que no existen las condiciones para que Unasur pueda volver a trabajar por la integración sudamericana." Oh, and they want the building back too. He said it had become a "political platform" rather than a true mechanism for integration. It seems the final straw was when members were unable to agree on a new Secretary-General. Last April, half the countries had suspended their participation anyway, and Colombia later fully pulled out.

Given Venezuela's collapse and general lack of interest, I can't see UNASUR surviving in any meaningful way. Of all the organizations created in the 2000s, I thought it had the most promise. Even conservatives in Latin America--e.g. Alvaro Uribe and Sebastián Piñera--accepted and utilized it. It served as a legitimate source of conflict resolution.

Instead, now Piñera and Iván Duque are talking about PROSUR, yet another new organization, presumably similar but just right-leaning, to replace it. I agree with Bruno Binetti, who says that it would just likely become an empty shell like all the rest. Nonetheless, a group of leaders will meet in Santiago in a week to talk about it. They say it will be "without ideology" but integration requires ideology. If there is going to be economic integration, for example, everyone has to agree on the model, which is fundamentally ideological.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

AMLO's Non-Interventionist Foreign Policy

I wrote several weeks ago at Global Americans about AMLO's cautious foreign policy. Jesse Anderson writes at World Politics Review about the topic as well, specifically the issue of non-intervention in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Domestically, AMLO has indeed been extremely active since taking office, tackling issues as diverse as gas theft and nursery school funding. On foreign policy, however, he’s been much more restrained—a posture that has turned the new president into a target of criticism both at home and abroad.
 AMLO’s government has been consistent in its justification for not taking sides by citing Article 89 of the Mexican Constitution, which emphasizes non-intervention and self-determination. Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard has maintained that Mexico “cannot, by constitutional mandate, support political intervention in other countries,” while Maximiliano Reyes Zuniga, the undersecretary for foreign affairs in Latin America and the Caribbean, said back in January that “Mexican foreign policy is guided by constitutional principles established in our Carta Magna.” But not everyone buys these repeated references to the Constitution, and there’s speculation that Maduro sympathizers within Morena have influenced AMLO’s non-interventionist stance.
He asks whether this will hurt AMLO domestically at some point. Since the Venezuelan crisis is acute and he still has high approval ratings, perhaps the answer is not much. I think he is more likely to get hit by immigration policy than Venezuela policy, since the latter does not have a large impact on Mexicans.
Para el mandatario "la mejor política exterior es la interior", algo que para el consultor Luis Estrada, asociado del Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales (Comexi), muestra el interés del Ejecutivo en centrar su atención en el país, dejando el exterior en un segundo plano.
That quote sums it up. So far Mexicans themselves have not contradicted it.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Parsing Pompeo's Threatening Tweet

Yesterday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "I’m not going to talk about particular actions that we may or may not be taking with respect to the security situation for the leadership in Venezuela, just like I don’t talk about the security situation for any leader around the world." And then he tweeted:

I'd say the tweet does indeed refer to actions "we may or may not be taking." We don't know if it is a bluff, but it is clearly saying that the Trump administration wants U.S. officials out of Venezuela so that in case of attack they are not in harm's way. If it was just for the electricity/water crisis there would be no need to mention "constraint."

I was worried about some kind of spark that might push the administration to use military force. This isn't a spark exactly, but the dire situation could increase support (both globally and in Congress) for some kind of action that would get humanitarian aid into the country.

It still strikes me that Donald Trump has not paid any public attention to Venezuela in a while. He is wrapped up in the wall, Bob Mueller, and Hillary Clinton. This does not mean he wouldn't use force, but along with Mike Pence's restrained comments it makes me wonder about what the internal debates look like. If Trump is in fact thinking about using force, he is not bothering to lay the rhetorical groundwork for it himself.

Update: Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza just tweeted that he is the reason the U.S. is pulling its diplomatic personnel out, saying their presence was a threat to peace. Make of that what you will.


Monday, March 11, 2019

Abolishing Term Limits

Kristin McKie, "Presidential Term Limit Contravention: Abolish, Extend, Fail, or Respect?" Forthcoming in Comparative Political Studies (early view).

Abstract (gated article):
Since presidential term limits were (re)adopted by many states during the third wave of democratization, 221 presidents across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia have reached the end of their term(s) in office. Of these, 30% have attempted to contravene term limits, resulting in either full abolition, one-term extensions, or failure. What explains these divergent trajectories? I argue that trends in electoral competition over time best predict term limit outcomes, with noncompetitive elections permitting full abolition, less competitive elections allowing for one-term extensions, and competitive elections leading to failed bids. This is because electoral trends provide informational cues to the president’s co-partisan legislators and constitutional court judges (the actors who ultimately rule on constitutional term limit amendments) about the cost/benefit analysis that voting to uphold or repeal term limits would have on their own political survival. These findings suggest a linkage between political uncertainty and constitutional stability more generally.
This has been a major issue in Latin America over the last 15 or so years, and of course was central to the 2009 Honduran coup. A slew of presidents tried, either successfully or not, to abolish term limits. What McKie argues is intuitive: competitive political systems are less likely to allow it. She extends the analysis to judges, who calculate whether they will survive politically.
First, low or declining electoral competition creates the perception among these actors that the ruling party will continue to win elections into the foreseeable future. This reduces any fear they may have that lifting term limits could inadvertently advantage an opposition party, because the low level of electoral uncertainty makes an opposition win highly unlikely. As such, the ruling party no longer needs the “insurance” that term limit laws originally provided at the time they were adopted (namely, that an opposition party would not enjoy unlimited incumbent advantage), and thus the term limit rule becomes expendable. Alternatively, a higher level of electoral competition compels ruling-party allied parliamentarians and judges to keep the insurance of term limits in place. 
However, even if term limit rules are no longer needed, this does not guarantee that ruling party legislators and affiliated judges would automatically vote to scrap them. Here, a second, interrelated causal mechanism linked to low electoral competition comes into play—the leverage the president and the party have over ruling party legislators and constitutional court justices. An electorally dominant party can threaten legislators with being “de-campaigned” in the next election or judges with being dismissed from the court if they do not vote the party line.
This is all about horizontal accountability. Democracy requires that different branches of government are independent. If judges feel they can make decisions without losing their jobs, they will not bow down to the executive (which is the whole point of lifetime appointments when they exist).


Sunday, March 10, 2019

Eva Golinger's Confidante of "Tyrants"

I've been making my way through a stack of books I received as gifts. As it turns out, two of them were memoirs published at independent presses by female activists from the United States who traveled extensively to a Latin American country. The first one I read was Dana Frank's on Honduras. The second was Eva Golinger's Confidante of "Tyrants."  They couldn't be more different.

The title is misleading because her story is not one of a confidante. Her own narrative does not indicate that either she or Hugo Chávez confided anything to each other. She did very public work based on documents she obtained through FOIA and presented the the work to him (and then to other leaders in Iran, Russia, and elsewhere) so he could use it however he found useful. She interacted with him only sporadically and then only quickly. Indeed, she spends a considerable amount of time dealing with aides blocking her out. (And you find out a lot about the content of hotel minibars around the world and what she eats and drinks from them).

She even starts to contradict the title, which has "tyrants" in quotations. She hesitantly probes at the people she deals with, but never quite explores the political context. Qadafi and Assad just seem like pleasant guys and their cities were so enchanting. How could it be that Assad murdered people later? This quote from Human Rights Watch just before Golinger's 2010 visit sums it up perfectly:

So while visitors to Damascus are likely to stay in smart boutique hotels and dine in shiny new restaurants, ordinary Syrians continue to risk jail merely for criticizing their president, starting a blog, or protesting government policies.
Compare that to this:
There was no evidence of repression or the heavy hand of the state, as Syria had been portrayed in Western media. The city was vibrant and alive, the mix of the old historic buildings and streets with modern infrastructures and venues. The food was delicious, by far the best Middle Eastern food I'd ever had in my life" (p. 242). 
She does the same hesitant questioning about Chávez, but never uses the same incisive analysis she employs for U.S. policy. Chávez was a good guy who only wanted good things. The people around him dragged it all down. Therefore disaster cannot possibly be his legacy.

Both at the beginning and the end of the book, she compares Chávez to Donald Trump. Loyalty over competence. Corrupt practices. Cult of personality. It's here that she could have really explored her interactions with Chávez then and his legacy now more deeply. At the time, she was an uncritical supporter--her English language and government-funded Correo del Orinoco did not reflect concerns about corruption or unlimited power. She does not discuss whether that bothers her now as she looks back. I wonder if others like her, the Sean Spicers of the world, feel bothered.


Saturday, March 09, 2019

Tech in Mexico

My former student John Hyatt is a business consultant these days in Mexico (I chatted with him on my podcast last year). He has an op-ed with his partner, aimed at Wisconsin. Their argument is that the Mexican tech sector is booming.
While we hear much talk of a migratory crisis during today’s political climate, it is a fact that Mexico has enjoyed a “net negative migration” rate to the United States since 2010.  For nearly a decade now, more Mexicans have been returning home from the United States than migrating from Mexico. 
In the tech sectors, Mexico’s plethora of engineers, and investors have converted the country into Latin America’s No. 1 tech hub. Mexico currently ranks seventh in the world for active Internet users at nearly 90 million. About 84 million Mexicans regularly delight in sharing pictures, videos and other posts with family and friends via Facebook as the nation checks in at fifth on earth for users of the social media juggernaut.
Mexico has serious problems but it is still important to stay cognizant of its strengths. Especially these days it takes extra effort to break through the stereotypes.


Friday, March 08, 2019

Military Threats Are Bad Policy

Cynthia Arnson testifying yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "continued talk of a military option is nothing short of irresponsible." This is undeniably true. It is also (thankfully) being undermined even by Mike Pence, who said publicly there is "no timeline" for U.S. policy toward Venezuela, meaning that if Maduro doesn't go quickly, the U.S. might just wait (thus assuaging my concern that stalemate would prompt Donald Trump to do something rash). Trump actually hasn't bothered even tweeting about Venezuela since February 23.

But we still have the Troika of Trolling doing the irresponsible, as they have almost daily for a while. The mixed messages simply make things worse because there is no unified message.

John Bolton:

Mike Pompeo:

Marco Rubio:


Thursday, March 07, 2019

India and Venezuelan Oil

India is a lifeline for Nicolás Maduro at the moment because it is buying oil (and Indian oil companies are making a handsome profit). In a previous post, Hari Seshasayee pointed out to me that much of that trade is done by one company, Reliance. The U.S. pressured Reliance heavily to stop trading with Iran. It seems it finally worked at the end of last year. So, he wondered, is Reliance's relationship with Venezuela next? From the Washington Post:
India is one of the countries that continue to recognize the Maduro government. Venezuela’s oil minister visited there last month to persuade the two major oil purchasers — Reliance Industries Ltd., which operates the world’s largest refining complex, and Nayara Energy, partially owned by Russia’s Rosneft oil giant — to buy more. The minister, Manuel Quevedo, told reporters he wanted to see the creation of a non-dollar trading bloc involving China, India and Russia, Reuters reported.
The Trump administration naturally prefers otherwise.
“We’ve asked India and other partners” to join the oil sanctions, “and are working with them to have that arrangement, but everything is on the table in that regard,” the administration official said.
If the administration successfully blocked Reliance off from Iran, it seems logical it will do the same with Venezuela. This becomes a serious issue for Venezuelans, who are deprived more and more as the government's revenue dwindles. The Trump administration is gradually tightening the economic screws. What happens to Venezuelans when there are no buyers?

Update (3/10/19): Elliott Abrams is saying publicly that India is being pressured.

"We say you should not be helping this regime, you should be on the side of the Venezuelan people," Elliott Abrams told Reuters in an interview. 
The Trump administration has given the same message to other governments, Abrams said, and has made a similar argument to foreign banks and private companies doing business with the Maduro government. 
Abrams described the U.S. approach as "arguing, cajoling, urging."
Update (3/19/19): Now Reuters reports that Venezuela has suspended oil exports to India, citing China and Russia as its only partners.


Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Delicias Restaurante Latino

Here is another of my periodic posts about places I eat in Charlotte run by immigrants from Latin America, who are under attack constantly both here and nationally. Today my wife and I ate lunch at Delicias Restaurante Latino on Albemarle Road (not too bad a drive from the university). Like a good number of Charlotte restaurants (including Lempira), it is Mexican-Honduran-Salvadoran.*

We ate baleadas (some with beans/cheese and some eggs/avocado) and tamales (which come fried or steamed), with excellent hot sauce. The tortillas were thick and tasty, and the lunch special includes three. Go there tomorrow if you don't have lunch plans.

*I wondered about this combination. There are studies of this and the logic makes perfect sense. When Central American immigrants arrive at new destinations, some find work at Mexican restaurants. When eventually they open their own, they have learned Mexican dishes and also want to expand their potential clientele, so add the Mexican food (with their own twist, whatever that might be) to the Salvadoran and/or Honduran options. In Charlotte, these restaurants have large, diverse menus that appeal very broadly.


Embracing Autonomy Chapter 1

As I've mentioned before, I am working on a book project on U.S.-Latin American relations in the 21st century. It is not solely for an academic audience--I want it to be accessible and good for the classroom. Plus, my goal is to bring in Latin American scholarly voices in IR, which is not common (and which I also have not done to my own chagrin). The project has slowed way down since I became Associate Dean, but it occurred to me to put up chapter drafts when I feel ready. I've uploaded a draft of Chapter 1, which you can access here. Feel free to send me any comments if you want.


Trump is Deporting Venezuelans

Interesting and seemingly critical story in The Washington Times (certainly no liberal outlet) about the Trump administration's position on Venezuelan refugees. The administration is split on whether to allow Temporary Protected Status because it involves...allowing immigrants into the country and something to do with "rogue judges." The House Judiciary Committee is meeting about it today.

Then it points out:
So far, the administration appears to be taking a business-as-usual approach on deportations, with 112 Venezuelans removed through the first four and a half months of fiscal year 2019. 
That compares to 248 total deportations in 2017 and 336 recorded last year. It placed 18th on the deportation list, just behind Canada and ahead of Ghana. 
Democrats complained to the Trump administration last month.
The article frames the debate as partisan, which is inaccurate because the biggest proponents are Republican lawmakers in Florida. In reality, this is in no small part a Republican issue. It has echoes of Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, where a president simultaneously targets a country and refuses to address the migrant flow that ensues. A major difference is that the flow started because of the Venezuelan government, not the U.S., but now oil sanctions exacerbate it and play an independent causal role--obviously any use of force would do the same. The number of Venezuela now is in the U.S. (we're not even talking about Colombia or other neighboring countries) is relatively small but as the crisis continues it will increase.


Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Why Dialogue Hasn't Worked in Venezuela

I was searching this blog for something (which after so many years of writing I find very useful) and came across a post from almost exactly five years ago. It was about how in early 2014 the Venezuelan MUD was split on engaging in dialogue with the government. Maduro wanted to use UNASUR, while the pro-dialogue part of the opposition agreed only after the participation of the Vatican. The latter group centered on four points:

1. Amnesty
2. Creation of a Truth Commission
3. "Renovation" of certain government agencies
4. Demobilization and disarming of the colectivos

We should remember that at the time this dialogue was a big deal. There had been major protests. The Obama administration had called for mediated dialogue. So did the UN Secretary General and the Secretary-General of the OAS. The Vatican had a flowery message of hope. So it went forward.

From today's perspective, the points seem mild. No demand for Maduro's ouster (though the hardliners did want that) or even new elections. Yet the government did not budge on any. There are still political prisoners, there is no truth commission, government agencies are in tatters, and the colectivos are active. The talks back then were declared dead a month or so after they started.

This is the problem with calls for dialogue now. There just isn't yet any reason to believe the government's response in 2019 will be any different from 2014. It helps explain why the opposition is not split on this issue at all now.


Maduro's Strategy is to Wait

Along with everyone else, I wondered what would happen to Juan Guaidó when left Venezuela and then re-entered. We know Nicolás Maduro wants to arrest him, but instead he ignored him, pretending that it is just a normal, glorious Carnaval season where everyone dances on the beach.

That response highlights Maduro's clear strategy, which is to do as little as possible and wait this out. Arrest carries a high risk, both domestically and internationally, and so he refrains even though he desperately wants to. Maduro passed the initial test, which was to survive February 23. He then shifted some oil exports to India, which gives him breathing room even though oil exports are falling precipitously (ironically, Russia is picking up the slack for the United States!). The U.S. backed off threats of armed force.

Maduro assumes that Venezuelans will simply tire of this. Guaidó has to keep the energy up, which thus far he's been able to do, but it's not indefinite. That also keeps the opposition together, because otherwise it would be easy to slip back into infighting, which always works to Maduro's advantage. Plus, Venezuelan deprivation now is connected to U.S. sanctions and Americanization works in Maduro's favor. Nonetheless, more countries are now more deeply involved, which mitigates that.

The Downside of Waiting

Waiting is not risk-free.

First, you can run out of money, or at least a sufficient amount to keep everyone happy. However, there are illicit sources of drug or illegal mining revenue that provide additional cushion. This is the big unknown. We see defections but not of the decision-makers, and we just don't know what they're thinking. At the same time, however, Russia and China will eventually tire of throwing good money after bad.

Second, you can get completely outmaneuvered in every international institution. Guaidó just named outspoken economist Ricardo Hausmann as his representative to the Inter-American Development Bank. There was the infamous shift at the Costa Rican embassy. These will likely increase and can create a contagion effect. It also increases the means by which Guaidó has access to resources (though what he can actually do with them is another matter entirely). Incidentally, this also works against apathy--there are always new developments Guaidó can point to as he tries to rally tired people.

We just don't precedent for this. It is highly uncommon for authoritarian governments to let the main opposition leader to run free within the country. No doubt, Maduro and his supporters point to this as a sign of democracy, whereas it's really just a sign of dysfunction. We have not seen weird parallel governments living together without fighting, not to mention in this economic context. Members of the military are defecting, but notably they are not rising up. In the choice of exit, voice, or loyalty, they are choosing exit rather than voice, which makes them less threatening.

I haven't said anything that anyone who is paying attention doesn't already know. Mostly I am trying to make sense of it for myself. If you want to really boil it down, Guaidó needs to keep up morale and energy, which is difficult. Maduro needs to keep the military on his side, which is difficult. And there we are.


Monday, March 04, 2019

Ian Fleming's Thunderball

In December I read an updated James Bond novel by Anthony Horowitz that I enjoyed. So I thought I'd read one of Ian Fleming's originals. More or less randomly (meaning what the library happened to have) I chose Thunderball, published in 1961. It hasn't aged well.

Before getting to the novel, as I pointed out on Twitter I did a double take about SPECTRE's choice of what currency to use with their extortion plans.

A long time ago for Venezuelan bolívars to be your currency of choice.

And speaking of long ago and not aging well, this is a truly sexist novel with plenty of casual racism sprinkled in (from the black population of the Bahamas, where the action takes place). If you want to know what it means to portray women literally as sex objects, this is the place to see it. The character Domino Petacchi is there almost solely for Bond's gratification. And he drinks. A lot. Not so many martinis actually, but a ton of whiskey, always a double. Along with a steady flow of cigarettes.

I actually found the plot to be plodding. It is not a particularly exciting book, which surprised me. Further, Bond figures everything out correctly the first time, which means there is almost no suspense.


Brazilian Foreign Policy and Venezuela

Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso wrote an op-ed about Venezuela (h/t Vinod Sreeharsha, a U.S. reporter in Brazil).

He argues that Donald Trump's basic goal is a unilateral global system dominated by the United States. That, he says, is not in Brazil's interest to support, especially because Trump will only be in the White House so long. It's bad for Brazil's image. That brings him to Venezuela, where he says Itamaraty needs to more forcefully reject U.S. policy:

Apoiar a oposição venezuelana é uma coisa. Imaginar que se deva fazer o que foi feito na Líbia, pensando que forças externas podem reconstruir a democracia no país, é ignorar os fatos. Os desatinos verbais têm sido de tal ordem que resta o consolo de ver os militares recordarem que temos uma tradição de altanaria e soberania a respeitar, soberania nossa e dos demais países. 
Bom mesmo seria ver o Itamaraty voltar a ser coerente com sua tradição: ressaltar e criticar o autoritarismo predominante na Venezuela, apoiar a oposição, dar acolhida às vítimas do arbítrio do atual governo e manter acesa a chama democrática. Abrir espaço para que terceiros países, mormente distantes da América do Sul, queiram resolver o drama político pela força não nos convém e fere nossas melhores tradições de atuação internacional.
Here is your basic Google Translate of it:
 Supporting the Venezuelan opposition is one thing. To imagine that one should do what has been done in Libya, thinking that external forces can rebuild democracy in the country, is to ignore the facts. The verbal nonsense has been such that there is the consolation of seeing the military remember that we have a tradition of haughtiness and sovereignty to respect, our sovereignty and the other countries. 
It would be good to see Itamaraty again consistent with its tradition: to emphasize and criticize the predominant authoritarianism in Venezuela, to support the opposition, to welcome the victims of the will of the current government and to keep the democratic flame burning. To open space for third countries, which are far from South America, to resolve the political drama by force, does not suit us and hurts our best traditions of international action.
Indeed, Brazil's traditional foreign policy is regional with a global look that has varied from president to president (with Lula it was very strong, less so with Dilma). The UN was a place for Brazil to make its mark, not fodder for empty globalist conspiracy theories. Under Bolsonaro, Brazil has no foreign policy identity beyond following Trump. In January I wrote about how Brazil would at any other time be taking a lead role to address the Venezuelan crisis, but now Bolsonaro is passive, almost subservient. FHC sees this as a problem for Brazil. At a minimum, it doesn't seem to advance Brazilian interests.


Sunday, March 03, 2019

Gogo Empanadas

Every so often I post about places I eat in Charlotte owned by immigrants from Latin America. The immigrant community, so vilified, is a vital part of our country. Today it is Gogo Empanadas, a small Colombian restaurant in Matthews with a huge selection of empanadas (they anglicize that as "patties"). It is right off of I-485 so very convenient.

I ran across it entirely by chance. My older daughter periodically has soccer or rugby at the nearby sportsplex. I would drive past a nondescript strip mall and see the restaurant sign (just the word "empanada" kept grabbing my attention) but it apparently wasn't open yet. This weekend it was, so I got a selection to go. They're cooked to just crispy outside and are full. They're delicious--I don't eat meat so I got some of the spinach and cheese, seafood, and rice & beans. You can get literally anything you want (the menu is in the link). I also got both green and red sauces, the latter of which has a nice kick.

If you're in Charlotte, go give it a try.


Russia Negotiates Venezuela

Russia's foreign minister told Mike Pompeo that Russia is ready to have bilateral talks with the U.S. about Venezuela. It's not the only issue on the table, but it's especially notable in the context of the history of U.S.-Latin American relations. Think about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Spanish-American War, the Panama Canal, the development of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, just to name a few. In all of these cases, the United States negotiated directly with Russia or a Western European power to decide the fate of a Latin American country on some particular (and important) issue.

Venezuela is not in the exact boat as Cuba during the Soviet era, but became closer to it since Maduro took power. That entails increasing economic dependence on Russia to the point that the Russian government has the power to manipulate you. Venezuela has more options than Cuba did because of oil, but it's a dire situation. As a result, Vladimir Putin can use Venezuela for his own purposes to make gains for Russia elsewhere. Venezuela is a bargaining chip with the U.S.

I don't know exactly what the Russians want, but that's beside the point. What matters is that they feel they have the authority to do it in the first place, and it's hard to argue. If I were Maduro, I'd be nervous because Putin has bigger interests. And historically these situations don't turn out well for the Latin American country in question.


Saturday, March 02, 2019

Chinese Organized Crime in Latin America

An article in U.S. Southern Command's magazine warns against the growing influence of Chinese organized crime in Latin America. This goes hand in hand with the popularity and smuggling of Fentanyl. Evidence is scattered but it's an obvious outgrowth of more Chinese presence in the region.

The big question is what kind of threat this poses, which is tied to how much it is growing and what connections it is making, which are still murky. As with hysterical responses to purported Middle Eastern terrorism on our doorstep, I remain skeptical until I am completely convinced. Since the Trump administration has been warning about Chinese influence, I can envision this issue making its way more into speeches, probably with unnecessarily inflammatory rhetoric.

Put this in the "keep a close eye on it but don't blow it out of proportion" category.


Friday, March 01, 2019

How Maduro Can Use US Sanctions

Not long ago, Nicolás Maduro made the ridiculous claim that there was no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. He felt the need to do that because admitting it is acknowledging the failure of what he describes as a glorious revolution. There was no credible way of blaming his economic disaster on anyone else.

The U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil changed all that.

Now Venezuela is getting wheat from Russia. They are getting medicine as well. The new message: these are needed to combat the imperialist embargo, which has abused Venezuelan human rights. It provides the perfect ideological cover for the government to seek help elsewhere while saving revolutionary face. There is a dire humanitarian crisis that the U.S. government created. This has worked very nicely for the Cubans for decades. In fact, one of the points Geoff Ramsey brought up in his podcast discussion with Adam Isacson is that diehard Chavistas see the crisis as their own Special Period and they are ready to wait it out.

The longer this stalemate drags on, the more sanctions become a liability for the United States. Just as Cuba back during the Eisenhower administration, they had one goal: pressure the military and the people to oust Maduro. If the policy fails to achieve the goal, then all you're doing is punishing innocent people for no reason.

So Maduro is getting food and medicine elsewhere while expanding other markets for oil (especially India). This helps him keep key allies paid off even if troops defect here and there. Geoff and Adam also bring up the question of whether Latin American governments will resume more or less normal economic ties to Venezuela if the stalemate appears to be indefinite.

In all these scenarios, Venezuelans lose.


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