Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Venezuela Affairs Unit

I'm sure you know the old joke. Why hasn't there been a coup in the United States? Because there's no U.S. Embassy there. Well, if you don't have an embassy, then you need to create something like it.

The State Department announced the creation of the "Venezuela Affairs Unit," headquartered in the U.S. Embassy in Colombia.

The VAU is continuing the U.S. mission to the legitimate Government of Venezuela and to the Venezuelan people.  The VAU will continue to work for the restoration of democracy and the constitutional order in that country, and the security and well-being of the Venezuelan people.
Its mission mostly is to oust Nicolás Maduro. Bloomberg had reported on this last month:
The Venezuela Affairs Unit, based at the U.S. embassy in Bogota, will allow the department to “engage the broadest and most meaningful group of Venezuelan actors” and “participate in the greatest number of events and meetings to affect change,” according to a letter sent by the State Department to Idaho Senator Jim Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Does this mission include actually helping Venezuelans trying to get to the United States, especially since over a million are in Colombia? Given the administration's policy on the matter, we have to assume not.

A bigger future question is whether the high-profile foreign nature of this endeavor weakens Juan Guaidó's legitimacy. It's a U.S.-Colombia effort.
The United States welcomes the support of the Government of Colombia, which is a further demonstration of its steadfast commitment to democracy and peace in the region.
Empirically, that is hard to discern. According to a recent Datanálisis poll, Guaidó does not have majority approval of Venezuelans but remains the most popular. Disapproval (the red lines) is the norm across the political spectrum. At a minimum, it means Guaidó remains relatively popular despite the criticism of his U.S. ties.

All we can hope is that this unit doesn't make things worse while negotiations continue.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Alan McPherson's Ghosts of Sheridan Circle

I had the privilege of reading a draft of Alan McPherson's Ghosts of Sheridan Circle: How a Washington Assassination Brought Pinochet's Terror State to Justice, which has now just come out. You should but it and read it.

It is the story of the Pinochet government's car bomb assassination of former Allende cabinet member Orlando Letelier and an American, Ronni Moffitt, in Washington DC. John Dinges and Saul Landau wrote a good book on it in 1980, but obviously a wealth of new declassified sources have emerged since then. McPherson dives deep into archives, conducts interviews (including with Letelier's widow Isabel), newspapers, and secondary sources.

The significance of the book is twofold. First, it provides an accessible yet extensively researched account of a particularly important moment in the Cold War, where a foreign country made a terrorist attack on US soil.

Second, the book shows how the Letelier-Moffitt case fits within the broader context of U.S.-Chilean relations, as it had a tremendous impact on U.S. policy and attitude toward the Pinochet government, as well as on human rights law more generally. I am not so sure it "brought Pinochet's terror state to justice," but the investigations that occurred did accelerate the push for justice within Chile (incidentally, Michael Townley, who placed the bomb, was convicted, then talked, and now is in witness protection).

It's highly readable and entirely accessible even if you have no background knowledge of Chile or the general context at all. It is a case of slow-moving justice against petty and murderous terrorists.


Thursday, August 22, 2019

Is Trump's Venezuela Policy Inconsistent?

Cynthia Arnson of the Wilson Center has a post about the Trump administration's policy toward Venezuela, which she calls a "contradiction" and an "inconsistency." She details all the humanitarian problems U.S. policy exacerbates in the region and concludes:

For now, all the chest-thumping in the world cannot obscure the central inconsistency of Trump administration policy:  a gamble that inflicting maximum economic pain on the Maduro regime will make it cry ‘uncle,’ while leaving others to handle the human costs.
My immediate thought as I was reading was, as the saying goes, the cruelty is the point. Trump does not care about the humanitarian disaster and has no sympathy for what neighboring countries face. He has no reason to. He believes U.S. standing in the region is based on brute force, and that hard power protects our national interests. Why else punish Central America when doing so prompts more emigration?

Put another way, Trump likely sees the humanitarian disaster as part and parcel of forcing the Maduro regime to cry uncle. When refugees flood into other countries, that may well serve the purpose of making them push harder for regime change. Further, he does not want to grant TPS to Venezuelans because his xenophobic base won't like it. That base is more important than the hardline one in Florida, which in any case knows the Democratic candidates are likely to support easing off this policy.

In sum, if you were president and a) wanted regime change; and b) were not bothered by human suffering, this might seem to be a perfectly logical and internally consistent policy.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

U.S. Response to China in Latin America

Carlos Roa at The National Interest takes a look at China's relations with Latin America and what the U.S. can do. FYI, ignore the annoying headline--it's not about "losing" Latin America (just Google "losing Latin America" to see what a click-baity cliché this is).

He makes one point that is especially worth emphasizing:

Washington’s political establishment will have to confront its own ideological assumptions—particularly those that inform its approach towards geo-economics. Doing so will require overcoming a long-held aversion to state-led economic initiatives and the notion that the free market holds unquestionable authority over matters of economics and finance. 
This hits the nail on the head. U.S. economic policy has been driven by expanding the private sector as much as possible in Latin America, which often cuts against what Latin American leaders want. Plus, the U.S. long ago lost credibility in this area given the state-led response to the 2008 economic crisis, which stood in sharp contrast to prior U.S. insistence that Latin America allow markets to readjustment themselves while millions suffered.

Roa goes into the ways in which China has increased Latin American indebtedness to its own advantage, pushed to increase Latin American dependence on Chinese suppliers, and increased its export of manufactured goods. What's worth pointing out here is that this is exactly what the U.S. has done in the past. We're mad now because the Chinese are using our own model, which for years tightened dependent ties. Now, as they loosen and Latin America becomes more autonomous, it's a source of frustration and a sense of "losing." It's now not just about being friendly again. It's completely rethinking how the U.S. relates to the region, which needs to be much more on its terms.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

National Views on Immigration

The Pew Research Center has some data on public views of immigration. What it shows is widespread agreement on a lot of issues currently portrayed in the media as divisive.
When it comes to undocumented immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally, a majority of Americans continue to support a way for them to stay in the country legally. 
Overall, 72% say there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally, if certain requirements are met; far fewer (27%) say there should not be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally. The share who supports a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants has edged lower since March 2017 (from 77%), driven by a shift in Republican views.
The consensus has been eroding in the Republican Party, but these numbers are high. It frustrates me, then, to read the Washington Post--among others--labeling immigrant amnesty as a "far left" idea. It is an entirely mainstream argument.

And all this talk about immigrants being criminals? It is held by those much further right.
Most Americans say people who are in the U.S. illegally are no more likely than citizens to commit serious crimes. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say this. Large majorities also say undocumented immigrants mostly fill the jobs that American citizens don’t want (77%) and are as honest and hardworking as American citizens (73%).
The point here is that we agree a lot more on some core immigration issues than the media or the president would have you believe.


Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Thoughts on the Venezuela Sanctions

Here is the text of the new Venezuela sanctions. Headlines inaccurately refer to them as a "total economic embargo." They are not "total" because they focus only on specific people around Nicolás Maduro. The private sector is not targeted. For targeted people, they target "funds, goods, or services." But they do freeze all assets in the U.S.

This is obviously a severe tightening of what already exists, and it will really hurt Venezuelans, who are already leaving the country in large numbers. Note as well that this was not accompanied by any agreement on TPS. As Daniel Larison noted yesterday, this will lead to more suffering.

There is a lot of uncertainty here. For example:

--Anatoly Kurmanaev asks what happens to Venezuelans who rely on U.S. credit cards. There are many potential new avenues of economic strangulation that can lead directly to malnutrition and lack of medical care. Speaking of medicine, Trump says food and medicine are exempt, just as they are in Iran, but in Iran that is not actually the case.

--The order does not mention other countries. It is hard to imagine Russia or China backing off as a result of this, but we know John Bolton would love a confrontation (Trump, who likes Russia, seems much less likely to want to confront Putin). If they don't break off, then the regime might just keep limping along.

--With all assets in the US frozen, what happens with CITGO and its court battle? That was already a highly uncertain situation. Juan Guaidó now says CITGO is "protected."

--What will the impact be on neighboring countries already struggling to deal with the influx of Venezuelans? Just sending them a bit of money is woefully inadequate--it is a massive humanitarian crisis.

The final question is whether these sanctions will have their desired impact, which of course is forcing Maduro out. In response to Larison's post, Roger Noriega tweeted in a manner that I would see as characteristic of sanctions supporters:

The logic for the Cuba embargo is obviously identical in its pursuit of harsh unilateral sanctions, and it has not worked for almost 60 years. So it is perfectly reasonable to ask whether this is going to work either, and we know--I mean know--that many Venezuelans will suffer as part of "moving more decisively."


Monday, August 05, 2019

TPS for Venezuelans

The Trump administration officially does not like Temporary Protected Status because it is not temporary enough. As the leader of a think tank committed to drastically curtailing immigration put it, "the 'guest' never leaves." Therefore, even while U.S. policy helps push Venezuelans to emigrate, the administration is not eager to protect them if they come here.

The problem with that position is that it runs directly against the hardline Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American constituencies that Trump courts. They applauded when Trump seemed serious about invading Venezuela or otherwise forcing regime change, but now it's clear that he was lying to them. That means there is some political pressure--often channeled through Marco Rubio--to appease them. That in turn leads to ideas about how to give Venezuelans TPS without calling it TPS.

"We're committed to ensure that no Venezuelan is sent back to a situation where they'll be persecuted by the government of Venezuela or by the dictatorship that is usurping democracy in Venezuela," a senior administration official told NPR and other news outlets Friday. 
 "We all understand and we're very cognizant of the risks that Venezuelans face being sent back," the official said. "In that regard, whether it's called TPS, or something else, there is a host of mechanisms that are under consideration that we're looking at."

For Syrians, the administration extended TPS without redesignating it, so no one new can apply. They could do that for Venezuelans, but it's tricky because more will definitely be coming. The same is true for Haitians and others.

Venezuela is different from other countries because there is a real political bloc behind it, and its members are largely in Florida, which Trump narrowly won in 2016. As the Democratic candidates find their way to Florida, they'll be bringing this up. Global Americans is keeping track of how the candidates talk about Latin America, and Venezuela is mostly mentioned in terms of opposing armed action. If Trump resists TPS or TPS-like solutions, I would be surprised if the candidates didn't milk it to Florida audiences.


Friday, August 02, 2019

End of Chile's Copper Law

J.C. Arancibia has the details on the end of Chile's copper law. This is long overdue. It was a 1958 law, later reformed by (but not created by) Augusto Pinochet* to guarantee 10% of copper revenue to the Chilean armed forces.

I followed it closely while researching and writing my dissertation, followed by subsequent publications. It was a major way for the military to evade civilian control and remain very well-funded, even to the alarm of Chile's neighbors. I started my fieldwork almost 25 years ago, which gives you a sense of how difficult it remained to get enough support from the right to pass it. Presidents continually tried and failed. There was a big push in 2011-2012 that I blogged and published about, but it fizzled.

It's good that it is gone, but it should also serve as a reminder that antiquated laws still pervade the military institutions of the hemisphere and give them power and autonomy that undermines democracy.

*Ironically, Salvador Allende's nationalization of copper is precisely what allowed Pinochet the ability to increase the total amount since revenue went through CODELCO, the state copper company.


Thursday, August 01, 2019

Impeachment in Paraguay (Again!)

Latin American impeachment is a no-confidence vote these days. I wrote about it for Brazil three years ago and then talked to Leiv Marsteintredet about it on my podcast two years ago. Paraguay is the most recent example, where Mario Abdo faces calls for impeachment over a controversial energy deal with Brazil.

"We are going to prepare the corresponding documentation for the prosecution of poor performance. We have to do new elections," said Efrain Alegre, leader of Paraguay's Liberal Party, the main opposition group.
Not crimes, or even high crimes and misdemeanors. Just poor performance, which is no confidence. In Mexico, AMLO called for the same and got it passed in the Chamber of Deputies, but it has since stalled in the Senate.

As long as the parameters are clear, this is not necessarily a bad thing, though the structure of a presidential system (especially with separately elected legislature) makes it a lot trickier.

In 2012, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo was ousted through impeachment in a process of "golpeachment." If the path for removal is not clearly laid out, then it becomes constitutionally problematic. BTW, Lugo himself is in the senate now, and from what I gather his party has not yet decided whether to participate in the impeachment process. The constitution (from 1992) has not changed since Lugo was removed. Article 225 is the relevant part:

El Presidente de la República, el Vicepresidente, los ministros del Poder Ejecutivo, los ministros de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, el Fiscal General del Estado, el Defensor del Pueblo, el Contralor General de la República, el Subcontralor y los integrantes del Tribunal Superior de Justicia Electoral, sólo podrán ser sometidos a juicio político por mal desempeño de sus funciones, por delitos cometidos en el ejercicio de sus cargos o por delitos comunes.

"Mal desempeño de sus funciones" is "poor performance of their duties." The issue is whether such a phrase applies to a single policy you disagree with. Its vagueness is what made Lugo's removal so shady.

In other words, do Paraguayans now view impeachment as no-confidence, as a common mechanism for unpopular leaders rather than an uncommon and solemn occasion? Perhaps Lugo's own experience means the answer might be yes.

Abdo says he is ready.


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