Monday, September 30, 2019

The Larreta Doctrine

Max Paul Friedman and Tom Long have an opinion piece in Uruguay's El Diario on the Larreta Doctrine. Not familiar with it? That wouldn't be surprising because it's not brought up very often. But it was an effort by former Uruguayan Foreign Minister Eduardo Rodríguez Larreta in 1945 to get Latin American states to collectively protect democracy and human rights. Here is a longer English-language analysis they wrote for Perspectives on Politics.

They argue that there are three key points to Larreta's case:

1. Human rights and democracy are inseparable, and violations are a threat to regional peace.

2. There should be precommitments with regional mechanisms that focus on popular sovereignty. Basically, by definition violation of democracy (e.g. a coup) would be a negation of sovereignty.

3. The United States must commit to working multilaterally.

The idea is that given the current ramping up of rhetoric against Venezuela in particular, but also the erosion of democracy elsewhere, it is worth reconsidering valuable ideas from the past that emphasize collective non-military solutions to crises surrounding human rights and democracy. Otherwise the region seems largely stuck.

The devil is in the details. Aside from the question of sovereignty, the really big challenge here is defining democracy or human rights violation. Latin America has never found consensus about either (or anything, for that matter). For example, when a political figure is arrested in any given country, the region is split about whether that individual is a political prisoner or a golpista who deserved it. When a president is removed in an irregular manner--Zelaya, Dilma, Lego--there is no regional consensus on whether a coup took place. And if you cannot agree on basic concepts, then you cannot agree on what action to take or whether to take any action at all.

That doesn't mean it's not worth trying, though. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has wholeheartedly rejected the third point. "America First" is by definition a unilateral approach to foreign policy. But go check out their arguments--they're worth reading and pondering.


Friday, September 27, 2019

Parsing U.S. Policy Toward Central America

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Kozak gave testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on U.S. policy toward Mexico and Central America, thought he focuses mostly on the latter. It is a perfect summation of how sticks are characterized as carrots, and the U.S. is, as President Trump might say, perfect.

First, the history of Central American migration:
People have been heading north from the region for several decades, including during the civil war periods in El Salvador and Guatemala when violence in the region was rampant and tens of thousands of individuals were murdered.
This is excellent use of passive tense to avoid responsibility. Violence was rampant, of course, because of large-scale U.S. military aid and active support for dictators.

Fast forward to today. The United States simply wants to "messaging aimed at educating" people not to come. Oddly enough, he notes that the U.S. has wanted to "combat" the "antiquated economic models that protect those who have long benefitted from the status quo," which in fact El Salvador and Guatemala are pursuing precisely the economic models prescribed by the United States for decades.

Unfortunately, the "success of many of our foreign assistance programs" were not educating sufficiently because of  "powerful, entrenched forces." Therefore President Trump decided to "reprogram" aid, which was not "punitive" but rather just a "wakeup call" for those governments to prove their "political will." (Note: "political will" is mentioned six separate times).

Further, the U.S. decided to shift the burden of asylum to Mexico and Central America to create a "safe and legal way to pursue their aspirations" and to "discourage those who do not have genuine asylum concerns."

Oddly, he notes that in Guatemala "we have seen broad based protests against corruption and "impunity" but does not mention the administration actively dismantled the only organization capable of effectively combating it.

In sum:
There is nothing stopping the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras from adhering to their commitments under their own Alliance for Prosperity plan, other than a lack of political will. 
This is the core of U.S. policy toward Mexico and Central America. 


Monday, September 23, 2019

Jaime Manrique's Like This Afternoon Together

I read Jaime Manrique's new movel Like This Afternoon Forever, a novel about homosexuality, the priesthood, and drug politics in Colombia. Descriptions of it refer to the issue of false positives, though in fact that's just one part of the narrative. Two Catholic priests, Ignacio and Lucas, meet as children, fall in love, and eventually end up in Bogotá together.

The book's style is very straightforward, which belies the complexities of what's occurring. There is of course the fact that two priests are a couple, though in fact that is not so uncommon. But there is also poverty that drives them to deep frustration, doubts about God, the challenge of AIDS, alcohol and drug abuse, and Colombian politics. The government, the military, the police, the drug traffickers, and the paramilitaries are all complicit in the same game, all to the detriment of most Colombians.* That's the backdrop for the dramatic end of the novel. In and out itself, the prose is not so memorable but the story and images will stick with me.

*This is also a major theme about El Salvador in Sandra Benitez's excellent novel The Weight of All Things, where all sides in political conflict are bad for the ordinary person.


Friday, September 20, 2019

The Russians Hire Rafael Correa

I hadn't realized the Russians gave Rafael Correa his own talk show,"Conversando con Correa." He just interviewed Nicolás Maduro. His last interview was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Correa notes that hey, maybe there were some "errors" but Venezuela is a victim. He asks Maduro what went wrong, and his first response is the "physical loss" of the eternal commander. The rest is the fault of the United States, complete with Hitler reference. The show is punctuated by visuals to emphasize that fact. Thanks Obama!

This is a nice soft power platform for the Russians precisely at a time when the United States is basically ceding its position in the region. I have no idea how many people actually see it, but RT has serious reach in Latin America.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Podcast Episode 66: Chilean Terrorism & the Ghosts of Sheridan Circle

In Episode 66 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Alan McPherson, Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy at Temple University. He has published a ton on U.S.-Latin American relations, especially as it relates to intervention. In particular, he has a brand new book Ghosts of Sheridan Circle: How a Washington Assassination Brought Pinochet’s Terror State to Justice. That assassination took place September 21, 1976, almost exactly 43 years ago. I highly recommend the book, which reads like a thriller. Here is the review I wrote of it on this blog.

Go order a copy of the book at the University of North Carolina Press or at Amazon.

If you're going to be in DC on October 1, then go see him in person!

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

Update (9/20/19) Go check out his op-ed in The Washington Post.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Someone Please Start Studying Latin American Twitter Diplomacy

Yesterday Juan Guaidó started negotiating with Nicolás Maduro and the international community via Twitter. For years now, well before Donald Trump was even a candidate, Latin American presidents have used Twitter to excite their base, snipe at foreign adversaries, and lay out their preferred policy options.

And yet no one is publishing academic works on the phenomenon. There are plenty of works on Twitter diplomacy in general, or on non-Latin American countries. But this has been a big deal in the region and deserves analysis. Up to now, there is virtually nothing.

There is one article examining "populism," but this is a term fraught with problems so it's of limited utility. Another simply argues that there is no common usage of Twitter by Latin American presidents. We need more than this, focusing on public diplomacy via Twitter. Latin American political leaders clearly view the medium as useful and important, but scholars somehow don't, ironically perhaps even as they closely follow such exchanges on their own.

So Guaidó talks to Maduro and the world, Hugo Chávez and Alvaro Uribe sparred all the time, Rafael Correa went and still goes on rants about foreign policy, post-presidency Vicente Fox got full-on weird about foreign policy, Evo Morales rails against the United States, and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. We need to study this stuff and figure out whether and how it changes our traditional ways of understanding international relations. For some reason, no one is bothering.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Hugo Chávez Drug Policy & U.S. Intervention

Juan Forero and José de Córdoba at The Wall Street Journal report on documents used by U.S. federal prosecutors alleging that Hugo Chávez had a cocaine plan for the United States:
In 2005, Chávez convened a small group of his top officials to discuss plans to ship cocaine to the U.S. with help from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said a participant in the meeting who, at the time, was a justice on Venezuela’s supreme court, according to the papers. The Bush administration was strongly criticizing his governing style then and had publicly approved of a 2002 coup that failed to oust him. 
“During the meeting, Chávez urged the group, in substance and in part, to promote his policy objectives, including to combat the United States by ‘flooding’ the country with cocaine,” said an affidavit in the documents written by a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent. The former supreme court justice was identified as Eladio Aponte, who fled to the U.S. in 2012 and has been a witness on drug cases, said a person familiar with his role in the investigations.
That Chávez and those around him were involved in some manner in drug trafficking has long been alleged, but this is a new twist. We always need a healthy skepticism about information yielded by someone trying to save their own neck. Is there any corroboration or is all this from a single source?

For the most part, I see this as another potential building block of a rationale to intervene militarily because it can be used as a national security threat type of argument, especially when added to the invocation of the Rio Treaty. Those building blocks remain sketchy, however, given Latin American and Trumpian hesitance to use force. Mexico, for example, is vociferous about its opposition to using the Rio Treaty for Venezuela.

Meanwhile, Juan Guaidó and his team announced that the Norway talks were officially dead, after Nicolás Maduro had already done the same. But Boston Group facilitated talks continue.

In other words, as always there is a lot of talk and not much changes. John Bolton is gone, which seems to decrease the chances of intervention, though it occurred to me that I could also imagine Trump dumping Bolton and then intervening just so he wouldn't have to share the credit. The administration's pattern thus far has been tough talk and sanctions.


Friday, September 13, 2019

The Politics of Latin American Aging

Some remarkable demographic projections from the Pew Research Center. The biggie is that the entire world is expected to experience fertility rates below replacement by 2100. But Latin America is news too: by 2100 it is expected to be the oldest region, a complete turnaround from fairly recent history.
The Latin America and Caribbean region is expected to have the oldest population of any world region by 2100, a reversal from the 20th century. In 1950, the region’s median age was just 20 years. That figure is projected to more than double to 49 years by 2100. 
This pattern is evident when looking at individual countries in the region. For example, in 2020, the median ages of Brazil (33), Argentina (32) and Mexico (29) are all expected to be lower than the median age in the U.S. (38). However, by 2100, all three of these Latin American nations are projected to be older than the U.S. The median age will be 51 in Brazil, 49 in Mexico and 47 in Argentina, compared with a median age of 45 in the U.S. Colombia is expected to undergo a particularly stark transition, with its median age more than tripling between 1965 and 2100 – from 16 to 52.
This is by no means the first time we've heard this basic story. International institutions have already been raising them.

These numbers have important political implications. Most prominently, who will take care of this older population? You need a solid number of younger workers to fund a social safety net, not to mention a well-functioning safety net. That burden will inevitably fall disproportionately on women, which will exacerbate gender inequality. Overall, pressure on pension systems is already a hot political topic, and it will become even worse. And by the way, improvements in health technology will keep people alive longer, so they will need resources for more years than in the past.

This shift will also exacerbate already serious urban-rural divides. Rural areas are historically underserved and ignored. A large older population will require assistance that simply does not exist, and the strain will be tremendous.

The combination of all these factors will lead to more political conflict, as if the region needs more. Chile has experienced serious protests over its pension system. Brazil experienced a general strike about pensions just a few months ago. Colombia faced similar protests. Ecuadorian retirees are protesting about their pensions. Argentina passed reforms two years ago after protests. Mexico is undergoing reforms right now.

If protest are big now, what will they be like when the population is much older and there are fewer younger people to fund those pensions?


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Does Invoking the Rio Treaty Matter for Venezuela?

A majority of signatories to the treaty voted to invoke the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (also known as the Rio Treaty). 
In a vote of the States Parties to the TIAR, the resolution was passed with 12 votes in favor (Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, United States, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, Dominican Republic), 5 abstentions (Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru) and 1 absent (The Bahamas).
There were rumors of this during months prior. For time being, it means meetings.

The text of the treaty states the following:
The High Contracting Parties agree that an armed attack by any State against an American State shall be considered as an attack against all the American States and, consequently, each one of the said Contracting Parties undertakes to assist in meeting the attack in the exercise of the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.  
This comes after Nicolás Maduro threatened Colombia, though as mentioned it's been in the works for a while and I wonder how seriously anyone takes that threat anyway. Instead, as the U.S. Ambassador said, "attack" is being reframed as "creating instability."
The Rio treaty was born after the cold war, but it is an instrument to unite the region to face all types of threats, from conventional war, to terrorist attacks, and now to new threats to the stability of the region. 
Colleagues, there can be no serious question that the actions of the former Maduro regime have disturbed the stability of the region. 
The words "stable" and "stability" do not appear anywhere in the treaty, but it does provide some wiggle room with a reference to "an aggression which is not an armed attack or by an extra-continental or intra-continental conflict, or by any other fact or situation might endanger the peace of America." And bingo! The U.S. Ambassador uses those words:
The humanitarian crisis is not the only threat to regional stability. The mismanagement and decline of the former Venezuelan government has allowed the rise of narco-traffickers, trafficking of arms and people, and irregular armed groups that further threaten the peace of the American region. Indeed, in many cases, these traffickers in narcotics, arms and people, as well as other armed groups, benefit from the covert assistance of the former Maduro regime. The United States has sanctioned many top Maduro officials for their roles in arms trafficking and systemic corruption. 
Mike Pompeo echoed that:
Recent bellicose moves by the Venezuelan military to deploy along the border with Colombia as well as the presence of illegal armed groups and terrorist organizations in Venezuelan territory demonstrate that Nicolas Maduro not only poses a threat to the Venezuelan people, his actions threaten the peace and security of Venezuela’s neighbors. 
Where, you might ask, are Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Mexico? Well, they are former members who pulled out, the first four as a group in 2012 (see Boz on this).

And what does this mean? Many of the signatories have already rejected use of force, so it's not likely a fig leaf for that. For the moment, it is a sign of regional unity, albeit a weak one given it was approved by only 12 countries (and the president of one of them controls no part of the government).

The Ministry of Foreign Relations denounced the move, calling it imperialist and noting how few governments had signed on to it. It also accurately noted that the last time there really was an extra-hemispheric attack, in 1982, the U.S. did not invoke the treaty.


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Does Bolton's Departure Matter for Venezuela Policy?

The Venezuelan government has expressed its pleasure that Donald Trump fired John Bolton. They're all apparently thinking of eating papayas to celebrate. On the surface, this makes sense because Bolton is well-known for wanting military intervention. But it's hard to see the administration's policy toward Venezuela changing all that much.

Early in the year, Bolton's presence is part of what made me nervous about intervention. After the ridiculous Troika of Tyranny speech last November (anyone still use that phrase? Didn't think so) he pushed for military force. Trump didn't want to make that commitment, and so simply started ignoring him. This is why I don't think much will change--Bolton wasn't driving the president's agenda on Venezuela anymore anyway.

Now that Bolton is gone, Mike Pompeo has even more influence, and he's equally as bombastic when he wants to be. However, after the failed Venezuelan uprisings earlier this year he followed Trump's lead and toned himself down.

Pompeo in January 2019: ""Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with Maduro and his mayhem."

Pompeo in September 2019:  "We built out that coalition of 50+ countries that have now recognized Juan Guaido as the appropriate, duly-elected leader in Venezuela. And I’m confident we will provide the support that’s necessary so that Venezuela can return to a country with some level of freedom, some level of democracy, and the opportunity to feed its own people."

I agree with Chris Sabatini about how Maduro should not celebrate this too much: "Bolton’s strategy was flawed from the beginning and his departure may pave the way to bring in a more professional, effective diplomat that could be a greater threat to Maduro’s autocracy.” Bolton, even if sidelined, generated mixed signals. That will be less evident now. The administration says that talks have been taking place.

Right now, the administration's approach is sanctions-heavy with some dialogue. If Trump didn't use military force with Bolton there, I can't see any reason it would happen after he left. If the administration uses dialogue more effectively--with plenty of carrots to go with the sticks--maybe it can change the stance of senior officers in the military. Or maybe not. But at a minimum it's more possible without Bolton trying to sabotage it.


Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Trump and CICIG

The former commissioner of CICIG (which is now officially defunct) Iván Velásquez has a message that has been dismal reality for a while. The Trump administration was central to CICIG's demise, as evidenced by the timing.
After the CICIG announced that it was investigating Morales and members of his family for campaign finance violations, he and others began to threaten the commission and launched a campaign to erode the U.S. bipartisanship support. They spent millions on Washington lobbyists and dispatched a steady stream of state officials to make the case that the CICIG was a leftist operation. When the Trump administration announced it was moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Guatemala was the first government to follow suit — all in an effort to get closer to the U.S. government and continue its push to discredit the agency. 
The efforts paid off. Last year, when Morales barred me from returning to the country in violation of the agreement with the United Nations, the tepid response from the Trump administration amounted to a stamp of approval. That’s when Morales refused to extend the mandate.
The administration has done considerable damage to the region, and one could argue that Guatemala is among the worst hit. Take the combination of supporting corruption while attacking the country's migrants and pressuring Guatemala to accept Hondurans and Salvadorans who want asylum in the U.S.

U.S. Rep. Norma Torres co-signed a letter calling on the UN to make sure all of CICIG's employees, plus people who work in Guatemalan courts, receive protection. Trump and Morales combined to make them targets for angry elites.

In a 2017 LAPOP report, Liz Zechmeister and Dinorah Azpuru showed how Guatemalans overwhelmingly trust CICIG. A 2019 poll showed 72% approval. Guatemalans have protested against its closure, but the military and the criminal oligarchy that controls the state have stood firm.

The result, as you can easily guess, will be more emigration. Corruption, violence, and permanent economic inequality leaves no other options for thousands.


Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Will Mexico's Policy Toward the U.S. Wake Up?

Former Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhán wrote an op-ed in the new New York Times Spanish edition calling for AMLO to start saying "enough" to the United States. Under Trump, he wrotes, U.S. policy toward Mexico follows a "Sinatra Doctrine," meaning simply "my way," and it's time to push back.

[E]vitar siempre la confrontación, buscando apaciguarlo, solamente envalentonará a Trump a seguir arrinconando el país.

He wants Mexico to establish its own immigration policy with the Northern Triangle, condemn attacks on migrants in the U.S., remind the U.S. about where the scourge of opioids comes from, among other things. In short, he's calling for more autonomy.

I wrote in Global Americans early this year about how AMLO's policies were cautious, and then asked:
But a number of his foreign policy audiences have opposing views and over time he will find it harder to reconcile them.
AMLO is plainly afraid of Trump, and therefore allows him to walk all over Mexico, but I have yet to see whether that hurts him politically. Right away now his approval is still through the roof at 69%. Perhaps like him, Mexicans generally are more afraid of the devil they know (Trump casually hurting the country) than the devil they don't (Trump deciding actively to hurt the country).


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