Thursday, October 31, 2019

What is a Coup, Anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dealing With Double Standards

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

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

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

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

2. Attack Honduras as vigorously as we do Venezuela

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Podcast Episode 68: Understanding the Bolivian Crisis

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

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


Monday, October 28, 2019

Sorting Out the Chilean Protests

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, October 25, 2019

New Articles on Latin America

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

Articles in this issue:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, October 24, 2019

Politicizing the Latin American Military

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

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

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


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Podcast Episode 67: China & Venezuela

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

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


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Joshua Davis Talk

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

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

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


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mixing Military and Police Functions in Chile

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

New LAPOP Data

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

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

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

Some other interesting tidbits:

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

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

--Guatemalans have the most confidence in the evangelical church

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

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

--perception of corruption has been declining in Ecuador.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Evo's Bid To Stay In Power

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, October 11, 2019

Will Trump Lose the Hardliner Vote in Florida?

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

That creates what the Associated Press describes today for Cuba.

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

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

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

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


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Pressuring Venezuelan Creditors

Mitu Gulati & Ugo Panizza, "Maduro Bonds," Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2018-56


For multiple decades, activists have sought to institute an international legal regime that limits the ability of despotic governments to borrow money and then shift those obligations onto more democratic successor governments. Our goal in this article is to raise the possibility of an alternate legal path to raising the costs of borrowing for despotic regimes. All countries have systems of domestic laws that regulate agency relationships and try to deter corruption; otherwise the domestic economy would not function. Despotic governments, we conjecture, are especially likely to engage in transactions that are legally problematic. The reason being that despotic governments, by definition, lack the support of the populace; meaning that there is a high likelihood that actions that they take on behalf of the populace can be challenged as unrepresentative and contrary to the interests of the true principals. The foregoing conditions, if one translates them into the context of an ordinary principal-agent relationship, would constitute a voidable transaction in most modern legal systems. That means that if opposition parties in countries with despotic governments today were to monitor and make public the potential problems with debt issuances by their despotic rulers under their own local laws, it would raise the cost of capital for those despots. To support our argument, we use both the concrete example of the debt issuance shenanigans of the Maduro government in Venezuela and a more general analysis of the relationship between corruption, democracy and a nation’s borrowing costs.
I don't believe I've ever seen the word "shenanigans" in an abstract. And then there is also "sleazy."
We describe how the efforts of civil society to point out suspicious looking aspects of a particularly sleazy bond issue by the Maduro government both resulted in a significant increase in the market’s perception of the risk of a particular bond issue and, we suspect, killed the willingness of investors to engage in other similar transactions. 
Loaded language aside, the argument is a simple one: opposition parties in authoritarian contexts should loudly proclaim how certain borrowing practices violate domestic law, thus raising doubts in the minds of creditors. It is public shaming, with an added threat of future complications.

One problem here is that they make specific reference multiple times to "opposition parties" but the Venezuela example they use actually involves Ricardo Hausmann, who is not in Venezuela and does not seem connected to a party, and Marco Rubio, a non-Venezuelan U.S. Senator. The body of the article never mentions anyone in a Venezuelan opposition party. This should give us pause.

So yes, you can publicly raise doubts about debt and use social media to spread your word. But basing it on U.S. officials and actors abroad raises ethical questions. It's like a public version of Richard Nixon's "make the economy scream" statement about Chile.


Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Lenín Moreno in Crisis

Protests against Lenín Moreno's austerity measures are intensifying, to the point that Moreno actually moved the capital from Quito to Guayaquil.

Of course, it's all playing out across Twitter. Just as Martín Vizvarra had recently done in Peru, Moreno tweeted a picture of himself with the military leadership.  Then he retweeted Juan Guaidó's claim that Nicolás Maduro was responsible. Meanwhile, Rafael Correa is going berserk, calling Moreno a dictator, retweeting various videos of protesters confronting police, and telling him to resign.

Moreno called the protests a coup, and indeed Ecuador has a long history of them. It's worth remembering that Rafael Correa's extended time in office through elections is the exception in Ecuador's political history. In 2000, CONAIE (the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, which is now leading the protests) was central in bringing down Jamil Mahuad. A lot has been written on CONAIE's political activism. I don't know if this is a coup push, but if CONAIE's involved it means it's well-organized. It has called for a national strike tomorrow.

It's also worth remembering that cutting fuel subsidies is dangerous in general. In 2011, Evo Morales tried it and backed off immediately because of protests (the so-called gasolinazo). Among other things, messing around with propane played an important role in protests that ousted Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003. Mauricio Macri faced protests last year as he started cutting back on subsidies. There are plenty of examples across Latin America.

And yet Moreno says they aren't coming back. It doesn't help him that the International Monetary Fund, which he courted, wrote approvingly of the measures:

The reforms announced yesterday by President Lenin Moreno aim to improve the resilience and sustainability of Ecuador’s economy and foster strong, and inclusive growth. The announcement included important measures to protect the poor and most vulnerable, as well as to generate jobs in a more competitive economy.
The optics aren't good for him, but he figures that with the military's support he can wait them out.


Saturday, October 05, 2019

Do Vaguely Something in Venezuela

Conservative analysts remind everyone of what everyone already knows, that Nicolás Maduro is propped up by foreign governments. Like most other conservatives writing about Venezuela, they want something to be done, but will not actually say what. Here are the verbs they use:

--"unravel" the "network"
--"countering" his external allies
--"take into account" the external state actors
--"challenge" his source of support

So how do we unravel, counter, take into account, and challenge? They won't say, so I don't know, though President Trump is busily alienating most governments in the world except for Russia so does that count?

Or perhaps we could challenge the idea that dialogue never works, take into account comparative cases, counter the urge to hurt Venezuelans because of their governments, and unravel the corrupt networks.


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