Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Op-Ed on Bilingual Education in North Carolina

I'm very pleased to link to an op-ed on bilingual education my student Julia Poppell just published in La Noticia, the main Spanish-language newspaper in Charlotte. She wrote it as an assignment in my U.S.-Latin American Relations course, which I taught this past semester. I was impressed and suggested some revisions before trying to send it out. She tried the Charlotte Observer without success and then I suggested a different audience. They even translated it into Spanish.


Monday, December 30, 2019

Review of Davis and Shear's Border Wars

Julie Hirschfield Davis and Michael D. Shear's Border Wars: Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration (2019) is your basic insider-view book, providing some interesting context to what we essentially already know. I like that sort of book from time to time.

The basic narrative is that Trump immigration policy is driven by the relentless and malevolent vision of Stephen Miller, who retreats into Hannah Arendt-ish arguments about just doing his job. The "just following the law" attitude flows downward, no matter how cruel the policy. Miller's view is that if even one criminal might enter the country, then you need to stop everyone, which is just a different version of Dick Cheney's disastrous one percent doctrine. Political appointees clutching at their positions scramble to make it happen.

Miller is a figure who, unlike just about everyone else in the book, is not forced out, and therefore is a permanent fixture. As such, he blows up every congressional effort to do anything. A typical scenario has congressional figures cook something up, talk to Trump about it, get Trump to agree in principle, then find Trump tweeting something incendiary that Miller told him and it all goes to hell.

Congressional leaders come off as well-meaning, which suggests the authors relied rather heavily in their interviews with them. The cabinet is characterized by infighting and desire not to look bad even while doing bad things--just resign already. Jared Kushner is an idiot who thinks lack of knowledge is a good thing for congressional negotiations. Trump himself is what you'd expect--ignorant and deeply attached to his base. Miller is an ideologue who knows how to destroy things politically but not build them.

The book tries very hard to be even-handed, but that strains credulity (poor Jared Kushner, who was so exhausted but didn't get a vacation!). For example, they commit the common error of seeing Trump as upending "many decades of bipartisan consensus in favor of immigrants and immigration" (p. 8). That makes no sense, given that congressional refusal to pass immigration laws is based on one party being increasingly and openly anti-immigrant. Guess why the DREAM Act had never passed? Trump didn't create the anti-immigrant attitude, he just tapped into it and made it worse. Immigration policy is a machine, and it will continue chewing up and spitting out people until it is radical overhauled.


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Getting Trump to Focus on Venezuela

Andres Oppenheimer writes that Trump needs to refocus on Venezuela.

Washington needs to create a strong international anti-Maduro coalition. Instead of vilifying Latin American immigrants, building a useless wall along the Mexican border, separating refugee kids from their parents, cutting foreign aid to Central American countries and slapping tariffs on friendly governments, the United States should build bridges with Latin America and help create a global agreement to impose effective collective sanctions on Venezuela.
This is unhelpful because those are the policies Trump believes will get him re-elected. He clearly does not view Venezuela as terribly important for the Florida vote.

BTW, if we are in the realm of unrealistic shoulds, then I would add pressuring the Russians, since Putin is a major reason the Maduro government has not fallen.

But it's unhelpful for another reason, which is that when Trump really pays attention to a foreign policy issue, he makes things worse for the country in question. He has no understanding of other countries and only understands blunt instruments. What I am saying is be careful what you wish for, because getting Trump to focus on Venezuela and getting him to do something productive in Venezuela policy are two completely different things.

I do, however, agree with him that the Democratic candidates should be pushed on the question. How they answer will say something about their broader approach to foreign policy. My hunch, though, is that most will stay with a vague "international cooperation" and leave it at that. You cannot argue against it and it does not require further details.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

Las Lupitas

This is an installment in my periodic series of posts about immigrant restaurants in Charlotte. Our city could not function without immigrants, and in this political climate we need to highlight them. Please spend your money at those places and support them however you can.

Today is a bit different, because Las Lupitas is not a restaurant. It's a tortillería and butcher. I do not eat meat, so I can't say anything about the latter, but the former is incredible. It is a small place (see Yelp here for some photos) and you just get in line for either the meat or the tortillas (handy signs hang from the ceiling, yes in Spanish but you know what tortilla means). You order tortillas by the pound and you can see them feeding the dough into the machine in the back. It's $1.25 per pound and I have seen people order massive amounts. I always order two pounds for my family, which is a meal and more.

They come freshly wrapped and very warm. When you check out, you can add a baggie of limes, a baggie of cilantro and onion, and/or a variety of freshly made salsas. All of these are delicious and begging to be eaten quickly.


Nicaraguan Revolution Revisited Podcast

I recommend this four-part podcast on the Nicaraguan revolution from the Watson Institute at Brown University. It stemmed from a conference the institute held in May, which included participants. The podcast itself is well-produced and includes the voices of those participants (at the website you can also watch a short video). The basic theme is the cycle from dictatorship to revolution to civil war to democratic elections and then back to dictatorship.

I could easily see using something like this in class. It is not long and it allows a lot of the participants simply to tell their story, so it's engaging.


Friday, December 20, 2019

How Not To Assess Latin America

The former Latin America editor for The Financial Times gives his end-of-year look at Latin America and it is frustratingly bad.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War geo-political divisions are increasingly evident in Latin America. Recent elections in Mexico (2018) and Argentina (2019) have given new life to nationalist, anti-American and left-wing populism, even though its results have been so disastrous in Venezuela. In the pro-US camp a virulent right-wing populism has emerged with a vengeance in Brazil. At the same time successful pro-western and market friendly democracies such as Colombia and Chile are facing social unrest that could lead to new political challenges from the populist right or left.
No, no, no. Repeat after me: there is no us/them in Latin America. There is no left/right in Latin America. AMLO is kissing up to Donald Trump and so is hardly anti-American. At this point, populism is often a throwaway term for the left you don't like. Comparing Mexico and Argentina to Venezuela is just lazy.

As for Colombia and Chile, the fact that massive protests erupt might just suggest those market-friendly systems aren't quite as successful as you think, though of course this depends on your definition of success.

I don't even know what geo-political divisions he claims because he doesn't explain that.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Podcast Episode 69: Understanding the Chilean Crisis

In Episode 69 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast I talk with Pablo Rubio, a historian who is currently Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University/Investigador de la Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile. He researches the political transition in Chile and U.S.-Chilean relations. We discussed the long-term impact of the transition, the possibilities of constitutional reform, police violence, and even the right's belief that Venezuela is behind the protests.

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.


Forum on Bolivia

Go take a look at Hispanic American Historical Review's forum on contemporary Bolivia. In particular, I recommend my friend and colleague Carmen Soliz's essay. She looks at the balance between his accomplishments and the things he is criticized for.

Although Morales still has massive support from urban and rural sectors (he received 47 percent of the popular vote in the 2019 election), these practices have alienated an important portion of the coalition that put him in power in 2005, 2009, and 2014. As of today, I consider his legacy—the enfranchisement of the majority Indian population, a massive distribution of wealth, the consolidation of national sovereignty, and economic and political stability—to exceed the most controversial elements of his government. However, his attempt to remain in power at any cost has endangered the democratic character of the political process that started in 2003 and has yielded the card of democracy to the right wing of Bolivia and Latin America.
This last point is on the mark. Evo Morales' refusal to step aside didn't only damage Bolivian democratic institutions. It also opened the door to the right that otherwise never would have opened. If he had groomed a successor, the MAS would have won a presidential election. In trying to win it all, he lost it all, both for himself and his party.


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Venezuela Presidential Twitter

The Atlantic Council takes a look at the social media connections of Nicolás Maduro versus Juan Guaidó. One main conclusion is that Maduro had more followers but Guaidó had more interactions. But what does this mean? My hunch is not much.

At various times I've looked at presidential Twitter, which can be entertaining and yields some insights into the leaders. As an independent variable, however, presidential Twitter falls flat. No one has found causal links anywhere between, say, interactions and policy effectiveness.

In the case of Venezuela, it also appears that over the year, people paid less attention to both of them.

This makes sense as protests and coup attempts failed to dislodge Maduro or achieve much of anything. That works to Maduro's advantage, of course, and at least one study found that in the past, he tried to defuse protests by tweeting a lot about things unrelated to the protesters' concerns. How much that mattered is impossible to say.

For now, looking at presidential Twitter is occasionally interesting but not terribly enlightening, and comparing Twitter sizes, so to speak, doesn't accomplish much.


Monday, December 16, 2019

Evo in Argentina

Evo Morales is currently in Argentina and met with MAS leaders to come up with the "ten commandments" of the 2020 election.

It's all about unity, revolutionary spirit, self-criticism, inclusion, and the like. But the biggest question that obviously cannot be discussed publicly is what Evo's own role will be not just in 2020 but beyond. It seems unlikely he will run in 2020 and although I have not seen anything concrete, public comments suggest he might be blocked entirely. The interim government is clearly scared of him politically and has issued an arrest warrant for sedition. It has also accused him of terrorism.

But what about the longer term? The key political problem has been that Evo did not groom political successors and then leave power. What is his version of the "consulta orgánica en las bases para una candidatura que exprese unidad de nuestro pueblo"? Of course, in 2016 he asked Bolivians if he could run for a fourth term and they said no.

Even more interesting will be if he does not run and a MAS candidate wins. As we've seen so clearly in Colombia and Ecuador, you can groom successors but you cannot control them.


Friday, December 13, 2019

Peter Sagal's The Incomplete Book of Running

I read Peter Sagal's The Incomplete Book of Running, which is his extended reflection on what running means to him, especially in the context of facing middle age and going through a difficult divorce.

As a middle-aged runner, I identify with the former, though I have to say that Sagal is such a fast runner that I would occasionally roll my eyes at his pace frustrations, which for me would've been triumphs (a 3:09 marathon in your 40s is inconceivable to me). But he's a funny person and perfectly brought out the various ways the middle-aged body responds to marathon training (just read about egresses). He describes the Boston Marathon, which he's run several times (and in fact was quite close to the bomb in 2013) and I talked about those passages with my wife, who ran it in 2000 while I made my way to cheer her on late in the race around Heartbreak Hill.

He sees running as a very social activity and encourages others to follow his example, though I am not sure how much he realizes extroversion plays into that. His accounts of running groups, talking to everyone he sees, and dressing up in weird costumes made think about how I would hate running if it involved all that. My own enjoyment of running stems from it being a bit social and mostly solo.

But overall, I feel like he nicely summarizes how running provides a structure within life's chaos. I have started training for a marathon in the spring, and my wife and I set up a mileage schedule. During the week, I run almost exclusively in the evening on treadmills, which (as he accurately points out) is sub-optimal but for a variety of reasons unavoidable for me. No matter what's going on during the day, though, I look forward to that time, when I can clear my head. No matter how tired I feel at the beginning, I feel better as I go, and I sleep really well. On weekends, we run longer distances together.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

55th Anniversary of Che Guevara's Speech

Fifty-five years ago today, Che Guevara gave a speech to the United Nations. If you focus on his view--as opposed to his prescriptions and mentions of the socialist camp--of international relations, it stands up quite well. The U.S. did see peaceful coexistence as something on its own terms that did not take the developing world into account. The U.S. was going to "threaten millions of human beings" in Vietnam and its neighbors. The U.S. did support apartheid in South Africa. Developed countries did pillage and terrorize the Congo. The U.S. was trying to get rid of Fidel Castro. The U.S. did have a history of imperialism in Latin America.

Fast forward to today, and you only need tweak his words to make them relevant. The millions of human beings are more in the Middle East than Southeast Asia. The U.S. is trying to get rid of Nicolás Maduro and not so much Miguel Díaz-Canel. The U.S. still sees "peace" in its own nationalist terms.

And in 2019, much like 1964, we don't have good prescriptions with either domestic or foreign policy. The Soviet Union was a disaster and Russia offers no good model either. Marxism-Leninism is a disaster. Venezuela is a disaster. U.S. foreign policy is a disaster. U.S. capitalism is accelerating inequality. Chilean capitalism has generated mass protests. Brazil is a disaster.

There is no particular reason to believe 2020 will be any better.


Monday, December 09, 2019

Weak Democracy in Latin America

Using LAPOP data, Dinorah Azpuru gives us bad news on her Washington Post piece on Latin American protests and democracy.

My research, based on survey data from 2019, shows that in the countries that have had the most serious turmoil in recent weeks, citizens display moderate levels of support for democracy — and high levels of dissatisfaction with its performance. Further, in those countries, the public has only meager trust in important democratic institutions, especially political parties.
People are unhappy about the economy, personal security, and corruption. And it gets worse.
Interestingly, Latin Americans trust the military more than other institutions, with 55 percent trust in 2019. But of course, the military is not an elected body. What’s especially important is that the gap in Latin Americans’ trust in the military and in institutions of representative democracy has been growing. In a region where not long ago, authoritarian military regimes governed with an iron fist, this could spell trouble for democracy. We have already seen that in many countries, the military can still be the final arbiter of political change.
For me, this is the essential point. Despite Bolivia's history of coups, Evo Morales had seemed adept at keeping the military on his side. The presidents of Ecuador and Peru felt compelled this year to appear in photos with their military leadership as a sign of political stability. Chilean president Sebastián Piñera surrounded himself with military officials as he made the ridiculous claim that he was "at war with a powerful enemy."

It's not just that the elected leadership turns to the military, though, it's that many people in the country still consider that a perfectly legitimate option, and they trust the military. As Dinorah shows, 55% of Latin Americans have confidence in the military, compared to 30% in the legislature and 17% in parties.

Now, simply having confidence in the military does not necessarily mean support for military political intervention. But as a minimum it is suggestive of that, which is a bad sign for democracy. In the past decade, we've seen quite a few unscheduled changes of government, from the fishy (Paraguay and Brazil) to clear examples of coups (Bolivia and Honduras), not to mention public calls for a coup (Venezuela) and instability that led to discussion about whether a coup attempt occurred (Ecuador). All the while we debate about whether instability is actually a "coup," it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the military's political role is entirely normalized.

Given the amount of unrest this year, it is unlikely 2020 will be free of a strong military political role.


De-Personalizing U.S.-Mexican Relations

In the context of the U.S. backing off labeling drug cartels as terrorist groups, Alejandro Hope writes that U.S. officials are not sure who in AMLO's administration to talk to regarding security issues.

He doesn't mention Jared Kushner, who has been the main interlocutor with Mexico for Trump. I've argued that over-personalizing U.S.-Mexican relations was a bad idea, and this actually seems to be an opportunity for using institutional channels. Hope refers to the "aparato de inteligencia estadounidense," though I am not sure precisely who this means. Under Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican government seemed to just have to accept Kushner. There was no other option. Here there at least appears to be an opening for Mexican officials to engage with regular policy makers.


Thursday, December 05, 2019

Decay of the Venezuelan League

Alfonso Tusa writes at The Hardball Times about the Venezuelan League. He starts with the fact that MLB cut ties to the league because of sanctions, but just yesterday the U.S. government exempted the Venezuelan League.

But that doesn't detract from the story, which is about a league in decay, with or without U.S. players. He starts with a description of its storied past, with Luis Aparicio, Bob Gibson, Dave Parker, Rollie Fingers, and so many more. And then now:

Going to the ballpark is not an option for many people anymore. Public transportation is almost not available, and the few vehicles still working are extremely expensive. The league has tried to help by setting 6 p.m. as the new starting time for weekday games, earlier during weekends. The other reason for playing earlier is the rampant insecurity in the streets, which forces people to go home much earlier than they used to. The cost of the tickets is about the cost of a single meal, so many fans cannot even think about going to the stadium because they first have to try to eat. They can’t think about buying beverages and food at the stadium, which is as expensive as the tickets, or even more.
They don't even have enough balls and players cannot throw them into the stands. The play is sub-par and the stands emptier. Even many Venezuelan players prefer to play elsewhere in Latin America during the winter.
How many more times there will be a season like this? The optimistic expect this will be the only time this happens, but that implies the end of the political regime, and that needs much more than simple optimism. But perhaps it is healthier being a dreamer, expecting to leave behind all of the depressing and unhappy images of the totalitarian reality. Better than staying anchored to this dark reality that consumes all of us little by little, every day, like a frog being boiled over a slow fire.
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about the players killed in Venezuela after being attacked on the road. I have to imagine many players will stay away even if they have the option of going. The collapse of the Venezuelan state touches everything.


Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Diplomatic Realism in Latin America

Mike Pompeo gave a speech the State Department heralded as being about U.S. "diplomatic realism." It is quite a statement, full of inconsistencies, logical fallacies, and falsehoods. Basically, diplomatic realism means the U.S. pursues its interests while lying about it.

--"No one in the region any longer believes that authoritarianism is the way forward." Sadly, this isn't true, as Latinobarómetro results show that 28% of Latin Americans think authoritarianism is no worse than democracy. Indeed, support for democracy down dangerously, and we should not assume otherwise.

--He mentions Hezbollah and Iran, which signals he ignores his own analysts about their importance.

--"There is more democratic cooperation in our hemisphere today than at any point in history." This makes no sense.

--"Colombia has closed its border to Venezuela out of concern that protesters from – terrorists from Venezuela might enter." Quite the slip of the tongue there. Protesters are terrorists are far as he is concerned.

--"We cannot tolerate these regimes inviting bad actors in, and trying to turn allied democracies into dictatorships.." This makes no sense.

--He argues that Obama's Cuba policy made everything in Cuba worse, without evidence (because there isn't any).

--After discussing Cuba, where economic sanctions have failed, he notes that sanctions will succeed in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

--He does reject armed force in Venezuela, so there is at least something positive.

--After noting how much the U.S. has punished governments, then going on to discuss punishing Central American countries with aid cuts, he insists U.S. foreign policy is based on "respect for how our neighbors and allies run their affairs." Laughable.

--He then argues that U.S. immigration policy is based on respect for its neighbors, which is too stupid a claim to bother getting into.

--he mentions religious liberty multiple times, which is code for discrimination against the LGBTQ community, contraception, etc.

--He says the U.S. will be "Vigilant that new democratic leaders don’t exploit people’s frustrations to take power, to hijack the very democracy that got them there." There is no shortage of irony there.


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