Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Final Blog Post

This is my 5,277th and final blog post. This blog has been tremendous fun, but I've found that I am consistently choosing to spend my time and energy doing other things.

I actually chose today of all days because I wondered whether the day after a huge election would change my mind. There are interesting stories: the effects of Venezuelan socialism, the vote in Miami, the impact on Latin America, and any number of others. But it really didn't. I am doing other stuff, even administrative, like trying to figure out how to give students an international experience in the Covid-19 era. I will still write, of course, but I also want to find new outlets. All of this is true for my podcast as well, which was a cool experience but one I've found myself thinking about less and less.

Anyway, it's been over 14 years. I started as a pretty new Associate Professor. Back then, the big debate was whether to blog as an untenured professor. That was a long time ago.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you around.


Monday, October 05, 2020

SOUTHCOM and Latin America in the Covid Era

I watched the Council of the Americas webinar with SOUTHCOM Commander Craig Faller and Civilian Deputy Commander Jean Manes, with Eric Farnsworth moderating. Some interesting discussion, with the kind of emphasis you would expect from SOUTHCOM. Here are my quick thoughts:

  • Major issue is Chinese illegal fishing around Ecuador and Peru (see here for background). I have to wonder how much that could sour Latin American views of China. On Twitter, Tracy North notes that it also affects Nicaragua, which they did not mention. I don't know if that was intentional (because of politics) or not.
  • Manes: the U.S. role in providing aid for Covid "hasn't been covered in the news much" but they keep careful track to make sure no other outside government (esp. China) does more. It's quite the cold way of looking at it--give more aid only if China does so first. The U.S. does not want other countries to "take advantage." I imagine Latin American leaders would not tend to view any Covid aid as "taking advantage." As for the news comment, it sounds in line with Trump but it's a constant in U.S. policy toward Latin America--the news is never quite positive enough of U.S. actions.
  • Faller: can we even call the Maduro regime a "regime" because it's a small group of criminals. Well, they control the government, so yes, it's a regime. That was a surprising and uninformed offhand comment intended as an insult, I guess.
  • Manes: the Colombia peace process is "on pause" because of Covid, at least until a vaccine, like other initiatives around the region. I get this, but one could argue it was already on pause before Covid because the Duque government is not committed to it, and the pandemic is just an excuse.
  • Faller: U.S. training of Latin Americans has actually increased because of technology. That actually makes sense, because at the university we find larger meeting participation.
  • Both Faller and Manes: U.S.-Brazilian relations at the military-military level are very good. I have not followed this, but it also makes sense--at that level it can transcend the politics of the particular government in power.
  • Faller had a not-so-veiled threat to countries pursuing agreements with China: "Our ability to have a trusting relationship will be jeopardized." Such a threat really suggests weakness--China is making inroads and the U.S. cannot figure out how to address it.
  • Manes: once someone decides to emigrate, you've already lost. You need to improve things at home. The big question, though, is how to deal with migrants when they reach the U.S. Her logic would suggest that just sending them home is a bad idea, though obviously that's not the Trump logic.
  • Venezuela: not much new. Faller: the external actors there are the "intricate weave of a Persian rug." Weird way to put it, but whatever.
  • No questions or discussion of Mexico. That surprised me. Mexico as a partner is more important than China as an adversary, I'd say. Update: I've been reminded via email that Mexico does not fall under SOUTHCOM. So this is worth mentioning. But it's weird to hear Central American migration kind of ending there.


Friday, September 18, 2020

Ecuador's Treatment of Venezuelan Migrants

Beyers, Christiaan., & Esteban Nicholls (2020). "Government through Inaction: The Venezuelan Migratory Crisis in Ecuador." Journal of Latin American Studies, 52(3), 633-657.

Abstract (gated):
This article analyses strategies for channelling a migrant population out of a country by indirect means. Specifically, we examine the response of the Ecuadorean state to the influx of Venezuelan newcomers since 2015. We argue that this response has been characterised by inaction, rooted not in policy failures or bad governance, but rather in a strategic governmental rationality. We show how migrants are ‘herded’ out of the country as a result of a form of indirect government that works differently from other ‘anti-immigrant’ policies like forced deportations or incarceration at the border, and yet produces similar outcomes.

I found this to be originally and fascinating. The foundation of this inaction policy is Lenín Moreno:

The strategic ‘inaction’ that we uncovered during our research is explained in part by the political weakness of the Moreno regime, which, during its first three years in power, resulted in a please-all stance towards sensitive political issues such as the Venezuelan question. 

And its implementation (if inaction can be labeled as such) is pretty twisted.

Our interviews with Venezuelans in Quito confirmed that many would prefer to remain in Ecuador. The majority who do stay do so because they have family, friends or a business partner in Ecuador. By contrast, the majority of Venezuelans who leave do so because of what is generally described as an impossible-to-comply-with series of legal requirements and administrative steps, and a general sense that the government is indifferent to their struggles. These subject dispositions are in themselves concrete effects of the governmentality of inaction. 

What they describe is a bureaucratic dystopia, where red tape becomes the means for what in the U.S. Mitt Romney once famously labeled "self-deportation." A critical difference from the U.S., however is that the public face of the government is benign. Ecuador "welcomes" Venezuelan migrants but makes it too much of a paperwork hassle to stay. Sorry, just following the rules.

The vice-minister goes on to acknowledge that, while Venezuelans ‘often arrive only with what they have on them’, the government cannot ‘exempt citizens entering the country from any requirements’, and effectively concludes that it is doing all it can towards some eventual resolution of the problem.

The system is actually specifically intended not to work. Migrants cannot get licenses to do any work and eventually give up. Word of the difficulties go back to Venezuela, and so new migrants come primed not to stay. They conclude by suggesting that this is part of an overall Moreno problem of inaction.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Venezuela Committing Crimes Against Humanity

The UN Human Rights Council sent an Independent International Fact-Finding Mission to Venezuela, and it just issued a report. It's incredibly damning:

While recognising the nature of the crisis and tensions in the country, and the responsibilities of the State to maintain public order, the Mission found the Government, State agents, and groups working with them had committed egregious violations. It identified patterns of violations and crimes that were highly coordinated pursuant to State policies, and part of a widespread and systematic course of conduct, thus amounting to crimes against humanity.

There is a state policy of extrajudicial killings and torture. It says this got going in 2014, which coincides with the aftermath of Hugo Chávez's death and Nicolás Maduro's desperate efforts to stay in power. State violence is all he's got. The National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) normalized torture, which included "stress positions; asphyxiation; beatings; electric shocks; cuts and mutilations; death threats; and psychological torture."

The document itself is over 400 pages and heavily footnoted to demonstrate all the violations of international law. It includes a highly detailed chronology of the political crises that were accompanied by increased use of state violence. At this point, the government targets just about everybody, not just high profile opposition leaders:

Intelligence agencies have also targeted other profiles of people seen to challenge official narratives. This includes selected civil servants, judges, prosecutors, defence lawyers, NGO workers, journalists, and bloggers and social media users.630 In 2020, various health, workers and social media users critical of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic were also detained.631 In July 2020, the Minister of the Interior, Néstor Reverol, announced that Venezuelans who had left the country and are returning would be charged under the Organic Law against Organised Crime and Financing of Terrorism, allegedly for bringing Covid-19 into the country.

Also selectively targeted were people associated with these actors, including families, friends and colleagues or NGO workers and human rights defenders. The questions authorities asked these people while in detention and under interrogation appear to suggest that they were detained to incriminate, extract information about or apply pressure on the main targets. This includes organizations that may have provided funding to opposition movements or received international funding. The measures used against people associated with principal targets often matched or exceeded the severity of that inflicted upon principal targets. 

They even get down to what detention buildings look like inside.

At this point, international organizations can just gather information, which eventually will be used in some manner for accountability once democracy is restored in the country. This is a meticulously documented dictatorship.


Monday, September 14, 2020

Podcast Episode 76: Trump & Latin America

In Episode 76 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, once again I join forces with the Historias podcast of the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies (which everyone should check out). I talk with Dustin Walcher, Jeff Taffet, Mary Rose Kubal, and Maggie Commins about the Trump administration's policies toward Latin America.

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, rate, and keep 6 feet from it.


Friday, September 04, 2020

Repairing U.S.-Latin American Relations

Michael Shifter asks whether the damage Trump has wrought on U.S.-Latin American relations can be repaired, starting from an anecdote about how a Mexican business leader said relations would be set back 20 years.

I think there are two things here that go well beyond even what a Biden administration would look like. First, history tells us that of course relations can be repaired. The relationship is just too tight, the interdependence so strong. If we can repair relations with Cuba after years of trying to destroy it, we can do so with Mexico. Even Daniel Ortega tried for a while to engage with the U.S. So this part is easy, and in fact many Latin American presidents are just waiting for someone else in the White House, in a similar way as the 2008 election.

But the second is more difficult. China is now a player like never before, a process that became stronger in the 2000 and then accelerated, pedal to the metal, under Trump. That cannot be reversed no matter what the U.S. does. Shifts in trade relations are not super likely unless something happens in China. These are long-terms trends that will not change just because someone new become U.S. president. Latin American countries looked for creative ways to find autonomy from the U.S., and restoration of trust may slow that but will not stop it.


Thursday, September 03, 2020

Fake News in the Guatemala Invasion Compared to Now

Sylvia Brindis Snow and Shane Snow take a deep, deep dive into the U.S. use of fake news to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. It includes photos and audio. That story is not a new one (though the details make me shake my head no matter how many times I've heard them) but they take it a step further and view it as a precursor to the Russian meddling in U.S. presidential elections. There are interesting parallels.

Comparing Hillary Clinton to Arbenz feels like a stretch at times, but it's intriguing. The basic idea is to concoct an entirely false picture from abroad and broadcast it as broadly as possible, radio then and social media now. The CIA created a new reality that the Communists were taken over and that a rebel force was on the march. This was all recorded outside Guatemala by actors. Nothing about it was real. Similarly, we got (and still get) crazy stories about Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. 

On the Guatemala side, we see David Atlee Phillips pleased as punch after Arbenz was overthrown, playing bridge and feeling smug. One can easily imagine a parallel in Russian hackers. And in both cases, they are leaving terrible wreckage. The authors conclude by showing how the offending governments cover up their tracks, lying even more. Unable to find any evidence of Communist affiliation in Arbenz's house, the CIA puts in bags of dirt labeled with Communist countries, as if he had collected dirt in his Communist ardor. Stupid, and unconvincing, but convincing enough for those didn't think too much about it, much like now.


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Review of Vincent Bevins' The Jakarta Method

I recommend Vincent Bevins' recently published The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade & the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World. It starts with an extended discussion of Indonesia and then looks at how Suharto's brutality (the word "Jakarta" became a synonym for mass political murder) was copied elsewhere, with the U.S. government deeply involved everywhere. He uses interviews with those who suffered (and often emigrated) to show how people were affected and felt at the time.

From my perspective as a Latin Americanist, the book's global perspective makes it especially interesting. Events in one part of the world affect others. Revolutionaries and reactionaries alike are reading the news, and trying to glean lessons. Che Guevara and Fidel Castro famously decided from the 1954 Guatemala invasion that the electoral path was suicidal, but Indonesians were learning from Central America too. We know the U.S. government viewed Latin America in global terms, but we talk far less about how places like Indonesia resonated. Because of language barriers, those of us who study Latin America don't tend to do fieldwork in Asia.

The 1960s-1980s in particular was a time of wanton anti-communist slaughter. It was calculated, strategic, and entirely supported by the U.S. government. As he notes, the living carry psychological scars with them, and in Indonesia people still do not feel comfortable discussing it. Those labeled "communist" are still stigmatized, unlike Latin America where they're even becoming presidents of countries. Using the stories from this interviews, he traces the shift from hope and pride during the Sukarno government to fear after Suharto took over and killed roughly a million people.

Although it's not really a theme of the book, his interviews also show the global migratory impact of mass murder. His interviews, which are in different continents, show people fleeing in all directions, not even necessarily settling in the first country that will take them. I always talk about this in the Central American context in my U.S.-Latin American relations class. But I also lived it while being entirely ignorant of the causes at the time--Bevins mentions the so-called "boat people," some of whom ultimately ended up in the public schools I attended.

If there is an overarching political lesson in the book, sadly it is that mass murder worked amazingly well for U.S. political elites. The Cold War was "won" by preserving global capitalism and asserting U.S. hegemony. The average person in the United States is considerably wealthier than most people on the planet. And they are either unaware or uncaring about the violence that contributed to getting them there.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Venezuelan Government Attacks Health Workers

Amnesty International lays out the dire situation Venezuelan health workers are in. Repression, economic collapse, and lying all fold in together. 50% of health workers have emigrated rather than deal with dangerous conditions where often they arrive at work hungry. This is pure brain drain. 

“The Venezuelan authorities are either in denial about the number of health workers to have died from COVID-19, or they do not have accurate information about the precarious conditions in hospitals and the dire need for better protection of staff and patients alike. Either way, the government is being utterly irresponsible,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
Nobody believes anything the government says, and Venezuela is the only country in the hemisphere to imprison doctors who speak truth to power (and then drag them to military tribunals!). There is, of course, lots of tweeting about how successful everything is.

In fact, Maduro’s spokespeople almost don’t reference how medical personnel are being affected anymore; they have even criminalized them. On May 22nd, the Information minister, Jorge Rodríguez, said: “Assume that you’re standing in front of a COVID-19 patient. Follow the protocol, use facemasks. We’ve seen videos (…) where healthcare workers aren’t using them. They’re not using gloves, they’re not using the suits they were given to work on these patients.”

But the equipment hasn’t arrived. MUV began a campaign on July 23rd to promote donations of biosafety equipment, facemasks, face guards, gloves, surgical caps and scrubs; in Táchira, they reported shortages of up to 70%. In Caracas, Ana Rosario Contreras said that they’re being forced to reuse facemasks and scrubs, a problem already reported by Monitor Salud: in seven out of thirteen hospitals in Caracas, there are no facemasks available, and they’re forced to reuse them in ten of those hospitals. 

 No surprise, then, that Maduro already has people lined up to test the Russian vaccine.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Political Center in Colombia

The Canadian Council for the Americas held a webinar on the political center (sorry, centre!) in Colombia and whether it can unite. There was former Vice President Humberto de Calle (under Ernesto Samper, and he was also the head of the negotiating team with the FARC*) and then a bit later also Colombian journalists and a financier, moderated by Ken Frankel.

The quick answer is that it's really tricky.

De la Calle's main point was that, unlike Colombian political tradition, the center needed to start with a basic program rather than choosing a person to rally around. He gave various indicators, based on local election results and polls, about an appetite for centrist positions and parties. Centrist policy positions included agrarian reform, tax reform, pension reform, and crop substitution.

But that is where the conversation got more difficult. Responses included asking where was the focus on women and youth? If the right dominated non-urban areas, how was this going to function? What are some concrete objectives? Doesn't this seem too top-down? And, fundamentally, what is the "center" anyway?

Unless I missed it toward the end, when I had interruptions and missed chunks, the political mechanics of all this was missing. Who gets the ball rolling, which means controlling the message at the beginning? De la Calle advocated for self-exclusion, meaning no one would be rejected as long as they broadly accepted the program. But that depends on who defines the program.

I've written before about how the FARC really screwed the democratic left in Colombia, because it's too easy to connect the left to the FARC (and nowadays also to Venezuela, though I don't know how much that actually convinces people). But I hadn't thought as much about the center. This discussion demonstrated to me how tough such a project would be. The essential question "can it unite?" just kind of hung there. Fear has served the right very well, and it's hard to overcome.

* His overall political biography is really interesting.


Friday, August 14, 2020

Bolsonaro's Popularity

I recommend Brian Winter's article in Foreign Affairs on the durability of Jair Bolsonaro's popularity, which in fact just went up. He zeroes in on the country's interior:

The interiorzão is not defined on any map, but it generally refers to a belt of land sagging around the country’s geographic midsection, from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in the west through Goiás, Minas Gerais, and parts of Bahia in the east. This is a Brazil of soy farms and cattle ranches, oversize Ford pickup trucks, air-conditioned shopping malls, and all-you-can-eat steakhouses. Some of it is old, but much of it was erected only in the last 30 years or so. Instead of Afro-Catholic syncretism and bossa nova, it boasts evangelical megachurches and sertanejo, a kind of tropicalized country music sung by barrel-chested men in cowboy hats and Wrangler jeans.It is Brazil's equivalent to flyover country, parts that are not tourist destinations and do not correspond to the foreigner's view of the country as a whole. As with Trump in the U.S., it constitutes a core of support that's not likely to fall away.
I can imagine a similar worldview holding there and here. What I consider to be destroying institutions, Bolsonaro/Trump supporters see "getting things done." What I see as unacceptable rhetoric, they see as a return to morality. What I see as conspiracy theories, they see as truths. What I clearly see as lying, they see as "telling it like it is." Brazil's political history is so different from the U.S., but there are parallels here.

As Brian writes, quite a few elites have repented their support for Bolsonaro. The same has happened here, but that doesn't necessarily signal change. That core is still there, and they love the show they're seeing. The difficulty for any analyst is to truly move away from trying to sort out self-interest. People adore their president despite the fact that he is screwing them. Depressed economic growth, rampant virus, you name it (wrecked post office, even!).

From an electoral standpoint, it's sobering. The party systems of the two countries are so different that comparison isn't worthwhile, but at a very basic level, established opposite parties will find it hard to convince that core base that they have anything to offer. To win, you need to bring everyone else together.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Completely Broken Immigration System

I watched WOLA's webinar on immigration: "Stranded Between Borders: Draconian Responses to a Regional Migration Crisis." Adam Isacson moderated, with the following guests:

Gretchen Kuhner, Institution for Women in Migration (Mexico),

Marco Romero, CODHES and Professor at the National University of Colombia

Ursula Roldán, Institute for Research and Projection on Global and Territorial Dynamics of the Rafael Landívar University (Guatemala)

It was particularly worthwhile because it didn't in fact focus on Trump per se, but rather the responses and realities in the Latin American countries.

The overall message is that the immigration system is utterly, terribly, broken. The Trump administration is not only anti-immigrant, but it reneges on agreements. AMLO bows down to Trump just to avoid being attacked, and his own anti-immigrant policies are fine with his base in Mexico. Colombia has nothing but short-term, emergency responses when it needs much more. Immigrants live precariously at borders with no solution in sigtht. Covid-19 hovers over all of this, because vulnerable migrants find themselves infected and bureaucracies have ground to a halt.

Tied to that, there is so little hope for meaningful change. No current president is willing to build a long-term humane system, and is generally doing the opposite. Even if Joe Biden wins the presidency, it will take a long time to undo the damage that the Trump administration inflicted on immigration policy and immigrants.

The only positive note was that remittances to Guatemala were up in July. I can't even imagine how that is possible, but it is.


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Plan Colombia is Problematic

Michael Shifter writes of Brent Scowcroft in glowing terms for his role in promoting Plan Colombia. One thing I've noticed over the years is that advocates know Plan Colombia had some massively negative consequences, and so feel obligated to at least make some mention, but without going into detail and then head straight back to compliments. Examples from his short essay:

  • "however seriously flawed"
  • "Criticism centered around human rights concerns"
  • "failed to achieve its highest priority objective"
  • "for all of its flaws in conception and implementation"
That's a lot of qualifiers. More specifically, let's look at the most recent data from the International Displacement Monitoring Centre:

This is Plan Colombia in action--it created a disaster along Syrian lines for millions of Colombians, but they just don't get much attention. President Alvaro Uribe, who was largely responsible for implementing it after he took office in 2002, is a thug who oversaw major human rights violations, and is currently under house arrest for bribing members of paramilitaries so that he wouldn't be implicated for his involvement with them.

I understand fully that Plan Colombia served to ramp up the government's side in the civil war, and as a result it was able to weaken the FARC sufficiently to force it to negotiate, which stabilized the country. I am not trying to pretend that didn't happen. But it definitely needs to be seen as only side of a violent coin.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Trump's Latin America Nominees Are Bad in the Same Way

Not long ago, I wrote about how Trump pick for Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Carlos Trujillo, was a bad choice. Now Chris Sabatini wrote what is like a companion piece, namely that Trump's pick to head the Inter-American Development Bank, Mauricio Claver-Crone, is a terrible choice.

Plus, they are terrible in almost exactly the same ways. They are Marco Rubio-groomed ideologues with no experience, chosen solely with Florida electoral votes in mind. They are obsessed with Cuba and Venezuela, and can't seem to concentrate much on anything else.

The White House’s nomination of Mauricio Claver-Carone seems certainly informed by domestic politics — part of its strategy to win Florida’s 29 electoral votes in November. Currently the senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, Claver-Carone’s previous experience was running a one-man lobbying shop for the U.S.-Cuba embargo. The underqualified candidate owes his meteoric rise from relative obscurity to his benefactor, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — though the senator’s patronage twice failed to get him appointed as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, raising the question of why he should be in charge of a regional development institution at a time of unprecedented economic and social distress in Latin America.

These are important jobs at any time, but especially now. Latin America is in crisis, and political hacks are just not the way to go. They seem guaranteed to focus on all the wrong things.


Sunday, August 09, 2020

Jorge Castañeda's America through Foreign Eyes

I read Jorge Castañeda's America through Foreign Eyes, and since I was asked to review it, I will keep this brief and let you click on that when it's ready for clicking. Castañeda knows the U.S. very well, and is in a good position to tell us something about ourselves. And he clearly likes the U.S. a lot.

The one point that the average American would do well to take from this book is the dangerous absurdity of exceptionalism. We think we're exceptional when we're not, often creating our beliefs by conveniently leaving out key facts. I mean, don't talk about democracy and equality unless you explicitly say you mean only whites. Castañeda, like so many others, is frustrated by these beliefs and sees them as an obstacle to Americans themselves.

I will also say that Castañeda is optimistic about how we can change. He often seemed more optimistic than me. So I hope the outsider view is getting something I am missing.


Monday, August 03, 2020

Rubio's Influence on Latin America Policy: Much Ado About Nothing?

Interesting article in Politico about Marco Rubio's influence on Latin America policy, like the reference to him as the "virtual Secretary of State for Latin America." But something nagged me. Something seemed a but off about the influence. I mean, he's clearly influential, but...what? It finally crystallized as I thought about what Latin America policy would be like if Marco Rubio had no influence.

The answer is barely different.

He is viewed as having outsized influence on Venezuela and Cuba policy and keeping the administration centered on them. Makes sense. But in Venezuela, he's not getting what he wants, which is TPS and more interest in a military solution. He gets the oil embargo, I guess, but people like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo would've wanted that too. For Cuba, he's just getting establishment Republican policy, which would've been identical no matter what. Roll back Obama, love the embargo, no dialogue.

He's seen as contributing to ignoring the rest of Latin America, especially Mexico. Well, OK, except that for Trump, U.S. policy toward Mexico is driven from within the White House and would've been like that no matter what. Remember how Kushner ignored the State Department and everybody else. Further, Trump doesn't care about the rest of Latin America, so I wonder whether anyone could've convinced him otherwise. Trump likes Rubio's obsession with Cuba and Venezuela because it's about his own re-election, and he doesn't care about Latin America policy not related to re-election. Do you really think that absent Rubio, Trump would care about South America? He insults Colombia, our strongest ally, all the time, and that's not because of Marco.

This bring me to my next point. Rubio has been successful in getting his acolytes appointed to policy positions. I recently wrote about Carlos Trujillo in Global Americans. For Rubio, "personnel is policy," according to his office, and he pursues it with petty abandon. But in the Trump administration, the adage isn't true. Trump doesn't care what State Department officials say. However, they do have an impact on bilateral relations on the ground, and so can easily worsen them by showing ignorance about regional issues. I don't know if that's been the case or not.

This is all one big counterfactual. Would there be dramatic differences if Marco Rubio were not involved so deeply? He's got influence, but how much does it matter except for his ego and his cronies?


Friday, July 31, 2020

Michael Kozak on Latin America Policy

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Michael Kozak, talked on-the-record about U.S. policy. Here is the gist:

--The Bolivian coup government can delay the presidential election, no biggie.

--The Cuba embargo is totally going to work. History tells us so!

--Bolsonaro is, well, and Brazil, geez, they're tough, who the hell knows what's going on.

--Nicolás Maduro won't face up to reality so we are kinda out of ideas.

--Crap, you're going to keep asking me about Trump's comments and I sure as shit don't want to get into that, but some delays are OK and some aren't.


Thursday, July 30, 2020

Government Violence in Bolivia

Andrew Pagliarini writes in The New Republic about the political crisis in Bolivia. He links to the new report by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the University Network for Human Rights, which is really disturbing. The title is They Shot Us Like Animals so you immediately get the drift.

According to witnesses, government repression since November 2019 has extended beyond killing protestors to quell criticism. The government has harassed, arbitrarily arrested, and tortured people that it perceives to be outspoken against the Áñez administration. Many Bolivians have found themselves facing charges or detention for vaguely defined crimes such as sedition, while others have been attacked in the streets by security forces and para-state actors. Certain visible groups are particularly susceptible to this persecution, including journalists, human rights defenders, and politicians. The result of this repression has been a pervasive climate of fear in many communities. 

Pagliarini frames the postponement of the presidential election in terms of lithium. Like so many other times in Latin America, political crisis and U.S. interests centers on a primary good deemed to be essential. And we're all using lithium.

Añez will hold on as long as she can, so international pressure is essential. Sadly, this will definitely not come from the Trump administration, which rushed to give the new government aid. As usual there is no unified stance among Latin American countries or any regional leadership on it.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Making Latin America Policy

I recommend Evan Ellis' post at Global Americans on his recently completed year at the U.S. State Department Policy Planning Staff. He now returns to the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute. It is a useful read both for its insider look and its discussion of "why does this matter?"

Here is a key point:
The problem is also compounded by the fundamental orientation of the State Department to tell our partners what we think and want, rather than listening to what they think and want. While seasoned diplomats know better in their personal interaction, I observed the balance of the work that came across my desk to be about “transmitting” rather than “receiving.” Every high-level meeting involves the preparation of “talking points” seeking to advance an agenda, too seldom did they include questions about what our partners thought or needed.
This echoes Lars Schoultz's In Their Own Best Interest, where he questions all "uplifting" aid, the effects of which are never measured. We can check boxes on delivery and execution, but not on whether it actually makes lives better. Making lives better requires starting with what our partners actually want. This has often been true, but is accentuated in the Trump era.
In my own work, I did not see substantial evidence that the strategy and policy documents of each organization are actively used as guides to action by the other, beyond superficial references to fundamental documents such as the National Security Strategy. I also witnessed and participated in the drafting of some interagency documents, but beyond the somewhat useful exercise of meeting and coordinating about their wording, I did not perceive that the result meaningfully impacted the direction of either state or the other U.S. government entities involved.
This is clearly a Trump administration problem, though past administrations were clearly not immune.  Unlike the past, though, the essential problem now is that policy is made by tweet, with government agencies scrambling to interpret it just like the rest of us. How do you feel like you're doing something meaningful when the president ignores you?

I appreciate these kinds of perspectives. As a side note, as he does not address it, I know a number of people who have moved from academia to policy making and back, and I know their view of of the relevance and accuracy of academic work changed dramatically. I have not felt great temptation to try the policy making world myself, even as I recognize that even in small doses it would make us better analysts.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Kirk Tyvela's The Dictator Dilemma

I read Kirk Tyvela's The Dictator Dilemma: The United States and Paraguay in the Cold War am writing a review for The Latin Americanist. I really liked it.

The “dictator dilemma” was often at the core of U.S. policy toward Latin America during the Cold War. U.S. policy makers professed commitment to democracy, yet commonly supported pro-U.S. dictatorships to advance U.S. security interests. The dilemma played out clearly in Paraguay, where dictator Alfredo Stroessner ruled by force and won elections with around 90% of the vote from 1954 to 1989. Kirk Tyvela’s book is a deeply researched and compelling addition to the literature on U.S.-Latin American relations.
You'll have to wait until later in the year to read the rest. But it's a great read.

One thing I liked in particular was his attention to Paraguayan sources. He used Paraguayan archives but only to the extent that they exist, which is minimal. That is the big challenges for future scholars, which will require close consultation with local experts of whatever country (and hopefully publishing collaboration as well). Are there untapped primary sources? The literature on U.S.-Latin American relations cries out for it.


What Biden Policy Toward Latin America Might Look Like

A few days ago I wrote about the Latin America part of the Democratic Party's platform. Now Juan Gonzalez, who as an Deputy Assistant Secretary of State was part of Latin America policy under Obama, writes in Americas Quarterly about what a Biden administration policy could look like.

The main thing I like about it is that he brings Mexico front and center, whereas the platform actually doesn't even mention it. Mexico is our most important Latin American partner by far, and must be part of any discussion of trade, immigration and/or Central America. There is a lot of work to be done, and we need Mexico's help to do it.

I also like that Colombia gets more attention, because the peace process needs support, and as he points out, we need to get beyond narcotization. He mentions helping with the exodus of Venezuelans, but I would also like the U.S. to be more publicly mindful of displaced Colombians as well.

There is more, on Brazil, the Caribbean, climate, multilateral response to Covid-19, and even the simple task of not being a model of corruption. Just that would be nice.
The great visibility of the United States makes us an example all over the world, for better or for worse. When we live up to our ideals as a nation, it bolsters civic-minded leaders elsewhere. But when our leaders deny facts and model corrupt behavior, it encourages actors who are anathema to our hemisphere’s democratic progress and social advancement. The task of building back better requires us to find common cause in our shared prosperity, a renewed partnership on climate change, a resolve to guarantee the security of our citizens, and a sense of urgency toward realizing a shared vision of a hemisphere that is secure, middle class, and democratic.


Monday, July 27, 2020

Venezuelan Healthcare and Covid-19

This morning, Chris Sabatini at Chatham House moderated a Zoom panel entitled, "How Prepared is Venezuela's Healthcare System for Covid-19." The participants were:

José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director, Americas Division, Human Rights Watch
Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Acting Deputy Director, Americas Division, Human Rights Watch
Dr Kathleen Page, Associate Professor of Medicine, John Hopkins University

The answer to the panel's title question is, as anyone paying even passing attention would accurately guess, emphatically no. There is no good news. There is no silver lining. A massively corrupt and uncaring dictatorship is letting people die and lying about everything. Doctors are washing their hands from the drips of air-conditioning units before doing surgery. Many hospitals don't have potable water. Aid is tricky and the gasoline shortage makes it hard to reach the interior of the country. We have no idea how many people have the virus and how many people have died from it. Repression makes it hard to find out anything. BTW, I had never heard the phrase "verbal autopsy" before. That's where we are in terms of data collection, down to trying to get information on demand for funeral homes, but even then people are afraid to talk openly. It's an onslaught of bad, but Covid-19 has distracted the world from the disaster.

What can the international community do? We need a truly multilateral effort with a common position. José Miguel Vivanco lamented the Trump's administration embrace of militaristic rhetoric, which makes things worse. The UN is barely paying attention.

John Hopkins worked with Human Rights Watch before Covid-19, and already last year warned that Venezuela was in a dire healthcare crisis.

Anyway, it was a really interesting discussion, but one that left me sad and frustrated.


Nicaraguans Want Change and Don't Thinks It's Too Likely

Manuel Orozco directed a survey in Nicaragua for the Inter-American Dialogue. The results show deep distrust that has developed over years of corrupt government, from Daniel Ortega of course but also the right. Nicaraguans want free elections and they also want good choices, and they don't see either happening.

It would be logical to assume that Nicaraguans would lay the blame for the crisis--political, economic, public health, etc.--on Daniel Ortega. But that's only partially true. This graph caught my attention the most:

Several of these questions get at the repression and ineptness off the government, but a lot of people see this as just another example of Sandinista/right political conflict, which has dominated the country for over 40 years. Further, check out the sizable chunk of people who believe the crisis stems from the U.S. and the right.

Who do Nicaraguans want to vote for? They don't seem to see good options. They don't identify with the political parties and a majority doesn't even identify as "pro-government" or "pro-opposition." If the election were held today, a large majority either doesn't know or would not choose from any candidate (which they could write in). They think there will be fraud and see international observers as important.

What can we take away from this?

--Lack of popular interest in the opposition and an alternate leader works very much to Ortega's favor.
--International observers are critical for the legitimacy of any election. The next presidential election is now scheduled for November 2021.
--Ortega's inept response to Covid-19 is truly devastating. No one believes him when he says it's barely affecting the country.
--There is support for sanctions, but they should stay very focused on the Ortega clique.
--as with Venezuela, the situation keeps getting worse with no real solution in sight.


Friday, July 24, 2020

MLB (Weakly) Acknowledges Injustice in Venezuela

Last night was opening night for Major League Baseball, a huge thing for all of us baseball fans. The issue of social justice was apparent, down to the highly visible "BLM" stenciled on the pitching mound. Before the game, the players knelt and held a long, black tapestry, the brainchild of Phillies star Andrew McCutchen. This sort of display is radical for baseball.

What I didn't know is that McCutchen meant it as a general statement about injustice, and specifically included Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
"This is a moment for us to honor each other, to honor the things that we're going through," he said. "With the social injustices we're going through in this country, with the things that exist outside our nation -- places like Venezuela, the Dominican Republic. To honor that and show that we honor each other, that we have each other's back, that we're going to fight for each other. And the way we do that is by collectively being together as one. This is a representation of that."
I can't find anything to suggest that McCutchen has talked about Venezuela before, or even what exactly he's referring to in the DR. It might be as simple as the fact that he has teammates from there. In terms of injustice, he certainly needs to add Cuba (I don't think there are any Cubans on the 40 man roster for the Phillies, which might account for the omission).

The acknowledgment, therefore, is pretty weak, to the point that hardly anyone is aware. I wish players, announcers, and writers would give it some more attention. Baseball is an international game, and players from other countries face problems that are different but sometimes no less dire.


Thursday, July 23, 2020

Latin America in the 2020 Democratic Platform

Here is a link to the latest draft of the Democratic Party Platform. Here is what I wrote about 2016 in Global Americans. The party is not paying much attention to Latin America, either then or now. Back then, I wrote that countries were just jumbled together. In 2020 they solved that problems by not mentioning countries at all. Mexico is not mentioned at all, even in the discussion of USMCA. 

I know, I know, the platform is just a basic document of values, with a lot of cooks making the soup. But as I noted last year, is it so hard to say we support the Colombia peace process and anti-corruption efforts in Central America, we value Mexico for everything, and the like?

Below is the "Americas" section:
Democrats believe the Western Hemisphere is America’s strategic home base—a region bound together by common values, history, and vision of a more prosperous, democratic, and secure future. When the United States hosts the region’s leaders at next year’s Summit of the Americas—the first to be held here since the 1994 inaugural meeting in Miami—we will turn the page on the Trump Administration’s denigration and extortion of our neighbors, and we will chart a new era of cooperation based on partnership and shared responsibility for the region we all call home. 
"Denigration and extortion." Strong, but accurate. I really don't like "strategic home base," which is militarist and imperialist. It's not our home--it's their home.
Democrats will reaffirm the importance of North America to U.S. global economic
competitiveness. We will ensure the USMCA lives up to its commitment to create prosperity for American workers, and we will strictly enforce compliance with its labor and environmental provisions. We will reinvigorate and build upon the North American Plan for Animal and Pandemic Influenza launched under the Obama-Biden Administration and work with our partners to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused the biggest economic decline in history across Latin America and the Caribbean. 
This is a funny paragraph, beginning with acknowledging Trump's passage of a new bill, then pivoting to an Obama policy as counterweight. The labor and worker language is like 2016, which also reflected Bernie Sanders' influence, but I feel like the wording is stronger now. 
Rather than coerce our neighbors into supporting cruel migration policies, we will work with our regional and international partners to address the root causes of migration—violence and insecurity, weak rule of law, lack of educational and economic opportunity, pervasive corruption, and environmental degradation. Rather than encourage climate denial and environmental devastation, we will rally the world to protect the Amazon from deforestation, protect Indigenous peoples, and help vulnerable nations in the Caribbean and Central America adapt to the impacts of climate change. And rather than imitate populist demagogues, we will link arms with our neighbors to realize our shared aspirations for the region’s future. 
This is new and good. In 2016, Democrats framed immigration largely in domestic terms. Viewing it in structural terms, including climate, is a reality-based view, and very necessary.
We will reject President Trump’s failed Venezuela policy, which has only served to entrench Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorial regime and exacerbate a human rights and humanitarian crisis. To rise to the occasion of the world’s worst refugee crisis and worst humanitarian crisis outside a warzone in decades, the United States will mobilize its partners across the region and around the  world to meet the urgent needs of the people of Venezuela, and grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans in the United States. Democrats believe that the best opportunity to rescue Venezuela’s democracy is through smart pressure and effective diplomacy, not empty, bellicose threats untethered to realistic policy goals and motivated by domestic partisan objectives. 
There are no specifics and Biden has never had any beyond doing mostly what Trump is doing without the empty threats. TPS is clearly critical, so a good step forward and he really needs to contrast himself in Florida on that issue.
Democrats will also move swiftly to reverse Trump Administration policies that have
undermined U.S. national interests and harmed the Cuban people and their families in the United States, including its efforts to curtail travel and remittances. Rather than strengthening the regime, we will promote human rights and people-to-people exchanges, and empower the Cuban people to write their own future. 
This is an easy one. Obama started it, and Biden will get back to that point and move forward again.


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Carlos Trujillo: Trump Loyalist for Latin America

Check out my post over at Global Americans about the nomination of Carlos Trujillo to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. My take is that he would be the least qualified person in the position's history and is there solely because of loyalty to Donald Trump. He is very much a "troika of tyranny" kind of guy.

He even showed that in the hearing yesterday, where he repeated Trump's favorite line of a military option in Venezuela still being on the table. It is Trump's way of telling everyone how tough he is.

There is no particular reason he wouldn't be confirmed, in the sense that he hasn't done anything extra objectionable since his last confirmation. Senator Ben Cardin briefly held up his nomination to the OAS in 2018 to get more information from the State Department about TPS, so something like that could potentially happen again.


Friday, July 17, 2020

Suffering Matters: When Political Leaders Get Covid-19

Boz has an ungated post from his newsletter about Latin American leaders who have Covid-19. I had been thinking of writing briefly about this as well, and he mentions what I had been thinking about:

In a presentation last week, I said my big concern was “Bolsonaro is going to survive coronavirus and then double down on being an idiot because his own survival will give confirmation bias to his belief that the disease is not that bad.” I stand by that comment.
I think this merits more attention, in Latin America and everywhere else. However, it's not about "surviving." I would call it "non-suffer bias." Those who get it and suffer are never the same. Those who get it and have only mild symptoms have a very different narrative. For them, it's just the flu or maybe just an irritating cold.

The Governor of Oklahoma announced he had Covid-19 even as he refused to mandate masks. He said he was achy but not too bad. Bolsonaro got it (tested positive twice!) and seems similarly little affected, which is the case for a lot of people. Covid-19 is not the Superflu of The Stand but rather a more crafty thing that kills the vulnerable and also kills and maims others in unpredictable ways. If you are a skeptic when you get it, you come out feeling more sure of skepticism if it only touched out lightly.

Politically, this is potentially huge. If a skeptic gets the virus and recovers easily, their ongoing story is that this is no big deal, just a bad cold, just a flu, and their platform gives that wide dissemination. They have "proof" in their own experience.

Contrast that to Juan Orlando Hernández, who was in the hospital, feared for his life, and made an emotional plea when he left the hospital. And that's a very conservative president. He survived but suffered, so his narrative is different. Boris Johnson suffered and now wants mandatory masks in shops, which fellow conservatives don't like.

I see lots of "ha ha, karma" tweets when skeptics are tested positive, but that entirely misses the point. It is the opposite when the virus treats them gently, and that has political repercussions.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Evangelicalism Offers a Way Out for Gang Members

José Miguel Cruz and Jonathan D. Rosen, "Mara Forever? Factors Associated with Gang Disengagement in El Salvador." Journal of Criminal Justice 69 (July-August 2020).

This study examines the factors associated with intentions to leave a gang in a context controlled by some of the most violent and structured street gangs in the Americas. It contends that group interactions better explain intentions to leave a gang in a place like El Salvador than life-course events.

Based on a series of logistic regressions using a cross-sectional survey with nearly 1196 active and former gang members in El Salvador, we identify the factors associated with disengagement intentions. We complement the analysis with 24 in-depth interviews with former gang members.

We find that group-related variables, such as the number of gang members in the clique, learning that a peer has successfully left the gang, incarceration, and affiliation with an Evangelical church are the most critical factors associated with attempts of disengagement. Intentions to leave the group are a direct function of the gang's ability to regulate the life and peer relationships of its members.

Social environments controlled by gang rule constrain the potential effects of life-course events. They curb the chances of disengagement, even among those with maturational tools required to desist from gang life.

Jonathan Rosen has done a lot of great work on gangs in El Salvador, and we discussed the issue of leaving gangs on my podcast back in December 2018. As always with his work, read the methodology section about interviewing gang members--it's not your everyday work.

The key findings are that "life-course" events, such as getting married, employment, or having children, don't seem to prompt gang members to leave. Instead, religion is central, both because it offers some moral clarity for the individual, but also because it is an accepted reason. In other words, you won't get killed for it.

It would be neat to connect studies like this to analyses of Evangelicalism in Central America. It's interesting, for example, that Evangelicalism offers a path out that Catholicism apparently does not. Perhaps only Evangelicalism provides a sense of being saved, of actually changing course. As Cruz and Rosen note, gang leaders "only accept the Evangelical church." Catholicism doesn't count.


Monday, July 13, 2020

The Political Impact of AMLO's Trip

AMLO ass-kissing trip to visit Donald Trump was a strange spectacle, with the Mexican President insisting, contrary to what we've all seen and heard for years, that Trump was respectful of Mexico. AMLO decided long ago that the best way to deal with Trump is kiss his ass. For AMLO, "respectful" basically means that Trump hasn't tweet-stormed him. After all, not long after meeting, Trump said the U.S. would be "inundated" by Covid-19 without the border wall, which is both absurd and not respectful.

Jorge Castañeda makes the argument in a CNN interview that AMLO's praise might win Trump the election, or at least preventing him from losing it, which would happen if he didn't win Texas. His take is that Mexican-American voters will hear AMLO and think, "Oh, Trump's not so bad for Mexico and Mexicans." Indeed, a Trump campaign official said the comment as "as good as it gets--basically an endorsement." 

Yes, it is basically an endorsement, especially combined with snubbing Joe Biden. But I still am not buying the overall argument. If you are Mexican-American, you have seen for yourself the impact of Stephen Miller and Trump's policies, perhaps even firsthand. AMLO doesn't erase that.

However, I could see this working for white people not of Latin American descent who otherwise don't know much about the topic. Even so, I don't see this issue as swinging a voter. They will more likely be voting on the economy and Covid-19.


Saturday, July 04, 2020

Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist

Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist is part manifesto, part memoir, and part national history. His discussion is interspersed with personal reflections that repudiate not only his own past words and actions, but also his parents and others. He is unsparing when it comes to becoming antiracist ("I arrived at Temple as a racist, sexist homophobe").

He argues that you can either be racist or antiracist. If you claim neutrality, you are leaving racist structures in place, which is therefore racist. And you can move in and out of the two--it's not a permanent state, but rather a continuous aspiration. For example, if you claim to hire based only on merit, you are failing to understand that you cannot avoid seeing race in ways that society has taught you. Pretending not to see race when you clearly do is a problem--your biases will affect you while you pretend they don't exist. It is such a simple yet powerful argument (and, in fact, so perfectly applicable to academia).

He contrasts antiracists with assimilationists and segregationists. Both of the latter are racist because they both assume a hierarchy of racial value. In one, you try to be like the "best" group and in the other you remain forever separate. And both ignore the fact that what are commonly believed to be inherent characteristics of different racial groups is in fact just the product of policies. Antiracists focus on the policies. Violence comes from poverty, not skin color, and policies can lift people out of poverty.

Each chapter is a theme: body, space, sexuality, and many others. What emerges is the tremendous complexity behind antiracism, which requires constant rethinking of long-held assumptions and beliefs. Further, it is a mistake to think of antiracist progress without considering the accompanying progress of racists, who find ever new ways to subvert antiracist efforts, like ubiquitous use of the term "reverse discrimination" or "all lives matter."

He ends on a positive note, amazingly enough with a comparison to his own battle with cancer. Racism is a cancer, which is nasty and strong but still can be defeated. But it's hard even for the most determined, because it involves pushing back against centuries of racist power structures.


Thursday, July 02, 2020

Review of George Orwell's Animal Farm

After many years, I reread George Orwell's Animal Farm (I think it was assigned to me in high school at some point). It is, of course, an allegory of the Soviet Union, with Stalin (Napoleon the pig) gradually subverting a revolution for his own power, eventually becoming indistinguishable from those who ran things in the past.

As we listen to an administration that lies in precisely the same ways as the ruling pigs in the novel, who changed the revolutionary commandments while pretending they remained the same, Orwell reminds us that this isn't about communism, or even necessarily the Soviet Union. It's about power-hungry leaders. For Orwell, the communal farm run by the animals together remained a desired goal. He was all for socialism. He disliked both capitalism and communism--in the end, both result in a small elite that lies and uses force to keep itself in power at the expense of everyone else.

I can't think of this novel without also thinking of Pink Floyd's Animals album. The song "Sheep" is great, though different from the novel, where the sheep don't overthrow anything. I doubt Orwell could imagine the sheep killing the dogs. Actually, Orwell never presents any answers--he just warns.


Wednesday, July 01, 2020

End the Cold War Already

When do we get to end the Cold War? This year has been horrible in so many ways, and some icing on the cake is that I am pretty certain I haven't heard "socialist" and "communist" as epithets this much since, well, the actual Cold War. I had been thinking about this, then read this interview between Tim Padgett and Frank Mora, who is stepping down as director of FIU's Latin America & Caribbean Center:

So it's no secret you're a Democrat – but you're a Cuban-American Democrat in Miami. You support engagement with communist Cuba. Twenty years ago, more conservative Cubans might have called you a comunista. Do you still feel like a rare bird here in that sense?

Now you see a majority of Cuban-Americans agreeing with President Trump's view, which is a dramatic change in only a couple of years. But to be frank with you, Tim, that language, that rhetoric is coming back. The use of “socialism” and “communism” to try to discredit those who don't agree with the mainstream Cuban Americans is rearing its head again. And I think it's unfortunate.
This is exactly it. You get Black Lives Matter labeled as communist. AMLO gets criticized for talking to "communist regimes." Florida Governor Rick Scott says "The Communist Party of China is in for world domination…And so it’ll be a pretty dark world." Like we live in the Marvel Universe. And we'd be here all day if I started really listing all the inaccurate, simplistic, and even laughable ways the word "socialism" gets thrown around. Did you know that taking down statues of the Confederacy leads to socialism, because that's what happened in Venezuela? I bet you didn't, but you do now!

And so what does this mean in practice? As former Cuba Chargé d'affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis put it in a recent op-ed:

It's as if we had regressed to the 1980s, when we looked the other way at the abuses of right-wing dictators and excoriated only those on the left.

That sort of thing in fact has happened since the 1980s (see George W. Bush and John Bolton) and I complained then too. Throw around words like "communist" and "regime," and you get ideological cover to go after your political enemies, wherever you might find them.

When will we finally be free of the Cold War? The example of the Confederacy tells us it could a long time, perhaps even long after you and I are long gone. The symbols of the Confederacy are a great cover for racism--hey, it's just heritage! "Communism" is also a convenient and tidy cover, and ideologues don't give those up easily.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Colombia Ambassador Talk

I watched a talk by Colombia Ambassador Francisco Santos Calderón, organized by Global Atlanta. Yes, that Santos family--he was Vice President under Alvaro Uribe and related to past presidents. You can, then, guess what kinds of things he would emphasize. The discussion was aimed at investment, but a few things caught my attention. I actually had tuned in because I was interested in hearing about the response to Covid-19, but that didn't get discussed a lot.

He was asked about the peace deal, and said that the "short-term issues are being done very, very well" even though some long-term issues might be delayed. He specifically referenced the Kroc Institute, which recently released a report on it. So I went to check out the report. It is, in fact, very carefully worded by clearly negative.
The report presents a quantitative analysis that shows that at the end of the third year of implementation, according to the methodology used by the Barometer Initiative, 25% of stipulations have been fully implemented. Another 15% of stipulations are at an intermediate level of progress, meaning that they are on their way to being fully implemented in their corresponding timelines. A further 34% of commitments are at a minimal state of implementation, having started but made marginal progress. The remaining 26% of  commitments have yet to be initiated. 
This is definitely not "very, very well." Or even "well." His observation was that "you need accountability from the other side." 

Another of his arguments was more accurate, but I don't often hear it mentioned in such a positive manner: there is a lot of investment opportunity in Colombia because it is so highly integrated with the U.S. military, second only to Israel. I am not sure exactly what he had in mind, but it likely does not dovetail well with success implementation of the peace agreement.

As for investment, "let's make the Americas great again!" 


Monday, June 22, 2020

Biden and Trump on Venezuela

Donald Trump has been hard to sort out with regard to Venezuela. You really cannot start with any of the typical core assumptions. One of those is that Florida is critical for him in the presidential election, so he'll do whatever he can to get the hardline Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American vote. It ostensibly makes even more sense because during 2016, he actually courted the Bay of Pigs vote, which is way out there in terms of pure pandering.

But this assumption just does not seem to hold. Those hardliners want Maduro out, preferably by force. They abhor dialogue, which they see as a farce intended to allow Maduro to stall. And yet here is Trump in an interview, a mere five months before the election:
In an Oval Office interview with Axios on Friday, President Trump suggested he's had second thoughts about his decision to recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela and said he is open to meeting with dictator Nicolás Maduro.
Current policy is based entirely on the notion that Guaidó is in fact the president. This statement upends that. The idea of high-level dialogue is anathema to Trump's base. They truly hate the idea, even though it's actually more rational than their suggestions.

And yet even Joe Biden disapproves. 

This is not a good response. The "thug" comment strongly suggests a "get tough" line that has been failing in Venezuela and Cuba. Biden knows full well that dialogue--even handshakes!--was good policy. He can rightly criticize Trump for screwing up the potential for dialogue, but trying to be tougher than him will not lead to good policy. And I don't think it will suddenly convince Floridians of anything much.

Back to Trump: what's he doing? He's following his feeling of the moment, which might already have changed by now. He's angering the Florida base and his own advisors, yet I doubt this will lead to any substantive change in policy either.

In conclusion: neither candidate has a coherent policy toward Venezuela.

Update: I had missed this from today. Incoherent as always.


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Colombia in the OECD

Colombia joined the OECD, which was news I hadn't even noticed. Sara Danish and Norberto Martinez write about it at Global Americans.

Membership carries real weight and gaining entry requires more than currying favor with a few key “sponsors.” Beginning in 2013, Colombia underwent technical reviews by 23 OECD committees spanning topics from trade to environment to public governance and justice, a process that prompted various reform measures, including the 2014 Transparency and Access to Information Law and 2011 Anti-Corruption statutes to prevent, investigate, and punish corruption. 
I won't argue with the notion that it's positive, but I do wonder how much. Perhaps it is possible (though not measurable) to say a country would be worse off without it, but Mexico became a member in 1994 and the rule of law has suffered terribly since then (the 2019 OECD report on Mexico discussed failure a lot). Chile joined in 2010, and the past decade has seen protests, corruption charges, and other problems. Having a big USAID presence doesn't necessarily make anything better, either.


Friday, June 19, 2020

Review of Carol Anderson's White Rage

Carol Anderson's White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide is a clear, concise history of the never-ending anti-Black structures erected after the Civil War.  White elites built a system specifically designed to harm African Americans. It was obviously anti-democratic, but it was anti-capitalist as well, not to mention pro-terrorist. Capitalism entails workers moving freely and finding the jobs/wages they deem optimal, which African Americans were not allowed to do. White landowners wanted laborers, but refused to allow those laborers to work their own land. The important point, though, is that the system wasn't just discriminatory. Discrimination was the conscious design, with the prison system as the ultimate slavery replacement.

The white establishment spoke asked constantly why African Americans couldn't become self-reliant while ensuring that the effort was impossible. Further, the very second that slavery ended, that same establishment decided that African Americans were getting "special treatment" as they simply tried to receive equal treatment under the law, a message that remains very loud today, including on college campuses. Meanwhile, African Americans were systematically excluded from education in the South for decades, to the great delight of segregationists, which set back generations of people and caused damage to the entire country.

Even worse, they were (and are) blamed for the poverty that inevitably flowed from systematic exclusion. Built-in disparities were suddenly indicative of poor character. Wanting equality was suddenly wanting more than everyone else. And when overt racism and segregation became a PR problem, Ronald Reagan came in and blocked desegregation through busing while cutting financial aid, student nutrition, and other services that were essential for helping Blacks receive a good education (the administration has a lot to answer for with drugs, though the argument that Reagan is solely responsible for the cocaine trade as a way to help the Contras is not convincing).

Mass incarceration specifically targeted the Black community, and not long afterward so did voter-ID laws. You may remember that all the many accusations of voter fraud never actually yield evidence or lead to convictions. It is entirely a mirage intended to limit Black voting, especially after Barack Obama won the presidency. It is now common to hear "voter fraud" as an excuse to limit voting by mail, early voting, or anything else intended to make voting more accessible to African Americans while purging voters as much as possible. "Election integrity" is a dog whistle.

The book is an historical avalanche. There is, of course, a lot on the South but institutional anti-Blackness was entrenched everywhere, and often emanated from the White House and/or Supreme Court. Again, it was systematic and specifically aimed at African Americans, to prevent them from living, working, traveling, going to school, etc. As Anderson points out, George Wallace drew crowds all over the country with his message of resentment.

My wife and I both grew up in California, and when we moved to Charlotte as newlyweds, we got all kinds of snide comments about the South based on an assumption of moral superiority. But you don't have to dig much to find deeply rooted racism all over the United States, and California has a history of discrimination through laws against African Americans. From historian Shirley Ann Wilson Moore:
Although lawmakers had failed in their attempts to ban black entry to the state, California's legislators at­tempted to deter people of color by erecting a bulwark of laws that deprived them of civil rights and left them vulnerable to exploitation. Denied citizenship, they could not legally homestead public land; they were forbidden from voting, holding public office, giving court testimony against whites, serving on juries, sending their children to public schools, and using public transportation.
This is a national history, not just a southern history. As Anderson points out, the Voting Rights Act has been applied all over because of discrimination, and without its protection, many previous gains are lost.

Millions of Americans fear the Black vote, and fear Black success. Anderson ends with more discussion of voter suppression, because it's so critical. Fair voting practices would have a significant political impact at all levels of government. White rage will do anything to stop it.


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Bolton, Trump, and Venezuela: Just As Crazy As You Think

I am not going to read John Bolton's memoir. Maybe when we're back on campus and the library has it, I'll look at the Latin America parts, but I am not sure it will tell us much beyond what we already know. The Washington Post has some juicy parts about Venezuela, for example.

In one May 2019 phone call, for example, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, part of what Bolton terms a “brilliant display of Soviet style proganda” to shore up support for Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro. Putin’s claims, Bolton writes, “largely persuaded Trump.”


Bolton attributes a litany of shocking statements to the president. Trump said invading Venezuela would be “cool” and that the South American nation was “really part of the United States.” 

For instance, driven by a desire to please Florida Republicans, Trump talked tough about his desire to oust Maduro throughout much of 2018. But Bolton portrays Trump as inconsistent and worry-worn when presented with the opportunity to support Guaidó, who declared himself Venezuela’s president in January 2019. Though Trump approved of a proposal from Bolton to publicly declare the United States recognized Guaidó rather than Maduro, within 30 hours Trump was already worrying that Guaidó appeared weak — a “kid” compared to “tough” Maduro — and considering changing course. “You couldn’t make this up,” Bolton writes. 
Bolton, in my opinion, is full of crap. I was one of the people who really feared a U.S. invasion of Venezuela, but it took a while for me to understand that Trump doesn't actually want to use military force abroad*. He just wants to pretend that he wants to. And this is actually good. Pretend all you want. But I don't think this is Putin's influence. This is just Trump ignoring Bolton's insane desire to use military force in Venezuela. And Bolton, don't forget, thinks invasions solve everything.

The rest of the quotes are basically just writing that Trump says stupid and untrue things all the time, which is of course accurate and well-known. But the bottom line is that Bolton wanted to invade and Trump didn't. In this particular case, Bolton was far more dangerous than Trump.

Bolton has nothing new to say beyond what we already know. If he had something new, he would've testified to the House and gloried in the impeachment spotlight. But since he had nothing much, he just hinted about his book to boost sales, hid, and waited until he could get some headlines when the book came out. 

A charlatan got together with a narcissist, then wrote a book. Don't bother to buy it, you've been watching the movie already anyway.

* At home is another matter entirely.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Luis Almagro Sounds Just Like Donald Trump

Under Luis Almagro's direction, the OAS issued a remarkable statement about the ongoing public debate about the statistical soundness of the OAS analysis of the Bolivian presidential election. It is whiny, paranoid, blustery, defensive, hyperbolic, unprofessional, unconvincing, and does considerable damage to an already damaged institution. It is a PR disaster, unless you went to the Trump School of Public Relations.

Almagro sounds exactly like Donald Trump: "Obviously, we recognize the NYT’s right to lie, distort, and twist information, data, and facts, and to mix truth and lies as often as it wishes." For him, all critics are biased liars and they're out to get him. And, in a another Trump-like twist, where you attack others for what you do, he blames others for interfering in Bolivian affairs. Beyond the NYT, he targets the Center for Economic and Political Research, though not by name. I've disagreed with CEPR analyses, but it's not reasonable to call it a "“propaganda tank” that "goes into the realm of tragicomedy." It's just pissy. He continues with several paragraphs of insults. It even gets weird, accusing the NYT of propaganda because of Herbert Matthews.

The statement is self-defeating. It's an embarrassment. The OAS has always suffered from accusations of pro-US bias. Having a Trumpish figure as its head only cements that image. It's time for new OAS leadership. Sadly, he was literally just re-elected to a second five-year term.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Chile and the U.S. Deal With Covid-19 Similarly

Bloomberg takes a really interesting look at Covid-19 in Chile, which has been hit hard. The bottom line is that the "stay at home" message is an inherently privileged one. 

What went wrong in Chile goes to the heart of the debate over lockdowns, which health experts now acknowledge work well for the haves but not for the have-nots. In the end, Chile’s virus fight seems to have fallen victim to the same factors that sparked crises in other emerging markets -- poverty, overcrowding and a massive off-the-books workforce. Staying home for long periods, the world has learned rather painfully, isn’t a real option for many.
I see so many parallels to the United States, where Latinos are disproportionately affected by Covid-19.  The affluent can stay home and still get paid, but that is a privilege that relatively few enjoy. Virtue-signalling messages and hashtags about staying home mask the true magnitude of the problem. 

Nonetheless, the common U.S. response of simply reopening doesn't address the problem either. People feel they can't stay home even if they're sick; too few people have access to affordable healthcare; people who go to work while schools are online have no childcare. The list goes on.

The Charlotte Spanish-language newspaper La Noticia recently ran a story about how Latinos are the hardest hit, yet the state has no strategy at all. Same problem in Chile:
“If the government is going to make decisions about a world it doesn’t know, then it should include people from that world in the decision-making process,” said Diego Pardow, executive president of the Espacio Público think tank. “The problem with this government is that it just surrounds itself with its own people.”
Governors in the U.S. get a lot of attention, but it's been on "re"opening and not on helping those who were always open. Those of us who work from our laptops tend to think the supermarkets should have all the same products as usual. But people are still picking, packing, shipping, etc. We hear news stories about, say, a meatpacking plant closing, and maybe we're pleased. We don't think about what the laid off workers--both sick and well--do afterward.


Thursday, June 11, 2020

Podcast Episode 75: Restrictive Immigration Policies in the Southeast

In Episode 75 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Maggie Commins, who is Shelton Professor of Political Science at Queens University of Charlotte, about her forthcoming article on restrictive immigration policy tone in the southeast, which is coming out in the next issue of The Latin Americanist. It's some really interesting research based on coding data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

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, rate, and keep 6 feet from it.


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Covid-19 Hits Latinos Hardest in Charlotte and NC

Every day, I check the Covid-19 data for North Carolina, and every few days Mecklenburg County (where Charlotte is) releases its own data. Last month local news pointed out that the Latino population was being hit disproportionately hard, and that trend has accelerated.

At the state level, as of June 9, 42% of all cases were Latinos (which currently translates into 10,634 cases) but only 7% of deaths. They are 9.6% of the total state population.

In Mecklenburg County as of June 7, Latinos accounted for 37% of all cases and 6.2% of deaths. They are 13.6% of the population. In short, they are less affluent so more likely to get it, but younger so less likely to die from it. For a while, the county has included this observation in their data summary:
More than a third of reported cases are Hispanic – most of whom are younger adults. The high number of reported cases among young Hispanics over the last several weeks remains a significant concern. As previously noted, some factors influencing this trend include: Targeted testing occurring in neighborhoods with lower access to care, some of which have larger Hispanic populations; 
Higher proportions of Hispanics working in essential jobs that make social distancing difficult; 
Significant household spread among large families; and 
Pre-existing disparities in other social and economic determinants of health, like poverty.

MCPH continues to expand outreach to Hispanic members of our community, including increased dissemination of the outreach toolkit in Spanish for community partners, setting up targeted outreach to Hispanic owned- and serving-businesses, and partnering with local organizations and media outlets to spread key prevention messages.
There is a real class divide here that I haven't seen play out with the flu or any other past contagious outbreak. I think there is a push from middle-class whites to reopen in no small because they don't know anyone who has contracted the virus. They only detect it indirectly when, for example, there is an outbreak at a meatpacking plant and then there is a brief shortage of meat at the store.

There are no easy answers here. Outreach is certainly critical, but to really address the issue we would need state recognition of undocumented immigrants as deserving of unemployment insurance and other kinds of benefits. We would also need generous sick leave for everyone. People who live payheck-to-paycheck will inevitably work even with symptoms because they have no alternative. 


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