Monday, February 24, 2020

Bernie's Cuba Statement

A small kerfuffle as Bernie Sanders talks about Cuba. Here is the bit:
Sen. Bernie Sanders has sparked controversy with a 60 Minutes interview in which he appeared to partly defend certain aspects of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s rule late Sunday. The Democratic frontrunner made the comments when asked by host Anderson Cooper to clarify remarks he’d made about Castro in the 1980s, when he argued that Cubans didn’t rise up against the dictator because he’d “transformed the society.” “We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know?” Sanders told Cooper. “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?” 
He went on to clarify that the imprisonment of dissidents under Castro should still be condemned. “Unlike Donald Trump, let’s be clear, you want to—I do not think that Kim Jong Un is a ‘good friend.’ I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine,” he said.
Go read Patrick Iber's Twitter thread arguing this is no big deal. I agree mostly, but not totally. Where I would differ is that this is not about "accuracy" per se. Did Fidel Castro create popular literacy programs? Yes. Were there lots of other reasons people didn't rise up, some of them because of repression? Yes. Is it possible to give an accurate answer that does not praise a dictatorship? Yes. Is that smarter in a presidential election? Yes.

That's where you need to remember your audience and avoid political tone-deafness. The audience, of course, is mostly Florida. I do not know empirically how many Floridians who are in the fence and think about foreign policy as a reason to choose, but praising Fidel Castro is generally not a good political move. Crafting an effective message now is a good idea.

It's early and Bernie isn't the nominee, so this is a tempest in a teapot. But looking forward it's good to have a plan for how to respond to questions about Cuba and Venezuela. That is true for any candidate, but especially for Bernie because he's made so many statements in the past and they will be brought up endlessly.


Friday, February 21, 2020

Podcast Episode 72: Nayib Bukele and Other Things

On Episode 72 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk again with Christine Wade, Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Washington College. We start with a discussion of what Nayib Bukele is doing with the military in El Salvador and what that might mean for democracy. Then we shift to the writing of the 7th edition of her co-authored textbook Understanding Central America: Global Forces and Political Change, which just came out.

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!


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Podcast Episode 71: Latin America, the U.S., and China

Episode 71 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast is different, as it's a recording of a talk I gave last night on Latin America, the U.S., and China. This was part of the Great Decisions series, sponsored by the Office of International Programs here at UNC Charlotte.

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!


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Chile's Continuing Protests

Pablo Rubio has a brief post at AULA Blog on why the Chilean protests are continuing. I also talked with Pablo about the protests on my podcast in December. Anyway, I found this part especially interesting:

A prestigious Chilean polling firm, Cadem, reported two weeks ago that 63 percent of the Chilean population approved of the protests and – importantly – 80 percent believe that Chile will be a better country after this critical situation. In any case, the plebiscite in April will take a place in an unstable context, with an uncertain outcome. For the Piñera administration, the challenges seem unlikely to abate, and pressures may surge when the school holidays end in March.
So there is some optimism! In an era where presidents and the public alike are looking to the military at uncomfortable rates, it is nice to see some confidence in institutions to resolve problems even at a time when confidence in the government is low.

On the other hand, this sets a high bar. People are counting on the plebiscite and eventual new constitution to correct problems they've identified. What happens if many people feel they are not corrected even after all that?


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Latino Voters in the 2020 Election

The Washington Post has a story about Democratic candidates trying to woo African American and Latino voters. Just yesterday morning I was on Charlotte Talks to discuss the latter (you can listen here).

The article makes the point that both groups tend to feel taken for granted by the Democratic Party. That came up in our discussion, and I said it was déjà vu because I felt like we've brought this up for the past several presidential elections. Right now a bunch of white candidates, mostly older, are trying to show how much they care about non-whites. President Obama's immigration record was not particularly good. Fellow guest Olma Echaverri pushed back, saying the Latino community appreciated his push for DACA. Fair enough, but I just don't get the sense that Joe Biden can ride those coattails.

Meanwhile, we talked about how Bernie Sanders seems to have generated enthusiasm with Latino voters, but the article points out this appears to be limited mostly to younger voters. Older voters, who go to the polls in greater numbers, haven't felt the Bern yet.

Mike Collins asked me whether it was too late. My response was that it probably was for the primaries, but not for the general election. Latino voters are interested in the same issues as other groups--health care, for example--but you need to reach out at the local level. This isn't new or original.

Finally, with regard to North Carolina he quoted something I wrote at Global Americans back in 2016 and asked if I thought it was true now.

The main way Latinos in North Carolina can potentially play a critical role in this election is high turnout for a close race. In 2012 Mitt Romney won the state by a 50.4-48.4 percent margin, a difference of 92,004 voters. If Latinos turnout in 2016 could reach the rate of African Americans in the last election, that would mean approximately 114,000 voters. This could help nudge results in one direction or another, but is not giant-like. That time will come, but not until at least the 2020 presidential election.
And yeah, it is. In this and many other states, Latino voters could be the nudge. In places like Texas and Arizona, it could be more of a shove.


Friday, February 14, 2020

Regional Response to Venezuelan and Nicaraguan Migrants

The Migration Policy Institute has a new report on the regional response to Venezuelan and Nicaraguan migrants: "An Uneven Welcome: Latin American and Caribbean Responses to Venezuelan and Nicaraguan Migration."

Overall, Latin American and Caribbean countries have shown openness and even creativity in accommodating large-scale forced migration flows in a short period of time. This is particularly notable, given that most countries in the region had little recent experience receiving significant immigration. But what was once an open door to newcomers is becoming a more uneven welcome, as countries grapple with strains on already overtaxed public services, ranging from schools to hospitals, and continue to search for ways to effectively integrate new arrivals into local labor markets.
Looking at the map of how many Venezuelan migrants are in other countries is overwhelming. Not surprisingly, they often end up in the informal economy, then gradually resentment builds within the local population. There are just not enough jobs and resources to go around for a long period of time.

They call for more outside funding, which is critical:
Given the scale and speed of Venezuelan and Nicaraguan migration, international cooperation will have to play an important supporting role in helping national governments craft the right responses to these challenges. So far, global efforts to respond to these two crises—both the immediate needs of recent arrivals and the longer-term investment needs of schools, hospitals, housing, and other critical infrastructure and services—have fallen far short of expectations and of the needs on the ground.
With Nicaraguans, the focus is really on Costa Rica. It does not have the same regional scope as Venezuela.

If you're interested in this issue, you'll find this report to be worth your time--it gets into substantial detail about visas, employment, schools, etc. along with recommendations.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Podcast Episode 70: Latin American Civil-Military Relations: What the &%&$?

In Episode 70 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I go it alone to vent about my flashback to the 1990s. The impact of civil-military relations in Latin America has become a major topic in the past year, and it's not good for democracy.

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!


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

21st Century Civil-Military Relations in El Salvador

Christine Wade has an op-ed in The Globe and Post about Nayib Bukele's civil-military disaster in El Salvador.
While the delicate situation is still evolving, one thing remains clear: Bukele is playing a dangerous game. In 1992, at the end of El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, the government and FMLN rebels pledged to resolve their conflicts through peaceful means. While certainly imperfect, that pledge has held for 28 years. 
Much of that success can be attributed to placing the military under civilian control and depoliticizing its role. Involving the army and police in a dispute between civilian institutions not only violates the letter and spirit of the 1992 peace accords but attacks the very foundations of Salvadoran democracy.
In El Salvador we're seeing 21st century civil-military relations and it isn't pretty. Bukele's running around taking selfies and the military is professing its political allegiance to him via Twitter. "Democracy" is redefined to be "whatever the president thinks is good for the people." Many Salvadorans support his actions, because he's just shoving things down the legislature's throat for the good of the people. The idea that the military is an apolitical and non-deliberating body is a stupid 20th century concept.

I am glad to see the U.S. Ambassador condemning all this. I do worry, though, that the real policy makers in the White House love what Bukele's doing.

One other point. Christine writes the following:
Heralded by many Salvadorans as the “first post-war” president, it now seems the post-war president needs to heed lessons of the past.
I agree with this, but it makes me feel old. I am the old guy complaining about the youngster and his selfie stick, with his newfangled ideas about bringing a few of his heavily armed friends into Congress to threaten them on God's behalf. I am old enough to remember the debates about the army's optimal role in a democracy, and how sending them directly into the legislature tends to send the wrong message about your commitment to democracy.


Monday, February 10, 2020

Lessons For the Democratic Party From Latin America

Five years ago, I wrote an op-ed for Global Americans about the lessons Chile could offer the Venezuelan opposition for winning elections. Rereading it, I am struck by how it applies to the Democratic Party in the United States this year. Here were the takeaways:

1. Agree on a coalition leader.
2. Explain why the coalition excludes extremism.
3. Avoid personal attacks.

In the U.S., #1 refers to backing whoever becomes candidate, even if that person does not align perfectly with your policy preferences. This bedeviled the Venezuelan opposition back when winning elections was actually a possibility.

Now, #2 does not pertain quite so much to the U.S. because even Bernie Sanders' ideas are not radical compared to socialists in plenty of other countries. The Chileans excluded the Communists, and that just isn't relevant here. It might actually be more about explaining how your policies aren't actually as extreme as portrayed.

Finally, #3 gets to the fact that criticizing the incumbent better not get in the way of presenting a coherent and positive vision. The Chilean case sounds familiar:

The campaign to unseat Pinochet focused on the promise of a more positive future and incorporated criticism of human rights abuses into that theme. The tone of the campaign was mature, measured and optimistic. That stood in contrast to the dictatorship’s insistence that a “No” vote was the same as voting for communism.
Michelle Obama famously said the party should "go high." The idea is to stick to your message, not theirs, and that message needs to be inclusive.


Friday, February 07, 2020

The Democratic Party and Venezuela

Columnist Josh Rogin writes that Bernie Sanders poses a risk for Democrats in a general election against Donald Trump. The reason tells us a lot about how the country has internalized the idea that the U.S. has inalienable right to invade whoever the hell it wants to for any reason.
In a September primary debate, Sanders came under criticism for not backing the U.S. policy supporting the overthrow of Venezuelan President Nicholás Maduro in favor of interim president Juan Guaidó. Sanders called Maduro a “vicious tyrant” and rejected the comparison of “democratic socialism” in Venezuela to the milder form of socialism he supports. But, he said, “what must not happen is that the United States must not use military force and intervene again as it has done in the past in Latin America.” 
Some Democrats say stances like this would pose a problem against Trump in the general election campaign. 
Think about that for a second. All Bernie said was that we shouldn't invade Venezuela, which is the only sensible stance to take. Lots of Latin Americanists, including me, wrote a lot last year about how invasion was a horrible idea that was doomed to failure.

Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg wouldn't rule out using force in Mexico and Elizabeth Warren wanted to use humanitarian aid as a way to entice Venezuelans to emigrate. These are not policies I would ever want a U.S. president to follow. Other candidates, like Joe Biden, just say they "stand with" democracy in Venezuela, which has no meaning.

It troubles me that the Democratic Party is afraid to say, hmm, maybe all those invasions haven't worked out so well. Instead, they should be talking loud and often about Temporary Protected Status, confronting and/or cajoling Russia, bringing together a diverse coalition of countries together to push for elections, and other measures that might actually lead to positive outcomes.


Thursday, February 06, 2020

Latino Voters in Mecklenburg County

There is a local news story about how 76% of Latinos in Mecklenburg County (where Charlotte is) are not registered to vote. That's not high.

We have to remember that many are not eligible in the first place. This is consistent with other relatively new destination states in the south (the percentage of eligible voters in places like Maine is high, but I think the absolute number is low). The low percentage reflects three main issues: newer destinations have more non-citizens, lower incomes, and more young people, who are either too young to register or who--like all young people--are less likely to register than older people.

The Mecklenburg County trend has been slow and steady increase. Nothing dramatic, but clear movement. Right now, according to the Board of Elections about 4.7% of all county voters are Latino. I've blogged about this a number of times in the past, and this number just keeps going up:

June 2018: 4.2%
November 2016: 3.8%
November 2011: 2.2%

In 2004, the percentage was 0.2%. Two years ago there was a jump in participation, which is still low but growing.

So what do we make of this? It took many years for Latinos to become politically powerful in western states, and we should not expect anything different here. There was so much hoopla about the "sleeping giant" that in my opinion too many people had unrealistic expectations about Latino voters swinging presidential elections in North Carolina. It takes consistent and painstaking on-the-ground work by activists to get people aware and registered.

But each election, the influence grows, and when the margin of victory is slim, that growth matters all the more. Incidentally, currently 27% of our local (and very large) public school system is Latino. Charlotte is changing.

Update (2/7/20)

My dad read this and went into the American Community Survey to dig a little more and the results tell a rather different story.

Hispanics are 12.9% of the total county population
Hispanics are 10.8% of the 18+ population
Hispanics are 5.2% of the 18+ citizen population—those who could be voters

What this means is that Latinos constitute 5.2% of the total voting-eligible population, and 4.7% of all registered voters. In short, they are close to being proportional, not to the total population but to those can vote.


Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Guaidó and Trump

There was plenty of speculation about Trump State of the Union address and Venezuela. Would Juan Guaidó be there? Would any new policy be announced? There was doubt because Trump was not far from Guaidó in Florida, but golfed rather than meet him. Ultimately the answer was yes and no, which has been Trump's basic strategy for a while now. Here is the relevant part of the speech:

We are supporting the hopes of Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans to restore democracy. The United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro. 
Maduro is an illegitimate ruler, a tyrant who brutalizes his people. But Maduro's grip on tyranny will be smashed and broken. Here this evening is a very brave man who carries with him the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of all Venezuelans. 
Joining us in the gallery is the true and legitimate president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido. 
Mr. President, please take this message back to your homeland. 
Thank you, Mr. President. Great honor. Thank you very much. 
Please take this message back that all Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

I have two main impressions at this point, and of course with Trump everything might be thrown out the window tomorrow. But here they are.

First, I increasingly think Trump sees Guaidó as ineffective--a loser--because he got nothing accomplished in 2019. Maduro is stronger than ever. Therefore I think the Florida snub was exactly that. No one knew until the end that Guaidó would be at the SOTU, since the only announcement was about former police chief Ivan Simonovis. I have to wonder whether Marco Rubio and Rick Scott whined, complained, cajoled, and begged to get Guaidó there too. At this point, Trump doesn't give a crap about Guaidó or Venezuela. It was supposed to be an easy win and now it's hard, so he moves on.

Second, like I've argued before, at this point Trump has no obvious reason to do anything with Venezuela except sanctions. Military action is already ruled out. Temporary Protected Status is anathema to his base and to Stephen Miller, who hovers at all times like a specter in the background. By just periodically saying tough things and imposing risk-free sanctions, he got Rubio on his side for impeachment. And letting Guaidó come to the SOTU might just be all he needs for Florida hardliners to stick with him. Even NPR lauds it as bipartisan. Trump wins all the way around.

Update: Trump will meet with Guaidó later today.

Past experiences suggest there will be talk and no action beyond sanctions. If he announces something real like TPS, then it'll definitely be a change of strategy.


Monday, February 03, 2020

SOUTHCOM Posture Statement

Here is the annual "posture statement" to Congress from the U.S. Southern Command. The big word is "malign," used 11 times in 16 pages. China is the main malign actor with all its influence and investment, but of course Russia is also malign (along with the obligatory reference to Iran*), while Cuba and Venezuela are Latin American malign.

The other word is "competition," with some variation appearing 14 times. There is even a testosterone-laden argument that "Like athletes, we have to be present on the field to compete, and we have to compete to win." The irony about competition is that Trump administration policy is directly undermining the ability to compete with China. China offers money and the U.S. offers insults. Which do you think they're going to choose?

*Though actually there is far less mention of the Middle East than when Trump first took office.


Saturday, February 01, 2020

Trump Administration and Latin America Emigration

A news story about how Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Cubans all face major obstacles in trying to seek asylum in the United States, even though they are fleeing the "troika of tyranny." The Trump administration does not want them, of course.

It occurred to me how much historical precedent there is for this. Cuba is really an exception, where for years Cubans had a golden ticket (which itself created problems). The norm is that the United States invades and/or strangles the economies of other countries, thus sparking emigration. The essential point is that the U.S. government wants those people to go anywhere except here.

For some fun reading, take a look at the Congressional Research Service's "Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2020." It's a long document with small font, which you need to require the constant flow of U.S. troops abroad. We do love sending troops. It doesn't even include covert action or economic sanctions. Here is a Wikipedia page for U.S. sanctions, which is good enough for our purposes, and there are countless covert actions.

Anyway, take a look at the countries there. The U.S. is actively hostile to citizens fleeing the Muslim countries we have bombed, of course, but let's just look at Latin America. Central America is high on the list, as is Haiti. And now Cuba joins Nicaragua and Venezuela as countries hit hard by sanctions but not allowed asylum.

Further, it occurred to me that I've been thinking about Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans in normal political incentive terms. You want those Florida votes so you work something out. That's just not as useful as it used to be. Marco Rubio is a strong proponent of TPS. Trump said no. Then Marco Rubio announced that even if a president committed an impeachable offense, he should not be removed from office. Rubio will do whatever Trump wants even if his policy preferences are ignored, and Trump assumes (correctly or not, I have no idea) that hardline Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American voters will do the same. This has worked well for Trump thus far.


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