Thursday, April 30, 2020

A Year After April 30

One year ago today a gunman walked into a classroom in the Kennedy Building at UNC Charlotte, killing Reed Parlier and Riley Howell (who should be graduating now), wounding four others (Emily Houpt, Sean DeHart, Rami Al-Ramadhan and Drew Pescaro) and traumatizing many more. Here is what I wrote last year about it.

A year later, we cannot remember it together in person because of Covid-19. I have not even been on campus since March 20. This evening at 5:10 there will be an online remembrance ceremony after the in-person one had to be cancelled. (On this point, you can also read the feelings of Adam Johnson, the anthropologist who was teaching the class, about how this remembrance was handled, which are quite critical). This is so unfortunate, because the vigil and the ceremony last year were moving, with everyone there together. In fact, Emily Houpt participated in commencement last year for my college, and that was very emotional as well.

We also cannot say that as a society we've made even an inch of progress toward reducing gun violence in this country. The only reason mass shootings aren't happening as much now (though they're still being tried!) is that we're all quarantined in our homes so there aren't many gatherings--and no schools--to target. We are a broken country in this regard.


Bolsonaro's Even Worse Off Than Trump

Francisco Toro and James Bosworth write in The Washington Post that comparing Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro comes up short pretty quickly. They argue that the combination of weak party and recent history of impeachment makes Bolsonaro highly vulnerable, certainly much more so than Trump.

I agree with their assessment, but it also serves as a reminder that we have to be careful about overly flexible use of the term "populist." The essential element of populism--a highly contested term to be sure--is anti-elitism. A populist appeals to some vague notion of "the people" and argues the current set of elites are responsible for their plight. Bolsonaro did that quite effectively. So did Hugo Chávez.

Chávez could have easily faced the same plight as Bolsonaro now if the U.S. hadn't invaded Iraq. The 2002 coup showed he had popular backing but his political position was shaky. The rise of oil prices was critical for him because he had a mass following but was only gradually building his own political establishment to replace the old. In times of trouble, like now, Trump can lean on the Republican Party. Lula could lean on the PT.

Bolsonaro can't lean on a party, or economic growth, or a cash cow natural resource. He can only hold onto loyalists and court the military. That's not a good place to be in a country that happily used impeachment as a no-confidence vote.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Whither the Brick and Mortar University?

Mike Munger asks whether brick-and-mortar higher education is disappearing, and say no. His answer relates to something I think is very important, which is that universities are social.

An online degree, an online dating service, a professional sports team in your city, and a proficiency certificate from Microsoft are not a la carte alternatives to a college degree. It is quite possible that the result will be positive, overall, with far more efficient, inexpensive online alternatives operating alongside more streamlined and well-thought-out in person experiences on the college campuses that remain.
The point is that the social aspects of higher education cannot be replicated online. We actually do have a lot of courses all-online or hybrid, so those things can be alongside each other on the same campus.* But there is so much more going on.

Ironically, it is very common to hear complaints about what Mike frames as the "student union," referring to organizations and even buildings that bring students together. They're a waste of money, the lament goes, and that money should be spent on something more strictly related to academia. Set aside the point that at a university like mine, the costs are often captured in student fees and not operational funds, which means they money wouldn't going elsewhere--it would simply not be given at all. Instead, it is useful to consider these organizations and spaces as things that make students want to be here physically rather than just online.

The truth of the matter is, UNC Charlotte is a really nice place to be--I wouldn't have stayed here this long otherwise. The campus is an inviting place and there is a lot going on to bring students together. I think students want to be here if they safely can. Higher education is not strictly the classroom.

* Some people want online-only because of work and family commitments. We're trying to help with that too.


Saturday, April 25, 2020

AMLO and the Mexican Military

In Proceso, Erubiel Tirado warns about the growing role and autonomy of the Mexican military, which AMLO has embraced. Among other things, the state is turning the military into entrepreneurs.

Lo que venía configurándose como una tendencia desde el sexenio calderonista (y continuó en el de Enrique Peña Nieto), donde su papel se empezó a expandir en áreas no militares, como la construcción de tramos carreteros y, luego, de espacios de infraestructura civil (por ejemplo escuelas y hospitales), ya no sólo en el ámbito federal sino para los gobiernos estatales, hoy es un patrón consolidado en la administración de la autonombrada “Cuarta Transformación”.
Under the vague mantle of national security, the military is involved in a wide variety of infrastructure projects at both the federal and state levels. He argues further that there is evidence the military's core ability to address threats is eroding. It's doing too many things outside of its training.

It's a fact of life that governments are using the military more and more for their own political purposes, which damages both the military institution and democracy. Covid-19 makes this so much more stark, as Adam Isacson and I discussed not long ago. Presidents see the military as personal protection, and that's not good for anyone.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Juan Guaidó Talk

The Atlantic Council hosted a live 30 minute Q&A between Juan Guaidó and journalist María Elena Salinas on Zoom today. It was interesting to see him (he took tons of notes, including during the concluding remarks--what was there to write?) though there was not much of substance. He did deny that there were negotiations between the opposition and Nicolás Maduro.

One thing that caught my attention was language. For Guaidó, there is only "la dictadura." I think I only heard him say Maduro's name once. It became briefly confusing for me because the journalist asked him what "the government" was doing, and he naturally answered what he was doing, but then she also referred to "Presidente Maduro" so it's not clear which "gobierno" she meant to refer to. It's a long-standing semantic thing.

They allowed a single question to be asked, and sadly it was about Iran, at which point he rambled a bit with caveats about "we speculate" and "we don't know for sure." Russia is far more important than Iran.

His connection was not great, and I kept thinking that in my Zoom meetings we'd say, "Hey Juan you're cutting out!" and he's mess with something and say, "Can you hear me now?"


Podcast Episode 74: Inside The Latin Americanist

In Episode 74 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, we co-produce with Historias, the podcast of the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies, which you need to check out if you have not already. We talk about The Latin Americanist, the journal owned by SECOLAS. We get into all aspects of academic publishing, including how excited we've been to be published by the University of North Carolina Press.

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 a safe physical distance!


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

DoD Wants to Re-Open Mexico

The U.S. re-open protests are reaching Mexico at the highest levels, as the Trump administration pressures Mexico (e.g. through ambassador tweets, how else?) to re-open defense-related maquiladoras. The Defense Department is doing the same. Who knows, it might even be affecting the Space Force.

The most serious impacts to the Defense Department from COVID-19-related industrial closures domestically are in the aviation supply chain, shipbuilding and small space launch, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment said.
We know that Mexico is in a particularly intense phase of the virus, since AMLO was still hugging people and pretending nothing was amiss until relatively recently. We know that some of these plants have work stoppages because of protests by workers who are not being adequately protected. We also know that the Mexican health system, like any other such system in a developing country, cannot handle anything close to what developed countries can.

Infringing on sovereignty by overriding health policy in other countries is a problem. It's an even worse problem when your own response domestically has been terrible and as a result your administration has no credibility about when re-opening is appropriate. So you end up with the administration's default toward Mexico, which is bullying. Up to this point, AMLO has smiled and followed orders. Don't be surprise if it happens here too.


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Latin American Leaders Talk Covid-19

A group of Latin American intellectuals and former presidents co-wrote a call in Americas Quarterly for measures to deal with Covid-19. The bottom line is the need for a huge injection of cash. It's not long and I recommend you take a look. However, there are two missing elements.

First, especially in the developing world, any discussion must include a plan for graduated reopening. You might not know the exact timetable but you should define parameters. No matter how much you can realistically stimulate the economy, people do not have sufficient savings (or any savings) to withstand this crisis. They will start violating quarantines and curfews. See Otto's post about migrants leaving Lima in huge groups. At the extremes you'll see riots. So what would a reasonable reopening look like?

Second, all the talk about international cooperation needs to confront the fact that the United States is currently governed by someone who has no intention of helping.

Latin American leaders should call forcefully for international cooperation to confront the crisis. They ought to condemn export controls on medical supplies and other critical resources, and demand increased resources for the World Health Organization, contrary to the reckless decision announced by the U.S. government. 
I know, I know, diplomacy and all that. But there needs to be more concerted Latin American criticism of U.S. actions. And good luck getting U.S. assistance with medical supplies or anything else for that matter. The U.S. is currently an obstacle for Latin American recovery.


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Colombia and Covid-19

The Atlantic Council hosted a talk by Colombian President Iván Duque to discuss his government's response to the coronavirus. They seem to be doing reasonably well, though like with many places there are lots of questions about whether in the absence of testing we really know the true magnitude. (For a critical view of his response, see here).

From his perspective, the government acted early to mitigate the effects. I winced when he said something to the effect that the quarantine was maybe the hardest decision ever made by a Colombian president because I am tired of hearing the constant self-aggrandizement here. He estimated that 70-80% of the population has received some sort of service, such as through conditional cash transfers or food.

That's where I had a question, and I submitted it but there was limited time. He kept the discussion at the national level, so I wanted to know how successful the government had been in providing assistance in rural vs. urban areas. If we accept 70-80%, then where are the 20-30% receiving nothing? The Colombian state is famously absent in chunks of the country, and so how are those areas doing?

He ended with a call (or hope) that I thought was interesting. He said the U.S. should "decouple" from Asia and focus more of its economic attention on Latin America. The premise--I suppose it's that Asia is more "dangerous"--is pretty objectionable, but I guess he figures it's the only kind of message someone like Trump might listen to.


We Need To Help Undocumented Workers

León Krauze has a piece in The Washington Post about how we need to support undocumented workers. At this point, this should be obvious to everyone. Back on March 28, I noted how Republican conservatives were calling Mexican laborers essential. Nobody is saying anything about "stealing" jobs anymore--the notion, always empirical wrong, is now glaringly false. "Social distance" is a privileged concept. If you want to eat--and who doesn't?--then some people will be working pretty close to each other to pick food. Lettuce doesn't get picked on Zoom.

Krauze's article tends to conflate legal and undocumented immigrants, which is unfortunate, but his overall point is well taken. Access to unemployment benefits and sick leave would be a good idea in both moral and economic terms. Certainly, I would hope people think in moral terms, but for this issue I am fine if you insist on looking only at the economic effects because we have to eat, and I don't see you volunteering to go into the fields. We want people to be healthy and to have the option to take a break when they don't feel well. Otherwise we're worse off in both moral and economic terms.


Monday, April 13, 2020

The World Bank Suggests Temporary Socialism in Latin America

The World Bank has a new report, "The Economy in the Time of Covid-19," and it is grim reading. It's also well-written and highly conscious of the human suffering going on. It is, in short, not your World Bank of lore. In fact, it advocates socialism.

To support jobs and firms, governments may need to take ownership stakes in strategically important firms. To avert a financial crisis, they may need to recapitalize banks and absorb non-performing assets. If not adequately managed, these moves could open the door to rent seeking and political patronage. The process of acquiring and managing assets needs to be perceived as transparent and professional to maintain confidence in the government. This may also allow decision makers to take urgently needed measures without fearing prosecution in the future. 
Strong arrangements need to be put in place to ensure that the acquisition and management of assets is conducted at arms’ length from politicians, building on the best examples of sovereign wealth funds and asset management companies in countries at similar development levels.
It's a "temporary socialism" idea, with sunset clauses.
In the medium term, the priority has to be the divestiture of state assets to the private sector. Individual cases will need to be reviewed, and balance sheet repair solutions be designed. Benchmark-linked sales of government shares in companies will have to be arranged. While this is not an immediate priority, government should communicate clearly on the direction of travel, establishing a timeline and setting up sunset clauses wherever appropriate. 
This is remarkable, even with the temporary caveat. Corruption is the long-standing anchor dragging Latin American governance down, and we all know there is a strong elite movement to avoid accountability. The World Bank is actually advocating injecting state ownership into that mix. I wonder what "strong arrangements" would avoid turning such businesses into personal slush funds?

On the flip side, if such strong arrangements could be found, they would be revolutionary, though there is still the question of how to make sure such state firms continued to invest in R&D rather than being sucked dry. Some of this depends on the definition of "medium term."

I've had numerous conversations with colleagues about what will change forever as we re-evaluate everything and find new ways of doing things. The crisis is forcing us to do this, and on a bigger scale if it can actually change the way Latin American governments deal with the economy, all the better.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Steve Rushin's Sting-Ray Afternoons

Steve Rushin's Sting-Ray Afternoons was pure nostalgic fun for me. By "me" I mean a white man who grew up as a middle-class kid in the 1970s. I don't know if it'll work for anyone else (though I bet it would) but I immediately recommended it to my older brother, with whom I exchange regular emails about childhood memories and old commercials. It was the perfect escape from our current nightmare.

Rushin is a talented and funny writer, which means I laughed a lot and never felt he was getting sappy. And the basic topic of family could get sappy quickly. At core it's about his relationship with his parents and his siblings, mostly the brothers closes to his age. But his friends are in there too, and his memories of playing street baseball with a friend matched mine of Wiffle Ball, with clearly delineated rules about fair, foul, ghost runners (a term I had forgotten!), and home runs.

The memoir is immersed in popular culture, with commercials and products I hadn't thought of in years (the "C and H pure cane sugar" jingle was one such example). Many others were local to his hometown of Bloomington, Minnesota, which in turn made me think of my own local places that have long since disappeared ("Picnic N' Chicken, it's the pick of the chick," which actually sounds pretty disgusting). I think of all the places around here that my own kids will think of in the same way.

But there's also music. I actually had a quick exchange with Rushin on Twitter after I did a double take at his observation that the spoken word part of The Moody Blues "Nights in White Satin" freaked me out as a little kid. I know a million 70s songs by heart almost by osmosis. Cartoons too, and tons of them on Saturday mornings. The book gave me a pleasantly nostalgic glimpse back at those times.


Thursday, April 09, 2020

Is Aid to Latin American A Total Waste?

If you are at all interested in U.S.-Latin American relations, go listen to Adam Isacson interview Lars Schoultz about his most recent book In Their Own Best Interest (which I reviewed here). The point of the book is to ask why the "altruists" in the U.S. keep on doing what they're doing to "uplift" Latin America when it is clearly not working and might even be harmful.

What it means is a lively critique of WOLA itself, and indeed any other altruists (USAID, you name it). Lars argues that many don't know what they're doing, and their efforts at promoting good governance are not working. If development assistance isn't leading to development, then we need to rethink them entirely. Programs start and aren't ended even if they don't work at all. We can't measure "more harm than good" because such an endeavor is loaded with counterfactuals, but it's a legitimate claim to make, especially in the context of history, where we can see how often we did more harm than good while claiming to be doing whatever it was in their own best interest.

So, for example, does "building state capacity" lead to the funding of a state from which people feel the need to flee? Why keep on doing that? Ultimately he calls for thinking about non-incremental measures, whatever they might be (not revolution, as he makes clear). He uses the historical example of Costa Rica abolishing its military.

Adam disagrees with some of what he argues, and notes that. But some rigorous self-examination is always in order.


Review of Stephen King's The Stand

I read The Stand when I was a teenager, a time when I think I read his first ten books by about age 15. That's a long time ago, so I didn't remember the details of the story, but I remembered how much it grabbed me and I've considered rereading it numerous times, demurring because it's so long. Ironically, a virus gave me more time and made it seem quite timely. It's a great book, even the second time roughly 35 years later.

The onset of the deadly superflu bears no resemblance to what we're going through now. It was so contagious people caught it immediately and died quickly. There was no stay-at-home, no real containment, just mass death to the point that people died in their cars on the interstate on their way out of town. Despite the superficial similarities to today, the devastation (the vast majority of everyone dead) keeps it in horror territory. The book is a big good vs. evil story with an apocalyptic backdrop.

Given the fact that the U.S. government was responsible for creating the flu and its carelessness let it loose, there is remarkably little discussion among the characters about politics. In the Free Zone, people talk about adherence to the constitution, and the best way to organize themselves, but nothing about what had failed before, or anger toward a clearly incompetent and heavyhanded government. There's just a bit at the very end about the slow return of armed law enforcement, with a whiff of "wouldn't it be nice if we all lived in small communities where we all just got along?"

Contrast that to Stephen King on Twitter now, as he rails against Donald Trump. Politics matters, but for some reason not so much to the characters. And, incidentally, international politics comes in just ever so briefly, as Randall Flagg contemplates things: "There might be another like him in Russia, or China, or Iran, but that was a problem for ten years from now" (p. 699). Other characters have similar fleeting thoughts, but no one has any idea (or much care) for what's happening outside the U.S.

And why do people follow Randall Flagg? The answer for King runs essentially along fascist lines--in times of uncertainty, people want a strong leader who get the trains going on time (this line is literally used), gives them a clear enemy to focus on and, even more importantly, seems like he's going to win. Flagg's appeal waned because people began to see failure, which made them wonder if he was going to win after all. He could be as horrible as he wanted as long as people perceived him as winning. That, more than the virus, is the relevance of the book to today.


Monday, April 06, 2020

Using Venezuela as Distraction

Attacking another country to distract attention from problems at home is an old strategy all over the world, and used periodically by U.S. presidents. It's most effective, however, if you don't tell everyone that you are trying to distract them. There is sort of a Fight Club vibe in that respect. Yet I am not surprised that the Trump administration both is thinking of the strategy and talking about its purpose. "Please don't look at our inept Covid-19 response and instead think about using military force against Venezuela. OK?" And then, almost inevitably, the messaging breaks down and there is open disagreement about the purpose of the military force in the first place.
"This wasn't supposed to be put in the public until May," the senior Pentagon official who was familiar with the operation told Newsweek. "POTUS is using the operation to attempt to redirect attention."
So that didn't go as planned.
"Transnational Criminal Organizations and traffickers are seeking to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing their illicit trade activity, which can contribute to the spread of the virus among diverse groups of people and across vast distances," a senior administration official told Newsweek. 
Multiple senior U.S. officials who spoke to Newsweek on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the effort expressed "shock" at this conflation. 
The senior Pentagon official told Newsweek that the Venezuelan counternarcotics operation "has nothing to do with the virus."
So this was all bungled, but we haven't addressed the key question: will it distract anyone? This would require having someone who supports Trump for his Venezuela/Cuba policies and who might be wavering because of other policy debacles. Such a person is most likely someone of Cuban or Venezuelan descent living in Florida--no one else cares enough about Venezuela.* To actually change their position, or keep them in your corner, Trump would need to do something significant. I can't think of anything significant except for invasion itself. Would a few patrolling boats, a show of strength, have that kind of impact, enough to make people forget the unnecessary death and suffering at home? It's hard to imagine.

* I know that no one really cared about Panama either in the late 1980s, but attitudes toward George H.W. Bush were nothing like Trump's. He had tons of room to gather Democrats. These days you have to care a lot about Venezuela to move closer to Trump.


Thursday, April 02, 2020

Podcast Episode 73: Serving as an Expert Witness in Immigration Cases

In Episode 73 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Jonathan Rosen, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Holy Family University. Jonathan has served as an expert witness in almost 100 immigration cases, most involving Central American migrants fleeing violence and fearful of return. Really interesting stuff, with an insider's view into the process.

Incidentally, I last talked to Jonathan on episode 61 back in December 2018, where the topic was exiting gangs in El Salvador. I recommend that one as well.

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!


Teenage Parents in Central America

Teenage pregnancy is a challenge for poverty-stricken areas, because it reduces the chances the mother and child can escape that poverty. The mothers, of course, take on a disproportionate share of the responsibility, thus sacrificing other opportunities they might have. Teenage pregnancy is a huge issue in Latin America, and Honduras has one of the highest rates of the world. So why is this the case? My dad is co-author of a new study that examines it.

Holly B Shakya, Gary L Darmstadt, Kathryn M Barker, John Weeks, and Nicholas A Christakis, "Social normative and social network factors associated with adolescent pregnancy: a cross-sectional study of 176 villages in rural Honduras," Journal of Global Health 10, 1 (2020). Full text here.

This was a cross-sectional study looking at adolescent childbirth amongst women ages 15-20 years (N = 2990) in rural Honduras, using reproductive health data on all individuals ≥15 years of age (N = 24 937 of 31 300 population) including social network contacts, all of whom were interviewed as part of the study. The outcome, adolescent childbirth, was defined as having had a child < age 20 years. Predictors included whether a woman’s social contact had an adolescent childbirth and the social contact’s reported perception of community support for adolescent childbirth.
The idea here is that a girl's social networks are all telling her this is normal and good. If, however, a government wants to decrease teenage pregnancy rates--as they typically do--then you walk a very fine line.
 If, as this evidence suggests, a strong driver of adolescent childbirth is the frequency of the occurrence of adolescent childbirth both within the greater community and within a girl’s proximal social network, the challenge for intervention strategies is to encourage norms that prevent adolescent childbirth without stigmatising those who have had an adolescent childbirth. Programmatic efforts to counter prevailing norms that limit a woman’s role to motherhood, and that support and encourage strong norms for girls’ education may play an important role in addressing this situation.
As is often the case, education is essential. They note later that education must also apply to the fathers--norms of positive and supportive fatherhood would also be beneficial in the case of pregnancy. Contraception, by the way, would also be nice, but perhaps next to impossible in some cultural contexts.


Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Review of Rob Neyer's Power Ball

Rob Neyer's Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game (2018) is ostensibly about a game between the A's and Astros on September 8, 2017. That is just a vehicle for discussing the state of baseball itself and how much it has changed and continues to change. With chapters organized by half inning, Neyer follows tangents related to what's happening in the game (Baseball versus baseball) as this single real one goes along, and it's a fun and wandering journey.

So, for example, pitcher Jharel Cotton gets some ground balls hit back at him, which leads to a discussion of injury and headgear. Marwin Gonzalez coming up leads to analysis of utility players. Mention of Win Expectancy shifts to how broadcasters mention new stats without contextualizing them. Khris Davis coming up starts with his power and then moves to his writing about having the throwing yips and then on to players using social media. You get the idea.

And I love this quote toward the end about what might change in baseball.

All we know is that Baseball will do something, in response to something, and that whatever Baseball does, there will be unintended consequences. Because Baseball is inherently a human enterprise, and humans don't know any other way" (p. 272).
Baseball and U.S. foreign policy!

His conclusion is also a bit wandering, and comes down to the fact that everyone should think of ways to bring in more fans. But, I think, those ways will create new controversies that will require new tinkering. And that's not a bad thing. I loved reading his thoughts on them.

Just a few quibbles. There is a lot in italics. A lot. A noticeable large number of sentences start with "Hell" for emphasis. And ouch, he mentions Yuli Gurriel pitching for over a decade in Cuba yet having "essentially zero professional experience" (p. 80).

As an aside, there is an interesting Latin America question--the game has globalized a lot but why aren't there more Mexicans in MLB (p. 179)?


Thoughts on Trump's Transition Demands for Venezuela

Here is the text of the State Department's "Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela." Some of it is highly specific, which would normally come as the result of negotiation. In this case, it is purely imposition. In that regard, it resembles the many Cuba "plans" that have been put together over the years, forgotten after the Cubans ignored them.

See David Smilde's Twitter thread on why it is likely to fail. It's about creating fissures in the regime and, as always, encouraging the military (including publicly once again). One of a number of problems are the new Manuel Noriega-styled drug indictments, which suddenly constrain what negotiations can even take place. You can't stop and say, "Oh, those drug charges were no big deal even though we harped on them for years so we're dropping them." You're locking in, and Maduro et al have visions of Panama and federal prison in their heads. That automatically reduces their interest to zero. Mike Pompeo and others might not care, assuming they're really just talking to the military anyway.

The overall strategy is to use the Coronavirus crisis to force regime change, to make life as bleak as possible so that the military will take action. If you're wondering, none of the points mention emigrants at all, and certainly not any U.S. action to help them.

Incidentally, Jorge Arreaza called it a "pseudo interventionist proposal of a tutelary government." It is indeed quite tutelary. And the U.S. doesn't have so many options after this--it has mostly emptied its policy gun. Mostly what they have left is repeated calls to the military.

1. Full return of all members of the National Assembly (AN); Supreme Court (TSJ) lifts order of contempt and restores all powers to the AN, including immunities for deputies; National Constituent Assembly (ANC) is dissolved. The U.S. lifts sanctions imposed on ANC members due to their membership in the ANC.

A carrot to members of the ANC.

2. All political prisoners are released immediately.

Pretty straightforward, though of course the government disputes what "political" exactly is.

3. All foreign security forces depart immediately unless authorized by 3/4 vote of the AN.

That's quite a supermajority. Is the Trump administration afraid too many in the opposition will want them to remain? I also have to wonder whether it assumes that U.S. troops don't count as "foreign."

4.  AN elects new National Electoral Council (CNE) and TSJ members who are acceptable to all parties or coalitions of parties representing 25% or more of AN membership. (This would give both the PSUV and the multi-party Guaidó coalition a veto over personnel for any of these posts.) Upon the selection of a new CNE and TSJ, the U.S. lifts sanctions imposed on former CNE and TSJ members due to their membership in those bodies.

A carrot for Maduro supporters, who can veto those they view as hostile. It's funny how they felt they needed to use parentheses to explain the rationale, which is not something they do anywhere else. See, see, it's a carrot!

5. AN approves “Council of State” Law, which creates a Council of State that becomes the executive branch. Each party or coalition of parties with 25% or more of AN membership selects two members of the Council of State, one of whom must be a state governor. The four members of the Council of State then select a fifth member, to be Secretary General, and who serves as Interim President until the elections and is not permitted to be a candidate for president in the elections.  Council members may not be members of the AN or TSJ. Decisions of the Council of State will be reached by majority vote. One member of the National Armed Forces of Venezuela (FANB) will serve as Military Adviser to the Council of State.

I guess if you are imposing rules, then you might as well tell them what laws to pass (with a high level of specificity). There's something quite Platt Amendmentish about this one. And there is a nod--albeit a formally powerless one--to the military.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the "25%" rule effectively translates into two "pro-government" and two "pro-opposition." Assuming that's correct, I wonder how they would break a tie to find the fifth member.

6. All of the powers assigned to the President by the Constitution will be vested exclusively in the Council of State. The U.S. and the EU will lift sanctions on those who claimed Presidential authorities which were imposed due to their holding their previous positions once the Council of State is functioning and those individuals renounce any further claims to hold executive positions and acknowledge the Council of State as the exclusive executive power.

Who wrote this? The wording is terrible, but the idea is that you're OK if you claimed a position as long as you renounce it now. This read like writing by committee, where you wrangle and then everyone finally says, "Fine, fine, let's move on even though it sounds bad."

7. Once the Council of State is established and foreign security forces have departed (unless approved by 3/4 vote at the AN), U.S. sanctions on the Government of Venezuela, PDVSA, and the oil sector are suspended.

I will let you determine where the fine line is between deal making and extortion.

8. Council of State appoints new cabinet. The U.S. lifts sanctions on former cabinet members due to their holding their previous positions. The U.S. also lifts sanctions on members of the FANB that are based on their position in the institution.

A key detail here is "position in the institution," which means you are still a target if the U.S. government specifically deemed you one.

9. The international community provides humanitarian, electoral, governance, development, security, and economic support, with special initial focus on medical care system, water and electricity supply. Existing social welfare programs, now to be supplemented with international support, must become equally accessible to all Venezuelan citizens. Negotiations begin with World Bank, IMF, and Inter-American Development Bank for major programs of support.

This makes me think of George W. Bush's Committee for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which involved the U.S. government and private industry getting involved in every aspect of Cuban economic development in a hypothetical post-transition period. The "international community" will be overwhelmingly U.S., of course, and U.S. business will be right there. That's an underlying assumption of any deal.

10. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is established with the task of investigating serious acts of violence that occurred since 1999, and reports to the nation on the responsibilities of perpetrators and the rehabilitation of victims and their families. The Commission has five members, who are selected by the Secretary General of the United Nations with the consent of the Council of State. The AN adopts amnesty law consistent with Venezuela’s international obligations, covering politically motivated crimes since 1999 except for crimes against humanity. Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, and Peru withdraw support for the International Criminal Court referral.

Hmm. This sounds a bit like Chile, though in Chile names were not named. The idea, though, is that you have a commission that comes to conclusions that cannot actually be prosecuted. There is a caveat, though, about "crimes against humanity." That seems like a fairly gaping hole to me, and would be interpreted by all senior members of the government as something they would likely be found guilty of (and they would probably believe they'd be found guilty for political reasons).

11. The Council of State sets a date for simultaneous Presidential and AN elections in 6-12 months. Any Venezuelan citizen eligible in accordance with the 1999 Constitution can compete in the election.

Another carrot, to allow any Chavista to run, probably on the assumption they would lose anyway in a free election.

12. Presidential and AN elections are held. With a consensus of international observers that elections were free and fair, remaining U.S. sanctions are lifted.

This sounds identical to Helms-Burton.

13. Bi-partisan commission within the AN is developed to create long term solutions to rehabilitating the economy and refinancing the debt.

This one seems aimed entirely at getting the Russians and Chinese out of Venezuela and shifting it back to international institutions the U.S. helps direct. Otherwise it's unnecessary--do you think such a body would not address the economy and debt immediately? The U.S. just wants it done in a way that reasserts U.S. economic hegemony.


1. The military high command (Defense Minister, Vice Defense Minister, CEOFANB Commander, and Service Chiefs) remains in place for the duration of the transitional government.

You gotta throw a bone to the military, a little incentive to push and make this whole thing happen. María Puerto-Riera summarizes that nicely in a tweet.

2. State or local authorities remain in place for the duration of the transitional period.

What happens to state and local authorities afterward is not addressed. #12 looks only at the national level.


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