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.


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