Friday, December 09, 2016

Mexican Army Doesn't Want to be a Police Force

Armies aren't built for domestic law enforcement. Their training is not centered on the same tasks that police do. Therefore we should always be concerned when governments bring the army into the streets. That has happened in Mexico, and now even the Mexican army is speaking out against it:

Mexico's top military officer said Thursday that the army is uncomfortable with the law-enforcement role it was given a decade ago when the government launched an offensive against drug cartels. 
The defense secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, said the army's presence was supposed to be temporary while new police forces were built, but that hasn't happened.
It's a lose-lose situation for the army. It becomes a target, becomes guilty of human rights violations, and looks worse to the Mexican people. This is a serious indictment of the government, which simply cannot do what it takes reform the police. Of course, it's also an indication of how deep corruption is in Mexico.


Thursday, December 08, 2016

Podcast Episode 15: Latin America and China

In Episode 15 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk to Luis Schenoni, a Political Science Ph.D. student at the University of Notre Dame (check out his website here). We discuss the relationship between Latin America and China. He just published an article in Latin American Politics & Society (sorry, gated) on the topic as well as a piece in The Monkey Cage. Interesting stuff.


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Pinochet's Kleptocracy

Nice post at CIPER Chile looks at the personal fortune that Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet amassed over his years in power. The current estimate is at $28 million obtained illegally, which means using state resources for personal gain. This doesn't include money gained by his family members. There is a entire web of corruption.

Pinochet always maintained that he was different because he was just doing what was right for the country and did not seek personal gain. Therefore he wasn't a Ferdinand Marcos or Anastasio Somoza. Yet he was. When you have unfettered access to state money, you're going to steal it. Maybe be even more wary of those who claim to have a halo over their heads.


Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Punishing Latin America to Make it Better

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) published an op-ed about forcing Mexico to pay for increased border security, including more wall. It is mostly boilerplate xenophobia, but it's worth noting the sense of how Latin America itself is deficient.

That is why I’m proposing we put Mexico on a “payment plan” and fulfill President-Elect Trump’s demand that our allies help resolve this mess. 
There are many reasonable ways to do this.  For starters, we can put in place new immigration fees from Mexico, institute a security toll at border crossings, “seize and freeze” drug cartel assets, and more. 
But it shouldn’t be limited to Mexico.  Other countries in Latin America have contributed to the crisis—and failed to rein in the chaos—so they should also help pay for these fixes, too.
Sadly, there is no learning from history and no recognition of the U.S. role in the origins of "chaos." Worse, the attitude is that if countries are punished financially, they will become more effective and prosperous. I am not at all sure how that logic works.

As Mike Allison recently noted, Donald Trump has not mentioned Central America. If he follows the punitive approach, then we could see even worse economic (and therefore also immigration) problems in the future.


Thursday, December 01, 2016

Cuba's Post-Fidel Transition

I attended an interesting talk by Carlos Alzuguray, a prominent Cuban scholar and diplomat. He argued that Fidel Castro's death will be a turning point for change in Cuba, since his presence greatly slowed changes even though he was no longer in government.

It was a frank talk. He said the economy clearly was not working and that once Raul was gone, the new leaders would inherit a "papa caliente." Not only are there severe economic problems, but the new leadership will not share the same mantle of legitimacy that the founders of the revolution enjoyed.

He also said that it had been a mistake not to work harder to expand internet access, noting that this is where Cuban entrepreneurs had a lot of untapped potential.

It struck me that an unknown question is that once Raul is gone, how well will the new leaders cooperate? We see how Hugo Chavez held together disparate factions, which fought harder against each other once he was gone. Cuba will have its own internal schisms about how to move forward, and we don't know how those conflicts will play themselves out.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Podcast Episode 14: Political Demography and Latin America

In Episode 14 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast I talk with my esteemed colleague and co-author John Weeks, who is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geography at San Diego State University, about the political effects of demographic change in Latin America, including Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela. He's really been like a father to me.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Fidel, Trump, and Cuba

I'm quoted in this article in The Guardian about Fidel Castro's death and the possible policy orientation of the Trump administration. The transition team is sending mixed signals, from rolling back the Obama administration's executive orders to vaguely needing "more" from Cuba in return. Doubtless, the mixed signals come from a president-elect who doesn't know what he wants to do.

The point I was trying to make to the reporter is that Trump faces contradictory impulses. Rolling back would mean appealing to his small but vocal pro-embargo constituency. Indeed, he still mentions the Bay of Pigs veterans, as in his statement about Fidel's death. But it also means going against his instincts for business. He is, after all, a builder of resorts, hotels, golf courses, etc. and he's been interested in Cuba before. He's all about U.S. investment in other countries, and probably dreams of a Torre Trump in Havana.

As I've said several times before, we just won't know much until we know the appointees. Trump gives the broad outlines and they fill those in with the details. Who "they" are is still unknown. The Wall Street Journal suggests Fidel's death will put extra pressure on Trump to keep a hard line, but he's already there. Most likely he'll roll some things back and keep others, while announcing victory for his "deal."


Sunday, November 27, 2016

China's New Era of Latin American Relations

I expect that for the next several months we're going to be hearing a lot about how China is moving quickly after Donald Trump's victory to expand ties in Latin America. The Chinese just released a policy paper about the "new era" of Chinese-Latin American relations.

It actually is not much different from the first such policy paper, which was released in 2008. They're comprehensive, from local exchanges to military cooperation. But the second version is just a public reminder to Latin America that the United States is pulling back on trade, on the environment, and other issues important to regional leaders. And as I've written before, as China talks Latin America is listening. Reassuring Latin America should be a priority for the president-elect.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro is Dead (Really!)

It's not propaganda, fake news, or anything else. Fidel Castro has died. I don't recall anyone else having so many rumors of demise swirl around them so much. I've made more jokes and Weekend at Bernie's references than I can remember.

At this point it's not terribly interesting to debate whether he's "good" or "bad." There will be plenty of that elsewhere. Suffice it to say that he's the most important and consequential Latin American political figure ever. The Cuban revolution changed Latin America and had a massive impact on the United States. Fear of Fidel Castro is the key reason military dictatorships justified their existence and were so repressive, while love of Fidel Castro and his example sparked revolutions across the region, including successfully in Nicaragua (and so he's also the reason Daniel Ortega is president now).

People in the United States can't tell you the name of a single Latin American president, but they know who Fidel is. He brought the US and the Soviets as close as we ever came to nuclear war. He changed the outcome of U.S. presidential elections by the influx of Cubans into Florida, and it's not a stretch to say that as a result he helped George W. Bush beat Al Gore in 2000. He's deeply embedded in U.S. popular culture, including The Godfather II.

It's also about me and my career. The revolution is what sparked U.S. government funding of Latin American Studies in the 1960s, though the vast majority of scholars quickly used that funding to launch criticism. UNC Chapel Hill received such funding, which brought Lars Schoultz to work under the direction of Federico Gil, and then 20 years or so later I worked under Lars.

So really, Fidel Castro is partially responsible for this blog post.

Editor's note: the original version of this post had The Godfather, when the correct movie is The Godfather II. Apologies for any confusion.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Venezuelans Migrants Are Like Cubans

Nick Casey has a remarkable article in The New York Times (accompanied by some excellent photos) about Venezuelans emigrating to Brazil and to Caribbean countries. Venezuelans have become Cubans, but with no asylum options. They want to stay and want to work, but there is too little work and food scarcity. So they pay smugglers on get on boats, sometimes never to be hard from again. Possibly 200,000 Venezuelans have emigrated in the past year.

This made me think of the conversation I had with Quico Toro a few days ago on my podcast. I wanted to get his view on when the Venezuelan people would finally say they'd have enough. He said it was just impossible to determine when the tipping point would be. But what this story also reminds us is that desperate people don't necessarily look to politics. Albert Hirschman famously wrote about the choices of exit, voice, or loyalty. We can make the mistake of thinking people will choose voice when exit is also an option.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Obama's Problematic Immigration Record

This post seems appropriate for Thanksgiving, a day characterized by an idealized view of immigration.

Franco Ordoñez has a good story about how President Obama failed a lot on immigration, to the point that Donald Trump inherits a deportation machine. Obama is the "deporter-in-chief," to a degree never seen in U.S. history (Snopes even felt obligated to confirm this!). Earlier this year I wrote about this in frustration and have blogged about it quite a bit. Over 400,000 people a year, including targeting kids (including here in Charlotte).

What makes me even more frustrated is Obama's failure to admit it. Trump hammered on him for months and months, and at any time Obama could've fessed up. "We're deporting record numbers of people" or "We've already put it 700 miles of fence."* But he didn't want to admit to it, and never has.

This makes no sense to me. He has three options:

1. Admit that he is aggressively pursuing undocumented immigrants and saying this is just following the law. This appeals to conservatives (or at least takes the wind out of the sails of criticism).
2. Reduce the number of deportations and say so, thus appealing to progressives and potentially energizing at least part of the Latino/a population.
3. Deport aggressively while pretending he's not, which makes everyone mad.

Obama chose #3. This means he contributed to Latino/a cynicism about the Democratic Party, doing terrible damage to many people's lives and hurting Hillary Clinton's campaign, while conservatives remained convinced he was soft and so felt more attracted to Trump.

DACA is an excellent policy based on common sense, and I give Obama credit for it. But we should not praise him for things he does not deserve.

*Though I am also aware that Trump said fences were useless during the campaign and now says they're part of his plan.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Podcast Episode 13: Understanding Dialogue in Venezuela

In the latest episode of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Francisco "Quico" Toro, Executive Editor of Caracas Chronicles, about Venezuela, especially the state of the dialogue between the opposition and the government. What can it accomplish? What is the opposition doing? What are the alternatives? The only question we can’t answer is why Nicolás Maduro is dancing salsa while the country falls apart. That one seems to be impossible to figure out.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Rolling Back Cuba Policy

Mauricio Claver-Carone, an outspoken critic of President Obama's Cuba policy, has been named to Donald Trump's transition team. If Otto Reich likes it, then you know it's a hardcore choice.

Claver-Carone's appointment to the transition team “is a clear signal … that the president-elect will carry out the promise he made to the Cuban American community,” former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich told the Nuevo Herald. 
Reich added that the appointment does not automatically mean Claver-Carone will get a top job in the new administration, although Reich predicted that he would accept it if offered. “In my opinion, not many other people know as much about Obama's mistakes on Cuba policy, and how to change them, as Mauricio,” he said.

Read more here:

Claver-Carone just published an op-ed attacking Obama's policy, rather bizarrely comparing it to supporting United Fruit.

The president has repeatedly described U.S. policy toward Cuba as a “relic of the Cold War.” He had to dig deeper into the archives to derive this provision, so reminiscent of an era when U.S. foreign policy famously teamed with Latin American dictators and American corporations, like the United Fruit Company, to negotiate away the economic future of those nations. 
There’s no longer any rational strategy behind President Obama’s “Cuba policy.” It has gone from what it initially portrayed as a noble purpose to pure sycophancy in pursuit of “historic firsts.” Unfortunately, those Cuban dissidents who recognized Obama’s intent from the beginning and labeled it “a betrayal” of their fight for freedom have now been proven correct. Their foresight has come at a terrible cost.

Read more here:

That the embargo failed miserably is not mentioned, and likely he does not care. But he will clearly have influence over the president-elect, and whatever he has will be geared toward rolling back current policy and keeping the embargo.

At this point I don't think embargo supporters even bother defending the policy itself. That it strengthens the regime is immaterial. Instead, what's important is not engaging, which provides a sense of higher moral ground even if you're ultimately helping the regime.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Trump and Macri Talk Buildings

According to Argentine journalist Jorge Lanata, when Donald Trump called Mauricio Macri, he asked if he could build a Trump building in Buenos Aires.

"Macri llo llamó. Todavía no se contó pero Trump le pidió que autorizaran un edificio que él está construyendo en Buenos Aires, no fue solo una charla geo política", contó Jorge Lanata en su monólogo del programa Periodismo para Todos. Trump le pidió al Presidente el permiso para poder formalizar la obra de su nuevo desarrollo inmobiliario que, según contó LA NACION estaba interesado en hacer hace muchos años pero no lo hicieron antes por las dificultades que imponía el cepo cambiario y las trabas a las importaciones.

If this is accurate, then it's ridiculous (we do know, however, that Macri used business ties as a way to connect to Trump, so it's a plausible story). Sadly, however, I think there will be many such examples while Trump is president. He is more interested in making money than actually governing, and there will be no shortage of politicians and investors eager to curry favor.

Update: Trump denies the story. So does Macri.


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