Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fear of Bipartisanship

Suddenly, anti-immigration Republicans are scared that immigration reform might pass, almost by sleight of hand. They're scared that the leadership might go to conference:

“If the leadership appoints conferees and we go to conference committee with the Senate over the Schumer-Rubio amnesty bill, the odds are pretty good they're going to come out with something that is basically the same as Schumer's bill,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said recently.

But they're even scared of President Obama's apparently magical powers of persuasion, where even just talking to the president could make you wander back, zombie-like, and vote for reform even though you don't want to:

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said Wednesday he wouldn't meet with President Obama to discuss immigration reform because he feared it would be a trap. 
"I was invited to the White House yesterday and I refused to meet with the president because I saw it as a political trap," the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee told radio host Laura Ingraham.

When you get down to it, this means they're scared of compromise. Krikorian sure as heck doesn't want compromise or negotiation; they are anathema. It's fear of bipartisanship, of working together, of solving problems jointly and, ultimately of majority agreeing it's a good idea.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fake Academic Journals

Via Inside Higher Ed, this warning from the American Historical Society:

The AHA Professional Division urges members to be aware of an increasingly common suspicious email targeting scholars in a variety of disciplines. The email consists of an offer by a supposed scholarly journal to publish a conference paper. Typically, the initial email contains grammatical errors and unprofessional language. The respondent who submits a paper for “peer review” soon learns that the paper has been accepted, but that there is a “service charge” (for reviewing, editing and printing) that can run into the many hundreds of dollars. These solicitations have been sent from “editors” of journals that do not exist.  Scholars who respond to such solicitations, and then revise a paper in the hope of having it published, run the risk of wasting their precious time—and money. The Professional Division recommends members diligently investigate the legitimacy of offers they receive via email from unknown sources.

My immediate thought is, "Who the hell would ever be fooled by such a thing?" Sure, people may be desperate to publish something anywhere they can, but falling for this requires not even bothering to see if a journal they've never heard of is actually real, especially after an email that is clearly written by someone with no grammar skills. Then after you are told there is a large fee, you keep going anyway without checking at that point to see whether the Journal of Political Science Pontification is real? Doing that checking requires something like 30 seconds of Googling.

I feel like I must be missing something.


Destroying the Chilean Miracle

If you want to understand the fanaticism of the Chilean right, check out this op-ed in Forbes by someone from the Fundación Para el Progreso. It seems that "Misses Bachelet" (yes, he wrote that) is a communist tool set to destroy the Chilean miracle. It's quite a creative portrayal of Chile, so fundamentally blinkered and simplistic that all you can do is hope the weather is nice in his bubble.

And, of course, if you don't really have an argument then mention Hugo Chávez:

The spirit of Ms. Bachelet, whose government program basically aims to revive many of the failed policies implemented by Chile from the 1940s to the early 1970s, has led some members of the center right to accuse her of following the populist path of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The person is writing as if Bachelet was an unknown, rather than an establishment figure and former president with a long track record of being decidedly un-radical. But with Bachelet poised to win the presidential election on November 17, maybe even in the first round, all the right has to offer now is fear.


Monday, October 28, 2013


Talk about personalistic politics. Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has a political movement, the "Uribe Centro Democrático" (here is the official website). He does not bother hiding that he is the personal driving force of this movement, which is driven by, naturally, uribismo.

Oscar Iván Zuluaga just won the candidacy of these Uribes. He immediately said that he would be the "greatest defender of Uribismo." When asked about whether the choice of candidate was actually fair, Uribe wouldn't answer. And btw, like Uribe, Zuluaga is being investigated for his ties to paramilitary groups, which I think means that for Uribe he is the perfect choice.

Photo from this news story

I guess one thing we've learned is that Uribe's complete and total obsession with Hugo Chávez has had the effect of copying him. Long live the eternal Uribe and his pack of Uribes!


Chapter 1 Revisions

Revising the U.S. and Latin American Relations textbook requires me to think a lot about new examples. Right off the bat in Chapter 1, I need a new example to highlight the different theories in the book. The one I have is Venezuela's 2006 bid to get one of the rotating seats on the UN Security Council. It worked well to show U.S. power as well as perceptions of the importance of international institutions. But it's now dated.

So I think I'm going with the story on the NSA spying. Brazil has announced plans to draft a UN resolution on electronic privacy. So we have a clear example of the U.S. government using its power in contravention of international law, thus ignoring international institutions in the name of security, and the response by weaker states to leverage whatever influence they can through those same institutions. Plus, Brazil is talking about creating optical networks that exclude the United States in order to reduce dependency. In a sense, that could also be understood in realist terms since it reflects balancing of weaker states against a stronger (if, indeed, it ever happens).

The point is not to determine whether any of these are especially correct or not, but rather to show how theories help explain certain kinds of behavior between states.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

May Sarton's The Small Room

I read May Sarton's The Small Room, as I can never pass up novels on academia, especially ones I've never heard of before. It is the story of Lucy Winter, who gets her Ph.D. at Harvard and then gets a job at a small liberal arts college for women. One of the best students is caught plagiarizing and it causes a variety of problems (which actually get neatly tied up so quickly you barely have a chance to think about them).

It was published in 1961 so as a period piece it's interesting to read (lots of martinis and lots of smoking). I know that the time and place is far removed from mine, but I wondered whether Sarton depicted professors in an idealized form that never existed. They speak in an overly formal way, quoting John Donne. It's like they speak how people who are not professors imagine professors speak.

What I found most intriguing was the depiction of the struggle college teachers have getting through to students. The core of the book is about whether professors should be involved in helping their students personally, including a major fight over whether the college should hire a psychologist. Since the answer was so obviously yes, I found that quaint but ultimately not so compelling. Beyond that, though, was how frustrated professors are:

"It seems to me that you just teach and then go away and hope some of what you sad sank in, and then when you see the papers you know almost none of it did. As far as I can see, teaching is as much as anything the ability to handle failure most of the time, one's own failure, I mean..." (p. 237).

Without that recurring theme, the book wouldn't have spoken to me much at all. I read constantly that students these days are worse than ever--they have no attention spans, they can't think, they can only text, blah, blah, blah. But fifty years ago, indeed millennia ago, everyone thought the same damned thing.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Vice-Minister of the Supreme Social Happiness of the People

This is truly real. There is even video. Nicolás Maduro has created a new position, the Vice-Minister of the Supreme Social Happiness of the People.

Caracas, 24 Oct. AVN.- El presidente de la República, Nicolás Maduro, anunció este jueves la creación del Viceministerio para la Suprema Felicidad Social del pueblo, en alocución transmitida desde el Palacio de Miraflores, en Caracas. 
El Jefe de Estado designó al doctor y ex diputado de la Asamblea Nacional, Rafael Ríos, al frente de este cargo.
It is there to promote, as you might guess, the happiness of the Venezuelan people primarily through the presidential misiones but it seems also to take over the job of Aló Presidente, where Hugo Chávez would take complaint calls and then personally resolve to do something about them.

The job will start on December 8, which will then be named the "Day of Love and Loyalty" to Hugo Chávez. Hagiography and cult of personality will abound, thus spreading supreme happiness among all from the Comandante Eterno.

h/t Hugo Pérez Hernáiz


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Doc Hendley Talk

For UNC Charlotte's Common Reading Experience this year, we read Doc Hendley's Wine to Water, which I reviewed last year. Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a dinner with him (I am on the Common Reading Committee, which is a lot of fun) and then go to the talk. It was really fabulous.

He's a tremendously engaging speaker who has gone all over the world doing water projects while remaining very humble (and funny). He was wearing what he said his wife called his "denim tuxedo," with a Red Man belt buckle.

One of the points he stressed was how Wine To Water is growing, but he was committed to making the growth happen by connecting more to local organizations, who could help forge local solutions. In each place he helps drill wells or fix them using very cheap material. If you bring in expensive drills from India, as many organizations do, then it is costly to repair them. If you construct them out of things that can be bought locally, then you can make a well for $500 versus $5,000 and it can be easily repaired by going to local markets for parts.

If you haven't read the book, you really should.


Send In The Mexican Clowns

After Francisco Rafael Avellano Felix was killed by someone dressed as a clown, Mexican clowns are standing up and honking their noses on behalf of all clowns everywhere. Clowns are not killers, they say.

This, though, is sad:

‘‘We clowns suffer robberies,’’ Morales said. ‘‘The criminals have stolen our vehicles, our costumes, our sound equipment, our makeup, and with these same tools we use to work, they use them to commit robberies.’’

I find clowns kinda creepy, perhaps because of reading too many Stephen King novels as a kid, but let's not rob the poor clowns in order to kill people while wearing their stuff. On the other hand, I would stay away from this for fear of generating nightmares:

An estimated 500 clowns from around Mexico and the rest of Latin America gathered Wednesday at the International Clown Meeting and held a 15-minute laugh-a-thon ‘‘to demonstrate their opposition to the generalized violence that prevails in our country.’’


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Latinos and Hispanics

In my immigration class the question of how to define "Latino" or "Hispanic" pops up quite a bit. They are basically interchangeable but at the same time nebulous. In particular, they don't refer to race, even though I would guess that the vast majority of people associate them with "Mestizo" anyway. Mark Hugo Lopez at the Pew Hispanic Center has some survey results, which I found interesting.

This surprised me a bit, as I was under the impression that "Latino" was becoming more prevalent, but that was just an impression. I wonder if responses vary much according to age?

Either way, the article discusses respondents' views of whether the Latino/Hispanic community desires a "leader," which currently is lacking. But I think we need to connect the two dots--if this "community" is so diverse that even appellations are hard to pin down, then how do you develop a single leader who encompasses everything? For example:

  • The terms used to describe identity are linked to immigrant generation. Among foreign-born Latinos, two-thirds (66%) say they describe themselves most often by their Hispanic origin term (for example, Mexican, Colombian, Salvadoran). Among second-generation Latinos, 48% say the same, while among Latinos in the third and higher generation, just 20% do this.

The problem is that if there is no consensus on identity, then you aren't too likely to find consensus on a leader. This isn't necessarily bad--you could well get conflict if one type of leader tried to push a certain identity that was not shared by a significant chunk of the population. But it does mean that identity diversity and leadership can be tough to reconcile.


Monday, October 21, 2013

New Military Mission: UFOs

Via The Telegraph: Peru's air force is going to reopen its UFO department. Not The Onion, it appears. Actually, I wrote a few years ago about a UFO sighting in Peru. Anyway, here's the scoop:

The Department of Investigation of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena, or DIFAA, will bring together sociologists, archaeologists and astronomers, as well as air force personnel, to analyze how often these events occur, where and what times, Vucetich said, according to the official Andina news agency.

Studying civil-military relations, this is not something that typically comes up. But hey, I'd rather have the military aimed at space aliens than internal security.

What's even funnier is that it was closed for several years due to "administrative problems." Which means what? Infiltration?


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a breezy, enjoyable story about John Gilkey, who was caught stealing large numbers of rare books in stores around the Bay Area. What set him apart from your basic thief is that he had no profit motive. He just wanted to be seen as an educated, well-read man. He based many purchases on the Modern Library top 100 books, which he felt were a mark of sophistication.

He went in and out for prison both for theft, credit card fraud, and for writing bad checks, and was bizarrely amoral. He wasn't rich and could never own these books, so of course he had to steal them. Those dealers owed him! They were charging so much for these books, and he wanted them. How else would he get them? In all the interviews, he seems geniunely unable to see that he is doing anything wrong.

It's a glimpse into bibliomania. Since they were stolen, he could never really display them or show them to anyone else. Somehow just having them was enough. But eventually a dealer got on his trail and pursued him with the help of the police. One lesson from the book is not to mess with rare book dealers. They mean business.


Friday, October 18, 2013

U.S. and Venezuelan Transition

José Cárdenas argues that the U.S. needs to "guide" a transition in Venezuela in case Nicolás Maduro is ousted.

Now, they need quite a different plan, one that seeks to help guide a peaceful transition to a post-Maduro government less hostile to the United States. If one thing is certain, Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba -- all heavily vested in the regime's radical wing -- are not about to stand idly by and let events play out.

There are a number of problems with this.

First, U.S. "guidance" often mucks everything up and leads to the opposite outcome policy makers want. We "guided" Venezuela in the 1980s, after all. Honduras is disintegrating in no small measure because of U.S. "guidance" in 2009. So be very careful about getting what you wish for.

Second, I am not so sure that Russia or China cares so much who is in power in Venezuela as long as they can get them some trade and investment. That doesn't really depend on ideology. Iran actually trades more with other Latin American countries, including quite a bit of growth with Mexico, than with Venezuela, and the Chávez-Ahmadinejad relationship is obviously no more. I would say Iran cares more than China and Russia do, but much less than Cárdenas claims. Cuba obviously cares a lot, but remember that when transition away from Sandinista rule occurred in Nicaragua, Cuba couldn't do anything about it, and now is even weaker than it was in those days.

Third, Venezuela is not anywhere close to the national security threat that Cárdenas claims. You need to believe a wide variety of conspiracy theories based on anonymous sources to make that argument work.

Of course the United States needs to pay close attention to events in Venezuela. But we need to resist the never-ending temptation to dip our fingers in because so often those efforts become self-defeating and counterproductive, especially when based on exaggerated claims of national security threat.


Trying to Pass CIR

In class yesterday we discussed the possibilities of immigration reform getting passed. President Obama is pushing it, but the odds are slim. The Washington Post lays out an argument, but I think it misses a key point. Regardless of John Boehner's standing in the Republican Party, a lot of people will not want to get behind Obama again so quickly after caving in on the shutdown. Primary season is coming right up, and passing two of Obama's requests will not go down well with primary voters back home.

And here is where even legislators' logic gets fuzzy:

Rep. Raul R. Labrador (R-Idaho) told a conservative audience on Wednesday that “it would be crazy for the House Republican leadership to enter into negotiations with him on immigration.”

Labrador, who dropped out of a bipartisan House effort last spring to strike a comprehensive immigration deal, added: “Anything we negotiate right now with the president on immigration will be with that same goal in mind, which is to destroy the Republican Party.”

The irony is that immigration reform would actually strengthen the Republican Party, albeit more in the long term than the short term, by sending a signal of inclusiveness that would eventually pay electoral dividends. Doing nothing further alienates Republican moderates, who feeling increasingly beleaguered.

In short, I think the shutdown vote made immigration reform even less likely than it was before, when odds were already long.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Harvest of Empire Talk

UNC Charlotte's Office of International Programs is sponsoring a documentary series on immigration from Latin America, using Harvest of Empire to generate discussion. Different parts of it will be shown each week. On Monday I will be leading the segment on Cuba.

I've been watching the video and really like it because it fits so well with both my Latino immigration class and my U.S.-Latin American relations class. I always try to help students understand the relationship between U.S. foreign policy and people's decision to migrate. They bound together very tightly. In the case of Cuba, you need to start with U.S. policy in the 19th century, otherwise you cannot understand the causal mechanisms at work.

The documentary is graphic and sometimes depressing, as it needs to be. I hope a lot of students attend at least one of the segments.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

U.S.-Centric Media Perspective

Here is a really good example of how U.S.-centric the media can be. It takes two different facts:

1. Some leftist leaders in Latin America have solid approval ratings
2. The U.S. government does not like some of these leaders

And then comes to the conclusion that these Latin American leaders are popular because they are unpopular in the United States.

The results are a telling portrait of how Latin America’s constituencies favor leaders who are willing to buck up against the so-called big brother to the north and not adhere to U.S. interests in the region. 

The idea that Latin American citizens base their opinions about their presidents on something other than their relationship with the United States seems not to compute. Instead, the article acknowledges popular policies Rafael Correa has implemented, then basically says that people approve of them in large part because the United States opposes them.

The populist appeal to their countries’ working class has helped leaders like Correa and Morales win elections and stay in power despite a number of questionable moves that have garnered a slew of criticism from the U.S. and international bodies like the United Nations and the Organziation of American States.

The sentence should just end with the word "power" and it would make a lot more sense (Also, please do a spell check before publishing a story).

But it gets worse because it then echoes Sebastián Piñera's recent whining about why he isn't popular.

Both Colombia’s Santos and Chile’s Piñera have approval rating well under 40 percent – 25 and 36 percent, respectively. 
While both these countries have made huge steps in terms of freedom in the past few decades, the presidents’ ranking highlight the paradox these democratically-elected leaders have to deal with: that managing a vibrant economy in the give-and-take world a multi-branch government doesn'’t always make you a popular leader.
Funny enough, it doesn't mention that both of their predecessors left office with very high approval ratings! But the article wants to paint a picture of beleaguered pro-U.S. presidents who are unpopular in large part because they follow the U.S. suggested rules.

The takeaway, then, is that when Latin Americans form opinions, the first thing they do is think of the United States. Right.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

U.S. and Latin American Relations 2nd Edition

I am psyched to announce that at long last the second edition of my textbook U.S. and Latin American Relations will be published by Wiley. My original publisher, Pearson, had gone back and forth about doing a second edition and ultimately decided not to, but agreed to give me back the copyright, for which I'm grateful. I then pitched it to Wiley.

The last draft was finished in mid-2007 and came out in December of that year, so you can guess how much revision will be required. I am also going to add a chapter focusing specifically on the challenges to U.S. influence in the region. 

I gave a deadline of May 2014 for the final manuscript, and work really begins ASAP. I loved writing this book, though, so I look forward to it.


Mexican Consul Attaché Talk

This afternoon I went to a talk by Cynthia Prida-Bravo, the Mexican Consul Attaché in Raleigh, which was sponsored by the Latino Student Services Office. In addition to talking about her work at the consulate (and the Instituto de Mexicanos en el Exterior) she also specifically addressed the students about her own experience trying to figure out what to do with her life, particularly as a woman in a conservative Mexican family that expected her to get married and have children.

Moreover, I liked her discussion of migrants in the U.S. She said she had spoken to a Republican U.S. senator, who had said he hoped not to make the same policy mistakes that would have his children or grandchildren dealing with the same issues. She told him that wouldn't happen because of demography and that there weren't enough young people left in Mexico to emigrate in the same numbers. That of course is something I talk constantly about in my Politics of Latino Immigration class. It is oversimplified to say that demography means something never will happen because it isn't static. But more recognition of its effects are always welcome.


Monday, October 14, 2013

John Dinges' Our Man in Panama

I happened to pick up John Dinges' Our Man in Panama, a 1990 book about Manuel Noriega's rise to power. The invasion itself is mentioned only briefly at the end, which was fine with me. What's more interesting is how the situation developed.

It is a reminder of how weird that invasion was. The U.S. government was split any number of ways about Noriega and only toward the very end did anyone consider him an "enemy." Even then, many still didn't. For the most part, he was the friendly leader who helped the DEA (including, ironically, the arrest and extradition of someone who later testified against him) and helped the Contras. He was a team player. That he was corrupt was no big deal--everyone was corrupt. Omar Torrijos had established the system that Noriega inherited. Noriega's own addition was drug trafficking, which the U.S. had first officially noticed in the early 1970s.

Dinges goes through all the evidence with care, showing how deeply involved Noriega was in the drug trade and how brutal he could be. As he notes, and it's still true now, no one feels sorry for him as he had almost no redeeming qualities. But going straight to invasion essentially for personal reasons is still amazingly disproportionate. Using similar criteria elsewhere, we'd be involved in even more wars than we are now.

If you haven't read it, the book is worth your time.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

All-Powerful Image of the U.S. in Latin America

From Julian Assange:

U.S. intelligence agencies "can easily intercept these communications ... and therefore gain understanding of how Latin America is behaving, where it is moving, its economic transfers, the activities of its leaders and major players," he said.

"That permits the U.S. to predict in some ways the behavior of Latin American leaders and interests, and it also permits them to blackmail. Nearly every significant person in Latin America is blackmailable by the U.S.," the Australian journalist and transparency activist said.

There is something here I just don't get. If the U.S. is so all-powerful--more than we even thought--then why is it so unsuccessful at using the power? If the United States government could easily blackmail Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, Cristina, Néstor, Evo, et al. then why has it not done so? If it can see everything, then why does its actions not reflect that knowledge? If the U.S. has the power and simply chooses not to use it, then we are in an era of unusual and historic restraint, which seems unlikely.

Even during the Bush administration, when the NSA was in full swing, the U.S. government clearly did not know what was going in on much of Latin America. The U.S. was clueless about the intents of presidential candidates (who clearly qualify as a "significant person") like Lula and Ollanta Humala, which makes no sense if we were bugging their phones.

So I am skeptical. Believing this requires believing that knowledge is cluelessness, and information makes you less powerful. I'm not quite ready to make that leap.


Friday, October 11, 2013

High Venezuelan Inflation

Venezuelan inflation hit 49.4% in September. Here is a visual from the Central Bank:

It's hard not to notice that inflation really began to jump after Hugo Chávez died in March. Regardless, the government will very quickly start spinning this. I don't yet see any mention of it in the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, but from past experience the explanation will center on sabotage, hoarding, and perhaps even just abundance of money.

But when you've just taken the reins of a government that has been in power for well over a decade, it gets harder to pin the blame on the opposition for everything. So it's just more bad news for Nicolás Maduro, who has had precious little good news.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

New Granma

Granma is getting a new editor as part of an effort by Raúl Castro to make it less triumphalist and secretive. Granma's own announcement doesn't actually say about that. It's a bit hard to see it a major move, though, when it is decided by the politburo of the Cuban Communist Party, not exactly a bastion of openness.

At the same time, I've found Granma to be a model of moderation compared to Venezuelan state news. Granma rarely has stories that make you chuckle at their absurdity, for example. In a number of ways, Venezuela claims Cuba as a model yet is becoming more radical as Cuba--at least haltingly--is softening its stance on a number of domestic issues.


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Feminism and Take Me Out to the Ball Game

A quick baseball interlude.

Had you ever thought of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" as a feminist song? Well, now you will--John Thorn, who is the official historian of Major League Baseball (and wrote a great book on the origins of baseball that I reviewed in 2011) reprinted a study of the song.

Although this memorable chorus of peanuts and Cracker Jack is part of our national consciousness, the song’s little-known verses tell a deeper story, about a woman and her desire to be part of the rooting crowd. Her name was Katie Casey, and in 1908 she was affirmably baseball’s biggest fan. Katie Casey was base ball mad,Had the fever and had it bad;Just to root for the home town crew, Ev’ry sou Katie blew.On a Saturday, her young beauCalled to see if she’d like to go,To see a show But Miss Kate said “no, I’ll tell you what you can do:[1]Figure 2. Take me out to the ball game postcard, 1910“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was Katie’s well known reply, but in 1908, a woman at the ballpark rooting and cheering was neither a common sight, nor was it fully accepted. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” advertises just the opposite: that a woman’s place was indeed in the grandstand at the ballpark and not just safe at home.

At the time, he notes, women were sometimes seen at baseball games but it is was not widespread and there was a lot of male resistance. But it goes even further in terms of social implications:

These were the Katie Caseys of the factories who eventually took to the streets in search of better working conditions and higher pay. The tune that these women were singing was also an “infectious” one, and society would have to “get every word.” Women wanted empowerment, and Katie Casey’s fictionalized declaration for a female presence in the grandstand was a reverberation of these workers’ demands for equality. Once they reached their own chorus of assimilation, they too could never go back.

What a cool story!


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

U.S. Brinkmanship and Latin America 2

Following up on yesterday's post about how brinkmanship in the United States can have significant negative effects on Latin America, the Christian Science Monitor looks specifically at Mexico.

The US government shutdown, which today entered its second week, is expected to cost the US economy 0.10 percent to 0.15 percent of its GDP growth weekly. The shutdown will have little if any impact on Mexico – the debt cieling [sic] is the real risk – says Gabriel Casillas, chief economist and head of research at Banorte-Ixe. The possibility of a default and the associated uncertainty is more concerning, Mr. Casillas says. 
“The first thing that reacts is the exchange rate,” he says. 
The peso has already lost 5 percent of its value since Sept. 19. 
The uncertainty extends to the border region, where exporters are concerned that the debt ceiling debate could derail US investments and slow down border crossings.

Over the past several years, we've seen time and time again that the United States government acts precisely in a way that it criticized Latin American governments for acting in the past. Whatever moral authority there once was is now completely gone. Even worse, incompetence and ideology in the U.S. government can hurt lots of people abroad.


Worst Excuse Ever: Bolivia

The Bolivian government arrested Luis Cutipa, the Director General de la Hoja de Coca e Industrialización for trafficking in his own goods. Who is to blame? The United States!

Mr Cutipa says he was forced to raise the price of licences after his agency lost funding following President Evo Morales' decision to expel the US Agency for International Development (USAID) from the country. 
According to Mr Cutipa, the funding cuts caused by the decision left him struggling to cover expenses.
Damn those imperialist Yankees! They made me fund the fight against coca with coca! The idea that I sold it to enrich myself is ludicrous.


Monday, October 07, 2013

U.S. Brinkmanship and Latin America

Via Lane Crothers: There are some members of Congress--we don't know how many--who believe that defaulting would be good. From Rep. Ted Yoho:

If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, that will sure as heck be a moment. “I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets,” since they would be assured that the United States had moved decisively to curb its debt.

Take this from the Latin America angle. Defaulting would likely do the following:

Failure by the world’s largest borrower to pay its debt -- unprecedented in modern history -- will devastate stock markets from Brazil to Zurich, halt a $5 trillion lending mechanism for investors who rely on Treasuries, blow up borrowing costs for billions of people and companies, ravage the dollar and throw the U.S. and world economies into a recession that probably would become a depression. Among the dozens of money managers, economists, bankers, traders and former government officials interviewed for this story, few view a U.S. default as anything but a financial apocalypse.

We even have a Brazil reference. Latin America is deeply tied to the U.S. economy in pretty much every way conceivable. I cannot imagine any way it would end up being anything but negative for Latin America.

Yoho is extreme, but the debate over the debt ceiling is still worrisome. From the American Enterprise Institute:

How many other GOPers are Yohovians? Hopefully not too many. Because to believe in Yohonomics, you have to believe that no matter how deep and quickly and haphazardly government spending is cut, the private sector would seamlessly and instantaneously pick up the slack. And there would be a lot of slack. Goldman estimates the revenues Treasury will receive in the month following the October 17 deadline would equal only about 65% of spending going out, “implying a far greater fiscal pullback than will occur as a result of the ongoing shutdown.”

And this will hurt Latin America from the obvious ripple effects. Here is Standard and Poor's from back in 2011 when we were having a similar debate:

We expect that the Latin American region would be hard hit by a U.S. downgrade or default, with the magnitude depending on the duration of the global disruption, especially with regard to liquidity flows and heightened risk-aversion. Further, the ramifications to the economies of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, where trade, remittance, and tourism-related links to the U.S. are substantial, would reverberate even more significantly than elsewhere in the region, in our view.

It's safe to say that Latin American leaders are looking at this with some combination of trepidation and disbelief. Or maybe not so much disbelief. After all, Latin American presidentialism has periodically produced minority factions with a strong sense of entitlement that run roughshod over everyone else.


Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Power of No in North Carolina

From Doonesbury. Not really the best way to get attention, unfortunately, though in fact North Carolina is gradually becoming purple rather than red. But it is, after all, the home of "Senator No" himself, Jesse Helms.


Cuba Reconciliation

There was a conference about reconciliation in Cuba, using Germany as a comparative example. This is an important and difficult topic.

One problem, though, is that the quotes in the article in addition to the German case study assume collapse. This is not surprising since the audience seems mostly to have been Cuban Americans, and even the former East German speaking there had been a dissident.

But the dissolution of the Soviet Bloc was a very different situation. Germany reunified because the Soviet Union was losing its grip. Cuba right now has no such power dominating it and even survived the Special Period. We cannot assume it will fall apart. You cannot rule out collapse: if the Venezuelan opposition takes power, Cuba will take an enormous economic hit. When both Castros are gone, there are a lot of question marks about political continuity (Nicolás Maduro's performance trying to replace Hugo Chávez underlines this).

However, the thrust of the message seemed to be how winners treat losers. That is fine if that's how it plays out, but it's not clear to me that Cuba's eventual transition will look like East Germany's.


Friday, October 04, 2013

Alberto Fujimori's Uribe Impression

Via Lily Langtry on Twitter: Alberto Fujimori is on Twitter. He seems to be following Alvaro Uribe's example, which is for a former president to do a string of tweets denouncing the sitting president, though at least for Uribe the sitting president didn't try to overthrow him!

Some of it, too, is assertion of what a great guy he is, given that minor detail that he is in prison for crimes against humanity.

Ah, "el Pueblo," just like "the American people." Anyway, like Uribe he's crazy but worth following.


Believing Conspiracies (Or Not) in Venezuela

This column in Venezuelanalysis details Nicolás Maduro's conspiracy theories while criticizing those who view them as outlandish. The conspiracies mostly involve planes, but also assassination plots, and encompass the governments of the United States, Canada, France, and Colombia.

Across the capitalist media these events are reported in derisive ways with attempts, some more subtle than others, to discredit President Maduro and portray him as a fool or even as a madman - as though Washington is incapable of coups, assassinations and illegal wars in Latin America and around the world.

My own textbook on U.S.-Latin American relations details the coups, assassinations, and illegal wars in Latin America. A core question is whether the historical legacy should automatically be conflated with the assertion that every single conspiracy story is credible because of that history. Obviously I don't think so.

Nonetheless, I do agree with Hugo Pérez Hernáiz, who just yesterday wrote the following:

My opinion is that most of the people now in the government are real radical revolutionaries who sincerely believe in that what they are doing (not all of course, some are cynical corrupt opportunists). They have a radical Manichean conception of good and evil and a simple, clear, and easy to understand theodicy that helps them frame the struggle against evil. Their theodicy is based on the Leninist idea of imperialism as the last stage of capitalism, and it inevitably includes a lot of conspiracy theories to back it up. According to this view, Socialism is “scientifically” perfect; price controls and planned economy is the right way to go. If things go wrong, the only possible explanation is that the enemies are sabotaging the road to utopia. 

Basically, if you do not share that radical view, then it is likely not possible for you to believe the many conspiracy theories offered up by the government. If you do share that view, then you are outraged that anyone questions them.

One caveat, though. Hugo Chávez obviously shared the radical view (after all, he created it!) but the conspiracy theories seem to have intensified under Maduro. If the theodicy is constant, then there needs to be some other variable explaining that change.


Thursday, October 03, 2013

Rhetoric, Reality and Latin American Trade

This article, written by Mexican professor Luisa Parraguez and two of her students, really hits the nail on the head with regard to U.S.-Latin American trade relations. They detail all the public concerns Latin American governments have had with U.S. policy, and then show how despite all the talk, there is little change in trade.

Anti-American rhetoric in ALBA countries has not prevented them from listing the U.S. among their main trade partners. As of 2012, the U.S. was the main import source for Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Honduras. Particularly striking is that 31.2 percent of Venezuela’s imports and 28 percent of Ecuador’s come from the United States. Adding to this list, the U.S. is Bolivia’s fourth largest source of imports, producing up to 10 percent of its imports, and Argentina’s second source after Brazil.
Trade overrides ideology. The bottom line, leftwing leaders like Maduro and Morales need U.S. business in their economies, and the most vehement anti-imperialist talk is overshadowed by economic pragmatism. Ecuador is in an even more critical position, as reliance on the U.S. dollar in its economy means it cannot afford poor relations with the United States. Ideological hot air may grab headlines, but will not trump Latin America’s heavy flows of trade with the world´s most powerful economy.

Even in the case of Venezuela, you can expel all the diplomats you want, but real independence cannot come until you end your very strong reliance on the U.S. for both imports and exports (and Venezuela remains a very good example of dependency theory despite well over a decade of Chavismo). The many references you see about the end of U.S. hegemony also ignores this fact.


Dell Shannon's With A Vengeance

Totally by chance, I read Dell Shannon's With a Vengeance, a police procedural published in 1966. It was intriguing because the protagonist is an incredibly smart and dapper Hispanic police lieutenant in Los Angeles. Further, Dell Shannon is a pseudonym for Elizabeth Linington, a prolific crime/mystery novelist.

So what we have is a great snapshot of 1960s Los Angeles, and in this case with a killer on the loose who leaves note cards by his bodies saying "The vengeance is just." Mendoza and his colleagues go around L.A. looking for clues, with what is sometimes a bewildering array of characters. What we also see are the steak lunches, always with scotch. And smoking--lots of smoking. It is a period piece and it is interesting to read almost entirely for that reason. The story is fine but not particularly engrossing.

And Mendoza himself, along with his Anglo wife and sometimes his colleagues, keeps using little Spanish phrases (ay Dios mio! or the like, all different kinds) in a way that keeps emphasizing his (I figure) Mexican heritage. Funny to see framed positively in a book that old, and also for an author who, apparently, was very right wing (I didn't see much political in the novel, though the rigid gender roles/portrayals were very clear).


Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Job Opening for Latin American History

If you are a historian of modern (post-1930) Latin America then check out the position UNC Charlotte has.

The Department of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte invites applications for a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor in the field of modern Latin American History to begin August 2014. Applicants are required to have a Ph.D. in History or a related field at the time of appointment, show evidence of a strong potential for professional development as a scholar and teacher, and demonstrate a commitment to promoting diversity as a value in the department and college. A research and teaching focus on modern Latin American history is required, with an emphasis on the period since 1930. The field of specialization and the regional focus are open, although we particularly welcome applications from candidates interested in the areas of ethnicity/diaspora, human rights, environmental history, gender, and/or digital humanities.

This is a great place to work and the chair of History, Jurgen Buchenau, is a historian of the Mexican revolution and good friend of mine. If you're eligible you should apply!


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Quote of the Day: Peer Review

"Peer reviewed articles are meant for other professors to read, not the general public."

--A student in my class, answering a librarian's question about what peer review means in the context of the paper assignment I've given them. It's too true, which is why it's up to us to make the effort to disseminate all that work to the broader public.


Political Institutions and Shutdown

When I was in graduate school the great presidentialism vs. parliamentarism debate was in full strength, with Latin Americanists at the forefront. Chile was often held up as a paradigmatic case (especially check out Linz and Valenzuela's 1994 edited volume). I particularly liked the debate because it connected political science to real policy options (even if in most cases not much changed!).

Notable in the current controversy over shutting down the federal government is the lack, and I mean total lack, of popular attention to political institutions. We hear a lot about leadership, ideology, stubbornness, acting like children, etc. but nobody outside political science stops to ask how political institutions create incentives. A presidential system with a division between the executive and legislative branches makes political actors act in a particular way based on who they believe they must answer to. Electoral systems dictate, among other things, how many parties will be represented in the legislature and to what degree they will form coalitions.

In the United States, as in many Latin American countries, there is little incentive for a) legislative coalition-building; and b) executive-legislative cooperation. In Latin America, both now and in the past, this can lead to coups. In the U.S., it leads to what we call "gridlock" and occasionally government shutdown. The rules of the game encourage political actors not to work together, and they scramble in different ways when the legislative and executive branches cannot get along.

All I want is for people to think about the rules of the political game. Even if you don't push to change them, at the very least recognize how they matter more than the stuff you read about in news stories. And think about how the rules of the game affect real people. Blame for the situation is collective--if we don't change the system, then we should realize that this will keep happening.


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