Friday, May 30, 2014

U.S. and Latin American Relations writing (part 7)

The last time I updated this was three weeks ago. I am behind, though not by a lot. All of the rush of the end of the semester--which is even greater when you're chair--is now done and June should be much more productive.

Chapter 1 (Theory) - Done
Chapter 2 (Historical) - Done
Chapter 3 (Rise of US Hegemony) - Done
Chapter 4 (Intervention/Good Neighbor) - Done
Chapter 5 (Early Cold War) - Done
Chapter 6 (Cuba Revolution)- Done
Chapter 7 (Communist Threat) - have comments done & am adding them
Chapter 8 (Challenge to US Hegemony)- writing (16 pages out of ~45) Four pages a week
Chapter 9 (Political Economy)- have comments but not yet revised Finish by May 28
Chapter 10 (Immigration) - printed and started writing comments Finish by June 16
Chapter 11 (Human Rights) - printed and thinking about all the outdated parts Finish by July 4 
Chapter 12 (Drug Trafficking) - printed and thinking about all the outdated parts Finish by July 23

Finishing Chapter 7 will not take much time. Typing in the changes to Chapter 9 will take longer because they require more updating. Those were supposed to be done 2 days ago.

Chapter 9 writing goals:

May 16 - 12 pages
May 23 - 16 pages
May 30 - 20 pages
June 6 - 24 pages
June 13 - 28 pages
June 20 - 32 pages
June 27 - 36 pages
July 4 - 42 pages
July 11 - 44 pages
July 11-25 - revise and polish

It is May 30 and I have written 16 pages, which means I am 4 pages (i.e. one week) behind.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Immigration Chapter Needs Major Updates

"As more Hispanic immigrants and their children gain the right to vote in the United States, it has become clear that neither the Republican nor Democratic parties have an obvious edge. For example, although the Republican Party in California has been a voice for immigrant restriction, many recent Latin American immigrants with strong Catholic backgrounds gravitate toward its conservative social message (209-210)."

--Gregory Weeks, U.S. and Latin American Relations (2008)

Holy cow, talk about a poorly thought out sentence. I am starting work on the immigration chapter for the second edition and just came across it. But it's also a fascinating glimpse into how much has changed since the end of the Bush administration. I am guessing I wrote that sentence around 2006, a time when a conservative Republican president was fighting unsuccessfully--sometimes against conservative Democrats--for immigration reform. Some conservative Republicans were actually trying to hammer out plans that would include legalizing undocumented workers. Members of the RNC argued that Republican voters supported reform. Latinos had voted for Bush in large numbers. I overestimated the strength of those signals.

So there will be some serious rewriting in this chapter.


Thoughts on Venezuela Sanctions

News of the House passing targeted sanctions against Venezuela as well as an open letter from some members of Congress (all Democrats) opposing them have been circulating around.

Some observations:

1. There are already targeted sanctions on Venezuela that as far as I know have had no measurable effects (thanks for Steven Bodzin for pointing out their continued existence, though he makes a different point).

2. U.S. legislators disdain Latin American organizations even while claiming to want partnership. Like it or not, the region is opposed to sanctions.

3. Final passage is likely because U.S. legislators don't care whether the sanctions will really work--they just want to look "supportive" and/or "tough." Plus, there is no cost of any kind to bear for voting in favor.

4. Approving sanctions to show moral or ethical support even when they'll likely have little to no effect is bad policy.

5. Unilateral sanctions are ineffective, even more so when they are actively opposed by everyone else.

6. Sanctions are being driven by a very small minority of Congressmembers and wealthy Venezuelan-Americans.

7. Assuming passage, President Obama will likely enact them but can pick and choose who are the "human rights abusers" in the Venezuelan government. Supporters want some big fish but it is not likely that will happen.

8. The net effect of all this will be of the "tempest in a teapot" variety.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Don't Do Stupid Stuff in Latin America

As I've written quite a few times, I like the general thrust of President Obama's policy toward Latin America. More specifically, I like the lack of a one-size-fits-all grand strategy, a focus on positive day-to-day relations on the ground, and hesitance to act too quickly. This does not mean I have agreed with everything the administration has done and I've written about that too. In his speech today at West Point, Obama summed up what I consider the basic reason I approve of his approach:

On a trip to Asia last month, Mr. Obama described his foreign-policy credo with a baseball analogy: “You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.” But, he added, the overriding objective is to avoid an error on the order of the Iraq war.
 In private conversations, the president has used a saltier variation of the phrase, “don’t do stupid stuff” – brushing aside as reckless those who say the United States should consider enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria or supplying arms to Ukrainian troops.

The saltier version is "don't do stupid shit," and I like the sound of that. Time and time again, the United States has done really stupid shit in Latin America and it's nice to have someone in office whose goal is to avoid it. Stupid shit does sometimes happen--the NSA flap being a recent one--but at least it seems to stay contained.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Don't Copy Cold War Policy in Latin America

At Shadow Government Ethan Kapstein asks and then answers a question that is not well thought through. Summed up:

Q: How can the U.S. achieve its interests abroad without going to war?
A: Use the same tactics it employed during the Cold War in Latin America

By promoting land reform and industrialization in East Asia and Latin America, for example, the United States helped to create entrepreneurs and new economic interests that sought growth and political stability over peasant and proletariat revolution. 

One problem here is that the United States was vehemently opposed to the vast majority of land reform efforts in Latin America during the Cold War. Remember how it responded to land reform that affected United Fruit in Guatemala?

Similarly, President John Kennedy played an active role in America's involvement in Venezuela during the early 1960s, when that country was threatened by a communist-backed insurgency. The United States provided financial support to the regime of Romulo Betancourt for a wide range of social programs, while it backed negotiations with other elite groups -- including the military, Catholic Church, and petroleum interests -- who opposed the government's reform measures. Again, military assistance was provided to the government, but mainly in the form of technical support and training.

To be fair, yes, Kennedy supported Betancourt and the latter was good for Venezuelan democracy. But as Giglio and Rabe point out, that case was exceptional. For Kennedy and other presidents, ideology was everything and elsewhere they supported dictatorships. What Kapstein is really getting at is the Alliance for Progress, which did not last long and from the Latin American perspective was unsuccessful. As Chilean President Eduardo Frei (who received a ton of Alliance aid) wrote in 1967 in Foreign Affairs:

Many Latin American governments have used the Alliance as a bargaining lever to obtain increases in U. S. aid precisely so as to avoid changing their domestic situation. These governments have committed themselves to internal reforms which later they knowingly allowed either to become a dead letter, or worse, to be completely controlled or used for the benefit of those in power.

So this is not exactly a model we should revive and use again. What you could potentially argue is that is the United States should follow the model it used with the Alliance for Progress under Kennedy (but not LBJ) in some Latin American countries (but not all) and try to recreate the idealism instead of the concrete reality of failure.


Kennedy, Congress, and Cuba

Asa McKercher, "Steamed Up: Domestic Politics, Congress, and Cuba, 1959-1963." Diplomatic History 38, 3 (2014): 599-627.


Studies examining the initial response of the United States to Cuba’s revolution largely ignore the role of Congress, an oversight reflecting both a scholarly trend emphasizing the actions of the presidency in regards to American foreign policy making and the separation of powers in the U.S. constitution. Redressing the balance, this article examines how members of Congress reacted to the course of U.S.-Cuban relations throughout the crisis years of 1959–1963. Illuminating Cuba’s place in domestic debates about foreign affairs it also looks at the politics surrounding the American response to the Cuban revolution. Lawmakers quickly emerged at the forefront of those calling for a strong stance toward Cuba. In turn, congressional pressure to confront Fidel Castro both helped and hindered presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy. For Kennedy, in particular, domestic politics and actions by Congress were major concerns that tempered his actions in dealing with the Cuban revolution.

The key argument is that studies of early U.S. policy toward the Cuban revolution focus on the executive, so this is opening that up. The ultimate conclusion is not too surprising.

Thus, the executive found it necessary to look tough in standing up to Castro. However, as President Kennedy’s comments to the press in September 1962 indicate, he was focused not only on avoiding the appearance of appeasing Castro but on resisting congressional pressure to take precipitate action against Cuba.

I enjoy these sorts of studies because even as a political scientist I like diving into archival records. We tend to get stuck on the idea that presidents intervene without providing the context for it. With Kennedy we know very well from the Cuban Missile Crisis that he was not anxious to get involved, so it makes good sense to look more closely at the congressional side.

If you're wondering, the conclusion here is that Congress was committed to sanctioning Cuba as much as possible, a pressure Kennedy had a difficult time resisting. The debate sounds eerily similar to the one going on now with Venezuela, though the stakes of course are far lower so it remains largely peripheral to the public eye.

It would benefit a bit, though, from more attention to work by political scientists. In my graduate U.S.-Latin American Relations course I use Michael Grow's U.S. Presidents and Latin American Interventions, where he looks at domestic opinion--generally driven by congressional leaders--as a main explanatory variable for understanding presidents' decisions to intervene.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Bachelet and Radicalism

An article in The Santiago Times takes Andres Oppenheimer to task for his recent anti-Bachelet article. I did the same on Twitter when I first saw it.

Notwithstanding Oppenheimer’s piece in El Mercurio, people who live in Chile and read the non-corporate press (El Mostrador, The Clinic, Radio Bio Bio, La Cooperativa) know Oppenheimer’s characterization of Bachelet is phoney. Her open-minded, conciliatory May 21 address emphasized the continuity of her agenda, while at the same time standing firm in her allegiance to Chile’s democracy.

I actually had a similar conversation with a Chilean academic while at the LASA conference. Bachelet may at times talk like she is seeking grand reforms but in general they're not radical and are even incremental. What the right and the corporate media (both of which feed Oppenheimer's columns) fear is that somehow there is a hidden agenda and the "real" Bachelet will deliver the country into the arms of Nicolás Maduro and Raúl Castro. Since Bachelet is a known quantity with four years of a presidency to look at as evidence, it's difficult to fathom how deeply held those suspicions are.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

The CIA and the Chilean Coup

Former CIA agent Jack Devine just published an article in Foreign Affairs about the Chilean coup that is getting attention because he argues the CIA was mostly clueless about the details of the coup and therefore was not successfully plotting as often portrayed. The CIA had the desire and the resources but the Chilean military was a tough nut to crack.

A few thoughts:

First, can we stop saying "what really happened" about anything? He gives us one viewpoint and so it is only what "really happened" to him, or at least his version of it.

Second, his version is basically what I've been teaching in my classes for a long time and I think has already settled into scholarly conventional wisdom. Every single indication is that the CIA was trying hard to support a coup but was mostly in the dark.

Third, not being directly responsible for the coup is not the same as not being responsible at all. The Nixon administration played an important role in making it happen. In class I discuss what Kathryn Sikkink has called "green lights," whereby the signals of approval the U.S. gives are critical for assuring coup-makers that they'll be supported if successful. So:

Washington hailed Allende’s demise as a major victory. Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, were pleased. So was the CIA: against all odds, the Santiago station had helped create a climate for the coup without tainting the effort by becoming directly involved.

Public statements, covert meetings, throwing CIA money, and the like are not plotting with the military but are powerful tools nonetheless for creating a coup climate. And, of course, they are also major violations of sovereignty.

Fourth, the persistent belief that the U.S. was more actively involved in making the coup happen stems in part from the also persistent U.S.-centric assertion that the United States government drives just about all major events around the world. Latin American agency disappears. Chileans wouldn't possibly do this on their own!

Fifth, the CIA does enough--and Devine notes how he tossed money around, even claiming credit for the women banging pots--that conspiracy theories of major plots all over the place are just believable enough. He lauds covert operations but the CIA has done tremendous damage to U.S. credibility, U.S. moral authority, and sometimes even U.S. national security.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Gap Between Academia and Policy for Latin America

I was pleased with the roundtable we had at LASA about the disconnect between academia and the policy world with regard to Latin America. It was a lot of fun and I think sparked some great discussion. The panelists were Chris Sabatini, Shannon O'Neil, Bill LeoGrande and Frank Mora.

We did note that many policy makers remain hostile or just indifferent to academia, especially at high levels. As scholars, we can't control that but we can take some of our own steps.

We've made too little progress and the gap remains unbridged to a significant degree. In some ways, political science as a discipline has moved away from policy even as the possible means of dissemination through social media has expanded. For that reason, individuals must be entrepreneurial, knowing they may not receive much (or any) credit toward the goals of tenure, promotion, and merit raises.

Here are some concrete suggestions that came out of the discussion. We covered a lot and this is not exhaustive but it provides a sense of what we (and the audience) were thinking about.

1. Learn to write in different ways. Speak the language. Strip out the jargon and get straight to the point. Side note: this is one way in which The Monkey Cage is a great venue, as it essentially translates academic work into something more accessible.

2. Shop that writing. You can blog, of course, but you can also write op-eds. Plus, you should contact people in thinks tanks and introduce yourself, which can often even be done via Twitter. Write for Americas Quarterly or Foreign Policy. Communicate with reporters and get quoted, which then raises your profile and allows you to get your voice heard, even if just a little bit.

3. Try to exhort a little less. We all have opinions, sometimes very strong, but you need to convey information, not just how much you want a policy changed. Latin Americanists are often tagged as adversarial, which may be true in many policy areas but your voice is stronger if you make your case without too much ideology.

4. Learn the policy process. It is very easy to demand change but recognize the obstacles to policy reform when you're making a case. It is easy for policy makers (or say, staffers who may read these articles and discuss them) to dismiss analyses they believe naive.

5. Be aware of what you don't know. Even if you understand the policy process pretty well, you do not know the inner workings of different parts of the government. Who is in, who is out, what personal differences there are, etc. At least recognize that your policy prescriptions may not even be possible (or at least need more nuance) under given circumstances.

6. Incorporate it into your classes. One great idea (I need to give Shannon O'Neil credit here) is to arrange for policy analysts to Skype into a class and talk to students. Have students write op-eds and policy briefs. I am going to think about all of that as I prepare my Latin American Politics syllabus for the Fall 2014 semester.

It's true that these and other issues are not entirely new. Alexander George in particular had grappled with them years ago. But one point that came up several times is that the difference now is social media. You do not need to go to DC to meet people. In fact, I had not yet met my fellow panelists in person even though I had been in touch with them in various ways over time through blogging, Twitter, and email.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Aswany's The Yacoubian Building

Alaa Al Aswany's The Yacoubian Building (first published in 2002) takes a Cairo building as a microcosm of Egyptian society just after the launch of the first Gulf War, showing how the country has slid into decay. The disillusioned youth who moves toward radical Islam, the class differences, manipulation (and sometimes abuse) of women, the corruption and gaming of the system, and more.

What struck me was how this could've been a novel of authoritarian Latin America. In place of radical Islam put Marxism, where young people try unsuccessfully to engage with the corrupt system so then fight against it and the hegemon they see behind it. It's a society warped by autocratic rule and is leading nowhere good as a result. So it is engaging but will certainly not uplift you.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Yoani Sánchez's Newspaper

Yoani Sánchez started an online newspaper in Cuba called Apparently so far it has not been blocked by the Cuban government.

What I find particularly interesting about it is that it is not opposition per se. Think Venezuela, with all the insults and slurs. Instead, it is a collection of different types of stories that transcend politics. Instead, you get this indirect digs, quick indications of a state that has pretty ossified. Take this story about baseball versus football in Cuba:

La mayor pesadilla del fútbol cubano estriba en tener al enemigo dentro y disfrutando, además, de una estrecha complicidad con el Instituto Nacional de Deportes y Recreación (INDER). Esta entidad se muestra preocupada hasta el desvelo por salvaguardar la prevalencia del béisbol en tanto "deporte nacional", como si las preferencias deportivas fueran un tema de seguridad nacional o una cuestión de Estado.

This isn't about politics, but it reveals how far the state has extended its control to impose even particular sports on the country. Everything down to the most trivial is somehow a matter of national security, and this publication pokes fun at it. This is more likely to generate sympathy than a sledgehammer strategy, and of course is less likely to be censored. It's calling for a rethinking of what has been taken for granted, not for regime change.

We know there are clear limits but not necessarily where they are. Yoani Sánchez has been masterful at becoming known globally and it is therefore harder for the government to crack down on her. But if she pushes too far, they will, but right now we're in uncharted waters.

Update: The Cuban government blocked access to it after I posted. Seems times haven't changed at all and the waters are quite well charted!


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Using Cuba in Venezuela Talks

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian argues that the United States and Cuba could work together to stabilize Venezuela.

Maybe, and just for a brief window of opportunity, there is some room for a concerted, quite diplomacy between the United States and Cuba regarding Venezuela. UNASUR, the United States and Cuba all have certain legitimate national interests at stake there and not many of them are incompatible. A combination of incentives and restraints, patience and demands, political carrots and diplomatic sticks can be designed over the medium and long term. There is not a quick fix, nor a magic bullet when dealing with the Venezuelan crisis. The core issue at this moment should be respect for human rights, the establishment of a realistic political dialogue, and the commitment of all domestic parties to democratic strengthening and against authoritarianism. [emphasis mine]

I appreciate the creativity--which the Venezuela crisis could use--but something puzzles me. Cuba does not respect human rights, has no political dialogue, and is opposed to democratization. So how can it help in promoting those things in Venezuela?

Further, economically the Cuban government is desperately dependent upon the continuation of a Chavista government so it really cannot act as a neutral arbiter in any case. Its goal will be to neutralize the opposition and prop up the government.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Letter to Obama on Cuba

A high profile group has sent President Obama an open letter (text here) calling for liberalization of Cuba policy. It focuses on removing travel restrictions, financial restrictions, and high level dialogue in areas of mutual interest, all of which can be achieved by executive order. In short, it advocates common sense. It does not call for ending the embargo, but baby steps are fine for now.

But timing matters and this window of opportunity may not remain open indefinitely. At the same time, the U.S. is finding itself increasingly isolated internationally in its Cuba policy. In the current political climate little can be done legislatively, but the Obama Administration has an unprecedented opportunity to usher in significant progress using its executive authority at a time when public opinion on Cuba policy has shifted toward greater engagement with the Cuban people while continuing to pressure the Cuban government on human rights.

The signatories range from business, the (retired) military, the Democratic Party, business, and think tanks, but John Negroponte also signed it, and he is not what you'd call liberal.

This is about chipping away. The general public has supported opening up for years, though few see it as a pressing issue. Meanwhile, even Republican governors have traveled to Cuba to engage in cash-based trade. So the public opinion piece is there and so is the economic piece. What remains is the ideological piece, which is centered in Florida and absolutely set on blocking any and all of these reforms.

Slowly adding people like Negroponte to the mix can have an ideological impact because he enjoys tremendous respect within the conservative ranks, basically for the same reasons he enjoys the exact opposite within liberal ranks (including, for example, his support for the Contras and looking the other way at serious abuses in Honduras). If any conservatives are on the fence, he is someone they can publicly refer to.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

LASA Panel on Academic Relevance

The 2014 meeting of the Latin American Studies Association is coming right up in Chicago. I organized a roundtable to discuss the academia/policy divide, which is getting a lot of attention but no one has examined it specifically for U.S.-Latin American relations.

As an academic who is very interested in policy, this matters a lot to me. So I chose a group of people who are similarly interested but from different vantage points. So we have combinations of former policy makers/staffers who are now academics, people who publish on U.S.-Latin American relations, people who work in high-profile think tanks, etc. What can/should academics do now and into the future to avoid policy irrelevance? What does that even mean?

As you might guess, given what I write about on this blog and in my publications I'm really looking forward to the discussion. Join us if you can.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Genocide in Guatemala

The Guatemalan legislature approved a non-binding resolution denying that genocide took place there. And, somehow, this was supposed to contribute to reconciliation.

It seems to be a way of saying that even if over 200,000 people were killed by the government, it does not rise to the level of "genocide." Given that many people, including a bishop, were murdered in the post-civil war era simply for talking about accountability, this sort of argument shouldn't come as a surprise.

As for the fact, the Guatemala truth commission lays everything out in horrific detail. Put simply, there were times when the Guatemalan government wanted to raze the countryside in order to kill all real or imagine "subversives," which meant 83% of victims were Mayan. The army was proficient at this in a way that sometimes defies description. That is something not up for debate.

According to the United Nations, genocide is defined as follows:

The convention defines genocide as any act committed with the idea of destroying in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. This includes such acts as:

Killing members of the group
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
Deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to physically destroy the group (the whole group or even part of the group)
Forcefully transferring children of the group to another group

The criteria sound like Guatemala.

So why is all this happening? Because there are trials going on, and the debate about the resolution centered on questions of "revenge" and unfairness. If a trial is about some Indian deaths, that's one thing. If it's about genocide, that takes it up a notch. The resolution is not a law so cannot affect the judiciary directly, but it sends a message and seeks to change the context.

Supporters of the resolution openly said that the way to achieve reconciliation was to forget the past. "Forgetting" is the language of perpertrators and has played out in similar fashion across Latin America. There was this big conflict, mistakes were made on both sides, so let's not dredge up the past anymore and just move forward without revenge. In practice, of course, that would mean denying victims any justice at all.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Universities and Social Media

The Kansas Board of Regents made a decision on its social media policy and it's messed up:

The new policy says that faculty and staff of the state's six universities, 19 community colleges and six technical colleges may not say anything on social media that would incite violence, disclose confidential student information or release protected data. But it also says staffers are barred from saying anything "contrary to the best interests of the university."

What constitutes "the best interests of the university"? I find that creepy because it can mean anything. That you can be fired if you criticize a corporate sponsor of the university, for example? Or write something that annoys leaders in the state legislature, who make funding decisions? Basically, yes:

The chief executive officer of a state university has the authority to suspend, dismiss or terminate from employment any faculty or staff member who makes improper use of social media.  "Social media" means any facility for online publication and commentary, including but not limited to blogs, wikis, and social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.
I use Twitter and Blogger daily and although I don't think anything I write would fall under this category, maybe I am wrong and I could get suspended for pointing out what I believe to be flawed logic with the state legislature's approach to education funding or, heaven forbid, for giving the impression that UNC Charlotte roots for the San Diego Padres.

We're in a profession that revolves around thinking, writing, and conveying. The more you impose restrictions on that--beyond the normal and reasonable restrictions on speech that apply to everyone--the more you block that process and warp it. I hope very much that "best interest of the university" part is not invoked and not copied elsewhere.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Repression and Talks in Venezuela

The MUD has halted talks because of government repression.

“The talks haven’t produced any result up to now,” Capriles said in an interview over a chicken stew in Barlovento, Miranda on May 10. “With the camp raids the government has shown its problem isn’t the barricades, it’s the protest itself.”

I'm not really sure how chicken stew was relevant...meanwhile, the United Nations is now criticizing the Venezuelan government for excessive use of force:

The United Nations human rights office today voiced concern at renewed violence in Venezuela, and at the reported excessive use of force by the authorities in response to protests.
“We unequivocally condemn all violence by all sides in Venezuela. We are particularly concerned at the reported excessive use of force by the authorities in response to protests,” said Mr. Colville.

“We therefore reiterate the High Commissioner’s call to the Government to ensure that people are not penalised for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression and for sustained and inclusive, peaceful dialogue based on Venezuela’s human rights obligations,” he said, adding that OHCHR remains available to support efforts to this end.

That came on the heels of the recent Human Rights Watch report. And concern from Amnesty International. The government and its supporters have consistently argued that the government is using restraint in the face of extremely violent protesters. That line is getting more difficult to credibly sustain.

If you look at this purely from a strategic perspective, Nicolás Maduro will likely find it difficult to convince a majority of Venezuelans that the MUD is responsible for the suspension of talks. And given Maduro's gradual approval slide, Venezuelans clearly want some convincing.

Update: Maduro blames pressure from Miami for the talks being suspended.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Cuban Response to Future U.S. Actions

José Ramón Ponce Solozábal (a psychologist with what looks like a fascinating background, including working in Cuban counterintelligence) just published an article in Military Review on the possibility of a "Cuban spring," which refers to the article I published there in 2012 on the same topic with Erin Fiorey, who at the time was a Latin American Studies graduate student here. Ours was very policy oriented whereas his is more political theory.

Sin embargo, la creciente oposición y la lentitud del avance económico, auguran la inexorable
participación en algún momento, por razones geográficas e históricas de los Estados Unidos
de Norteamérica, como acertadamente apuntan Gregory Weeks y Erin Fiorey. 
No obstante, el artículo de dichos autores, si bien analiza brillantemente la situación cubana,
enfoca mecánicamente la posible actitud de la Cuba futura en lo que respecta a la participación
estadounidense. La secuencia de hechos históricos en la relación Cuba-Estados Unidos narrados, conduce a inferencias como cálculo matemático,pero la constatación práctica, in situ, del sentir de esa población en la actualidad, hace pensar en un salto muy significativo, lo cual pone en duda que se produzca una postura no conveniente para Estados Unidos en el momento de la transición a la democracia; aunque aciertan en considerar que esa relación puede caminar por el “filo de la navaja”

The first part is a nice compliment, and then he makes an interesting (and certainly debatable) point that we're a bit too mechanistic in our assumptions about how Cubans will respond to some eventual U.S. action in Cuba. Especially based on the rest of the article, what I take this to mean is that he believes Cubans may well be more sympathetic to the United States once they have a choice and are no longer so tightly controlled.

My hunch is that the United States will be met with considerable skepticism, but I do have to admit that such an assessment is based on certain assumptions (the punishment of the embargo, historical animosity, among others) that could turn out to be wrong. I would argue that at the very least we should maintain those assumption until the opposite is very clearly evident. I can envision just blundering into a post-Castro context, intent on showing Cubans what they should do next.


Monday, May 12, 2014

U.S. and Latin American Relations writing (part 6)

I last updated about a month ago. It is always hard to make headway toward the end of the semester but I've been plugging along.  In the very near future I will be half done but it is the easy half.

The thematic chapters take longer because they require a lot of updating and I am writing one from scratch. They constitute five chapters. Realistically, I have 11 weeks to complete them, which means just about two weeks per chapter. The writing, of course, won't work that way because it can't go as quickly--I have 11 weeks to write another 40 pages or so, which means about 4 pages a week. Simultaneously, I have about 2.5 weeks to revise each of the remaining 4 chapters. This won't be easy but I am not giving up on the deadline.

If you ever wonder what professors do during the summer, this is just one example.

Progress (Deadline: August 1, 2014)

Chapter 1 (Theory) - Done
Chapter 2 (Historical) - Done
Chapter 3 (Rise of US Hegemony) - Done
Chapter 4 (Intervention/Good Neighbor) - Done
Chapter 5 (Early Cold War) - edited with red pen and currently revising
Chapter 6 (Cuba Revolution)- edited with red pen but not revised
Chapter 7 (Communist Threat) - in the process of reading/commenting
Chapter 8 (Challenge to US Hegemony)- writing (8 pages out of ~45) Four pages a week
Chapter 9 (Political Economy)- in the process of reading/commenting Finish by May 28
Chapter 10 (Immigration) - printed and thinking about all the outdated parts Finish by June 16
Chapter 11 (Human Rights) - printed and thinking about all the outdated parts Finish by July 4 
Chapter 12 (Drug Trafficking) - printed and thinking about all the outdated parts Finish by July 23


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Presidential Approval in Latin America

Nicolás Maduro's approval has slipped to 37%. This is certainly notable because it suggests he is not convincing Venezuelans that his strategy for dealing with the protests--or for the problems underlying the protests--is the right one.

Before jumping to conclusions, though, we should note that presidents are not universally popular in Latin America.

Peru's Ollanta Humala is at 25%. For years Peru has been a black hole for presidential approval.

Argentina's Cristina Fernández is at 25%.

Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos is at 46%.

Mexico's Enrique Peña Nieto is in the high 30 to mid-40s, depending on your poll.

Brazil's Dilma Rousseff is in better shape, at 51%.

Ecuador's Rafael Correa was at 65% in December. Correa has consistently been one of the most popular presidents in the region.

Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega is also at 65%.

The bottom line is that you can be unpopular and remain in office, and even resist the opposition. It's interesting to compare to 2008, which saw a similar type of spread.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Latin American Growth

Here is an analysis from the Brookings Institution about how to get fast growth in Latin America to return. Curiously, it does not mention the most important reason for the huge growth rates we saw in a number of countries, namely commodities. I don't exactly disagree with his concerns about informality and other problems, but they stem from the deeply entrenched dependence on primary products.

There is a strong connection to change in commodity prices and changes in GDP in Latin America. It's fine to talk about fiscal policy and productivity but ultimately you have to look at what exactly you're producing. The closer your economy looks to a century ago, the worse off you'll be. Focus on that part (and no, I don't pretend it is somehow simple) and the rest will fall into place.


Friday, May 09, 2014

Economic Paralysis in Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro made a fairly startling admission about a problem, followed by a suggestion about how to make the problem worse:

Asimismo, dijo que 20% de las empresas participantes están paralizadas. 
En este sentido, Maduro comentó que "hemos pasado de la ley de la jungla, de cada quien poniendo las reglas económicas y los precios que le da la gana, a un proceso de regularización que debemos consolidar con reglas, con máximos porcentajes de ganancias".

Since I periodically get complaints that I don't translate Spanish (which is due to the fact that I don't want to take the time) here you go:
Also, he said that 20% of the participating companies [in a large conference held by the government] were paralyzed. 
On this point, Maduro commented that "we've gotten past the law of the jungle, with anyone imposing economic rules and prices that they feel like, to a process of regularization that we should consolidate with rules, with maximum profit percentages."

20% of businesses are paralyzed?!? That alone is a crisis.

But how to solve it? One way to make the crisis worse is with government rules to impose certain imaginary profit margins. The more the government dictates exact prices and exact profits, the more companies will find themselves paralyzed and you will generate a thriving black market.

Maduro and others in the government have complained long and hard about speculators, and I can understand their frustration. Unfortunately creating more rules to end speculation actually creates more speculation in the absence of broader reforms. If prices on basic goods in Venezuela are kept artificially low, people will definitely take those goods to the Colombian border and resell them at higher prices. At least the Venezuelan government seems to have finally recognized that and started raising prices. Interestingly, that solution goes completely against what Maduro just said.

But that's not the only problem. Venezuela's terrible handling of its currency has led to a shortage of dollars, which in turn makes it very difficult for firms to get the imports they need to keep going (thus paralyzing them). Company after company has been announcing it is halting activity because they can't get dollars for the imported goods they need and/or cannot get their dollar revenues.

This isn't really a debate about more or fewer rules, but rather about smarter rules that create incentives for people to follow the law and produce. And at a certain point, yes, prices will go where prices will go. If you are going to subsidize parts of the population, then just be intelligent about implementation so that you don't end up making the problem worse, which is what's happening now.

On the other hand, if you advocate simply opening up markets as the solution, you're just as clueless. Moisés Naím believed that would work as well, then helped create the economic mess that brought Hugo Chávez to power. Oddly, he talks about what a success those policies were. The logic escapes me.


Thursday, May 08, 2014

Venezuela Sanctions Push

In large part because of the recent Human Rights Watch report, the U.S. Congress is moving closer to imposing targeted sanctions on Venezuela. Sensing an issue that might make conservatives forget about his support for immigration reform, Senator Marco Rubio is leading the charge. This quote jumped out at me:

Rubio says ways to best apply economic pressure will be discussed at the hearing. 
"We're looking to target individuals in the government or associated with the government," he said. "We're not penalizing the Venezuelan people."
What he is saying, then, is that Cuba sanctions penalize the Cuban people. If Cuba sanctions were as good as he claims they are, then wouldn't he want to impose the same on Venezuela? He says Venezuela is a dictatorship, which means it is the same as Cuba, which means an embargo would work perfectly. Right? Bueller?

Regardless, chances are very high (I'd say at least 90%) that sanctions will pass. The greatest thing about these proposed sanctions is that they don't cost anything, especially since they will no impact on Americans' ability to consume Venezuelan oil. Plus, of course, they play to the most active voters in Florida, so both parties can benefit (or at least don't want the other to benefit by their own inaction).

On the flip side, chances are very low that sanctions will achieve their stated goals. They may well achieve their unstated goal of annoying Nicolás Maduro, who probably is already concocting new speeches about cabals, imperialism, fascism, little birds, and ghosts. As I've written before, it would be nice to take a look and see how well these same sanctions have worked elsewhere, such as Russia. I don't have much faith in that, as members of Congress just want to be seen as taking action even if that action is substantively meaningless.


Wednesday, May 07, 2014

China's Nicaragua Canal

Reuters takes a look at Chinese funding of the Nicaraguan canal. One entrepreneur, Wang Jing, with some connection (extent currently unknown) to the Chinese government is behind it. The article takes what I consider an appropriately cautious stance about how successful the venture likely will be.

I couldn't help but compare him to Ferdinand de Lesseps, who gave up on the Panama Canal. But that comparison may not be too apt because at least de Lesseps had some experience.

Nicaragua has dreamed of a canal for over a century so I can understand Daniel Ortega's temptation, and China clearly has money. But on this one I still take a wait and see attitude.


Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Human Rights Watch Update on Venezuela

Human Rights Watch details abuses by the state against protesters in a new report.

Venezuelan security forces have used unlawful force in response to antigovernment demonstrations, severely beating unarmed protesters and shooting them at point blank range, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Security forces also subjected detainees to severe physical and psychological abuse, including in some cases torture, and justice officials failed to safeguard detainees’ due process rights.

And will these be prosecuted?

According to the government, as of April 25, the Attorney General’s Office was conducting 145 investigations into alleged human rights violations, and 17 security officials had been detained for their alleged involvement in these cases. 
“Given the lack of judicial independence in Venezuela today, and the fact that prosecutors and judges are directly implicated in many of the abuses we documented, it’s difficult to expect that the people responsible for these crimes will be brought to justice,” Vivanco said. “For these efforts to be credible, the Venezuelan government should seek the involvement of UN rights monitors and take immediate steps to secure the independence of the judiciary.”  

We will hear counter-arguments that the protesters have the same power as the state and are worse offenders, that the government is doing a good job of investigating, and/or that HRW is a tool of the United States. My advice is to read the report and decide for yourself.


Monday, May 05, 2014

Panama's Election

Juan Carlos Varela won the Panamanian presidential election with a plurality of 39.14% but his party only received 11 of 71 legislative seats (the entire unicameral National Assembly), which put it at a distant third.

The basics of post-invasion Panamanian presidential politics have held. The incumbent party loses while power is shared within a small oligarchy (we are seeing a switch from big supermarket money to big rum money). Poverty and inequality are serious problems but economic growth is solid (very high recently) and the left has difficulty getting much of a foothold. Illicit money will keep flowing in to be laundered and corruption won't go anywhere in particular even while all the parties point fingers at each other and simultaneously skim what they can. Presidents get greedy and want another consecutive term but are rebuffed.

What all this leaves is divided government in the context of elite consensus that survives despite personal differences. Political disagreement remains at the margins (i.e. not core issues about the country's direction) and this election revolved much more around Ricardo Martinelli's efforts to keep pulling strings from behind the scenes (especially with his wife as running mate of his party's candidate José Domingo Arias).

There is talk about why the polls failed to predict the victory and showed Varela third, but on Twitter Orlando Pérez (who was there observing) argues that no polling was allowed past April 24 (for a May 4 election) and they had been showing him rising.


Saturday, May 03, 2014

Galeano Dislikes Open Veins

In an interview Eduardo Galeano says he doesn't like Open Veins anymore, a book that is of course iconic.

“No sería capaz de leer el libro de nuevo”, djo el escritor en la II Bienal del Libro y Lectura de Brasilia, y agregó que “esa prosa de izquierda tradicional es pesadísima”.

Luego, confesó que cuando escribió el libro “no tenía la formación necesaria”, y que si bien no está “arrepentido de haberlo escrito”, afirmó que es “una etapa que está superada”.

Por si fuera poco, sostuvo que el libro fue escrito “sin conocer debidamente de economía y política”.

I wonder what Hugo Chávez would say? This is part of the many tensions in the Latin American left. There are plenty of core agreements but intellectuals and politicians evolve, sometimes a lot (just look at Fernando Henrique Cardoso or indeed the entire Chilean Socialist Party). It just isn't the 1960s or 1970s anymore.


Friday, May 02, 2014

Cuba as State Sponsor of Terrorism

Here is the entire justification of the State Department's justification of having Cuba listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.

             Cuba was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982.
Cuba has long provided safe haven to members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  Reports continued to indicate that Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant, and that about eight of the two dozen ETA members in Cuba were relocated with the cooperation of the Spanish government.  Throughout 2013, the Government of Cuba supported and hosted negotiations between the FARC and the Government of Colombia aimed at brokering a peace agreement between the two.  The Government of Cuba has facilitated the travel of FARC representatives to Cuba to participate in these negotiations, in coordination with representatives of the Governments of Colombia, Venezuela, and Norway, as well as the Red Cross.  
There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.

The Cuban government continued to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States.  The Cuban government also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.

In other words, the justification for keeping them on the list is that they are not actually sponsoring any terrorism at all. In fact, they are working with other countries to end the Colombian civil war.

When asked about this very point, the State Department's spokesperson could only say that the State Department's own report showing they were not sponsoring terrorism was not part of the process for removing them from the list. There is in fact no process at all!

QUESTION: ETA and the FARC as well. But also – but given the fact that these two groups, the threat from them is diminishing, I mean, there are peace talks going on with the FARC at the moment. Whether they’re successful I don’t know, but – but it also states in the report there was no indication that the Cuban Government provided weapons or paramilitary training to any terrorist group.
So my question is: How much longer are you going to keep Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s a good question that I know comes up a lot. The State Department has no current plans to remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. As you may or may not know, there’s not a routine process by which you re-evaluate the state sponsors like there are, for example, with our terrorist designations for terrorist groups. So you can’t get into the process any more behind the scenes, but at this point, again, no plans to remove them.
QUESTION: But it would seem if they’re not supporting terrorist groups with weapons or training, and they’re retained because of the haven that they reportedly give to ETA and FARC, it doesn’t really make much sense they’re still on the list.
MS. HARF: Again, I don’t have any more details in terms of the reasoning that goes into that. Again, there’s no regular process for re-evaluating this. If there’s a policy reason to do so based on the conditions on the ground, I know folks will. But at this point, no plans to remove them from the list.

This is nonsensical but that is the hallmark of U.S. policy toward Cuba. Remember that North Korea was actually taken off the list in 2008. Try to compare the two and it doesn't work out too well.


Venezuela as Rorschach Test

Venezuela is a Rorschach test upon which all your biases and conspiratorial leanings can come out. It can be old-style U.S. imperialism, old-style Communism, 21st century socialism, modern-day populism, people's democracy, you name it.

The far left is no different but there is a unique and entertaining twist. Check out this depiction from someone who envisions a purer worker's paradise.

In this view, Nicolás Maduro is the bad guy and practically in cahoots with the United States. Exactly how that happened is a little murky but basically the U.S. and the Venezuelan right control all prices in the economy (actual economic policy, even over decades, is irrelevant) and Maduro needs to join the Dark Side in order to stay in power. The dialogue, you see, is a sham aimed at reaching an accord with the United States in part to keep China at bay. The Venezuelan military is in there too but why it might oppose Maduro is left unexplained. It probably has something to do with USAID and Ukraine.

This perspective even shows disdain for Comandante Eterno Hugo Chávez:

In the end, all of these groups speak politically for more privileged layers of the petty bourgeoisie. They were attracted to Chavismo precisely because it subordinated the working class to a “comandante” and a military-dominated government, thereby mediating Venezuela’s explosive class struggle.

Blasphemy! Hmm, but think:

When it comes down to it, Chávez himself might have been a tool of U.S. imperialism. His rise could well have been an ingenious, long-term CIA plot to defuse protests in the 1980s by facilitating the emergence of a megalomaniac leader who over years would run the country into the ground and open the door decades later for U.S. companies to step in and take over Venezuela's oil industry. Brilliant!


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