Saturday, December 31, 2016

Blogging Latin American Politics in 2016

One year ago I predicted that the blog post with the most hits in 2016 would once again be about Venezuela. This turned out to be correct, but not in the way I thought. The most popular post was comparing Hugo Chávez to Donald Trump from July. Number two was also about Venezuela, but focused on George Kennan--I'm not really sure how such a little known historical figure got that kind of attention. Number three was my discussion of Obama's problematic immigration record. For 2017 my guess is that the most popular post will be something about Donald Trump.

As I did last year, it's worth mentioning the reader interest in book reviews, which I'm always pleased about. In particular, people clicked to read more about Tom Long's Latin America Confronts the United States and Russell Crandall's The Salvador Option.

I recorded 18 podcasts this year and will keep doing those in 2017, once a week if at all possible. If you are interested in doing one with me, just let me know.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Podcast Episode 18: Bolivian Politics

In Episode 18 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Miguel Centellas, who is Croft Instructional Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi. His research focuses on political institutions in new democracies, and he’s done a lot of work on Bolivia. We talked about how electoral rules have affected political stability, what’s up with the opposition, and the question of Evo Morales trying for another presidential term. BTW, he also plugs his very cool Bolivia study abroad program. Click here for more info.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Assumptions About Immigration Reform

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has an op-ed in the New York Times about immigration reform. He wants to drastically reduce legal immigration. The problem is that right off the bat he draws the wrong conclusion:

“We’re pretty much begging for workers,” Tom Nassif, the chief executive of Western Growers, a trade organization that represents farmers, said on CNN. A fast-food chain founder warned, “Our industry can’t survive without Mexican workers.” 
These same industries contend that stricter immigration enforcement will further shrink the pool of workers and raise their wages. They argue that closing our borders to inexpensive foreign labor will force employers to add benefits and improve workplace conditions to attract and keep workers already here.

Actually, no, they're not complaining about having to raise wages. They're concerned that no one will want to work there at all. In the 21st century, I don't see evidence that non-immigrants want to move seasonally with the harvests. That's why a guest worker program makes sense.

Some years ago, I reviewed Gabriel Thompson's excellent book Working in the Shadows. The work our economy needs people to do is brutal, and not something anyone wants to do long-term. This is an unpleasant reality, but we have to be conscious of it. If you greatly restrict labor supply, the most likely outcome is bankruptcies, accompanied by prices shooting up.

Let me put this another way. Trump voters do not think that "making America great again" involves them picking lettuce.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wanting Fast Results is Problematic

Mauricio Macri fired his Finance Minister because the Argentine economy is still struggling.

Inflation is forecast to rise to around 40% in 2016, while the economy is expected to contract by 2%, according to the International Monetary Fund. In 2015, Argentina’s economy grew 1.2%, the IMF said.

Of course cabinet members are famously scapegoated, but wanting fast results is problematic. The Kirchners were in office a long time and so change either has to be gradual or destructive. Argentina already tried the destructive kind and it led to...the Kirchners.

The wanting fast results then gets back to promising fast results, whether you believed your own promises or not. Macri was to going to "build concrete things" and Argentina would have a "happiness revolution." Economic contract is not particularly happy.


Monday, December 26, 2016

David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest

After years of thinking about doing so, I read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. After starting it, my immediate strong impression was that he was unbelievably intelligent. The book is chock full of words I've never heard of, and loaded with detailed descriptions of drugs and other things (even mathematical equations) that are absurdly minute.* It goes all over the place, but the main settings are a halfway house and a tennis academy, situated near each other in the Boston area.

My other immediate impression was that he was incredibly funny. Laugh out loud funny, even, as he probes every kind of character you can think of, from the president to a junkie. Yet that goes side by side with occasionally really twisted narrative about human beings abusing each other and themselves. Then they get mixed, like someone committing suicide by putting their head in a microwave oven. But as they say, I digress.

It's a book about addiction, but substances vary. There is the traditional cocaine-type, but the book's title revolves around entertainment (called Infinite Jest) that's so pleasure-inducing that you can't tear yourself away and so you just die. It's so powerful that terrorists (Canadians, actually!) want to get hold of it. The theme is that people are too willing to avoid "real" life in favor of easily digestible mind-altering substances that actually ruin your life. Overall, it's not an optimistic view of the human condition.

One of the most compelling parts for me was the almost anthropological details of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. It sounds cliche, but he puts you right there, from constantly shifting, but clear characters. I will probably think about this book anytime the topic of addiction comes up. Really, the book is anthropology. He can describe everything, and put you everywhere, a street-smart intellectual.

But let's face it, it's a hard book to read. Of course, to start with it is over 1,000 pages. There is no plot, he jumps around in time, there are extensive endnotes at the back, which sometimes just meander, and sometimes it's hard even to know what's going on. You really have to want to read it. You won't forget it if you do.

* No, I don't mean putting in an endnote as a pun because of the heavily endnoted novel, but I wanted to point out there is an Infinite Jest Wiki, which deconstructs it page by page.


Economic Policy in Bolivia

As I've written a number of times, Bolivia tends to fly under the radar with regard to economic policy. Evo Morales uses very strong anti-imperialist, anti-U.S., and pro-populist rhetoric, but he makes economic decisions in a conservative manner.

That's the upshot of an IMF article on the challenge of low commodity prices for Bolivia, which is pretty much glowing. A self-proclaimed socialist is receiving praise for "sound policies" by the IMF. It is testament to the successes of the Evo Morales government, which has made lots of people forget how horribly and chronically unstable Bolivia was not long ago.

It also made me think that now the time should be ripe to step down and let someone else deal with future challenges. But he seems not to like the idea of letting anyone else govern. If he manages to stay in power amidst an extended period of low commodity prices, then watch for those approval ratings to start plummeting.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Economic Freedom in Latin America

The Heritage Foundation just published an economic analysis of Latin America. I'd say most people would agree with a big chunk of it--for example, Latin America suffers from corruption and government interference in the financial system. Being the Heritage Foundation, however, it comes back to a single factor, "economic freedom," as the cure of all ills.

I know, I know, this is what the Heritage Foundation does. But especially at a time when the Trump administration will likely be looking there for appointees, it's worth pointing out the drawbacks to this approach.

The irony, of course, is that this "cure" is exactly what led to many past ills. We went down this road of economic freedom in the 1980s and into the 1990s, and the backlash led to Hugo Chávez and regional efforts at populism.

After many Latin American countries rejected the economic models of authoritarian dictatorships in the 20th century, they too often lurched to the opposite extreme and embraced socialist and populist varieties of authoritarianism and even totalitarianism marked by the same fatal flaws in the 21st century.

Actually, no. They rushed into market solutions that ultimately led to revolts, hence the "lurch."

The report does not mention inequality at all, and just barely mentions dependence on commodity exports. If you focus almost entirely on GDP as they do, then you ignore both the human reality and the structural constraints that exist. You can have all the economic freedom you want, but if you rely on commodities, then when prices drop you're screwed.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Podcast Episode 17: Most Momentous Moments of 2016 in Latin America

In Episode 17 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk to myself. Or rather I talk to you about the most momentous moments of 2016 in Latin America, or at least those that have interested me in particular. My main criterion is that they had to affect not just the country but also the region. Quibbling is expected.


Odebrecht Case Shakes Latin America

Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht and petrochemical company Braskem pled guilty to bribery in U.S. court and now must pay $3.5 billion in penalties.

From 2001 to 2016, Odebrecht paid approximately $788 million in bribes in association with 100 projects in 12 countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, according to the U.S. charging papers. 
The companies hid the bribes through carefully disguised payments routed through a network of shell companies as well as suitcases of cash left at preset locations, Suh said.

In the digital age, we still have the oldie but goodie suitcase full of cash.

If you're interested, here are the charging papers. Take a wild guess about which Latin American country received by far the most bribe money. Surprise, surprise, it's Venezuela.

There is no doubt, of course, that these funds made their way directly to Hugo Chávez and his associates, which helps account for why so many of the latter are fabulously wealthy. There is no way that this case is the only one in existence either. I assume Nicolás Maduro will label it a conspiracy.

This is going to shake out over the coming months, in conjunction with other corruption revelations, like the Panama Papers. Kudos to the Justice Department. Let's hope the professionals are allowed to continue their work despite the change of administration.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tea Leaves on Trump and Cuba

Frank Mora has a pessimistic view of Cuba policy under Donald Trump.

But beyond campaign/transition promises or appointments, the reason Mr. Trump is likely to fulfill his promises is that, in the end, he really does not care about Cuba or democracy. Through the campaign and the transition period, he has consistently shown a willingness to sacrifice national interests and policy effectiveness for transactional domestic politics.

I have leaned a bit the other way, because of a point Frank acknowledges but thinks won't hold out.

After the election, some of those trying to read the crystal ball of Trump’s intentions toward Cuba argued that Trump is ultimately a pragmatic businessman and that he would, in the end, soften his stance. After all, the argument goes, reversing policy would adversely affect business deals and other benefits for businesses and people on both sides of the Florida Straits, deals that are thought to total more than $5 billion. 

I have tended to think that Trump will roll back some things but leaves plenty others in place. More specifically, for example, he could tighten up who is allowed to travel (right now you cannot go as a tourist but you can get awfully close to tourism). So Trump could make a lot of noise about blocking tourism to the Castro government, while not significantly cutting into the business already being done there. I tend to see this as a transactional sort of arrangement that Trump might like.

However, it is true that over the past six months or so his rhetoric has been pretty solidly hardline. On the other hand, he easily moves away from hardline positions even as he pretends still to adhere to them. On the other, other hand, he wants to keep the support of the small but very vocal Cuban American hardliners.

At this point there are too many hands. We have to wait for January 20.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Operation Condor Documents

The U.S. government just released newly declassified documents related to Operation Condor, which come after President Obama's visit to Argentina earlier this year. The National Security Archive has a sampling. There is no sugar coating it--the documents show how much the U.S. knew about Latin American military governments finding targets for assassination, including NGOs.

As more documents find the light of day, the scope of how bloodthirsty the Condor architects were keeps expanding. The complicity of Henry Kissinger cozying up to the Argentine junta also becomes ever more disgusting.

If you're interested in more detail, check out my review of Fernando López's new book on Condor.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Evo Morales Wants More Terms

The MAS party in Bolivia has nominated Evo Morales for a fourth term for the 2019 presidential elections, and he has accepted.

You might ask how this is possible given that he lost a referendum about whether he should be allowed to run again. The answer is that you can mess with the constitution. Apparently one suggested route is the transparently ridiculous notion of simply resigning before the third term is over and proclaim that somehow it shouldn't be counted as the third.

This is extremely early to announce a candidacy  and I suppose could be seen either as a trial balloon or just paving the way early for constitutional chicanery. Either way there is plenty of time to figure out a good way to back off and safe face.

It should go without saying that these sorts of machinations damage democracy. Bolivians announced they did not want presidents to have more terms, and the president should not ignore that. Further, no president should ever feel indispensable, which inevitably leads to abuse of power. Democracy needs alternation of power. Both Michelle Bachelet and Cristina Fernández are examples of this. Instead, too often one party feels it must maintain its grip on power no matter what.


Cuba Policy and Human Rights

I'm quoted in this article about Cuba policy. Specifically with regard to human rights, the question is whether normalization of relations matters. Hardliners believe that the regime is being rewarded without making any concessions. As is noted in the article, I understand that argument but I think it misses the point. We know the embargo and other restrictions had no impact on human rights in Cuba. If anything they helped entrench the regime. Normalizing is not likely to make the human rights situation worse, and at least gives the U.S. a little more leverage to push the Cuban government.

At a minimum, if a policy has clearly failed to achieve its objective for 50+ years, it's worth trying something else. The further point of the article is that if Trump rolls back what Obama has done, we're back to a poor human rights record and no leverage. It's not clear to me how that benefits anyone, except maybe the Cuban government.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Juan Pablo Villalobos' I'll Sell You A Dog

I read Juan Pablo Villalobos' I'll Sell You a Dog, the madcap style of which is very similar to his previous novel Quesadillas, which I read last year. It's less dark, though, as it chronicles an old man named Teo who lives in a building in Mexico City with other older people, all of whom incorrectly think he is a novelist when in fact he is retired from running a street taco stand. This is what structures the narrative, as he drinks and tries to figure out how to disabuse them of this idea.

The dog narrative is almost incidental (and kinda gross) to a funny group of characters, including a young American Mormon who lamely tries to convert Teo and cockroaches that move when you play Cuban music. The story gets sewn up at the end in a manner that gets rather close to a cliche but is an enjoyable read nonetheless.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Podcast Episode 16: Public Opinion in Latin America

In Episode 16 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast I talked to Dinorah Azpuru, Associate Professor of Political Science at Wichita State University, about public opinion in Latin America. Among other things, the conversation focuses on attitudes toward democracy, attitudes in Guatemala (she is originally from there and has done a lot of research on it) and perceptions of U.S. influence in Latin America.


Odds of Trump Visiting Venezuela or Cuba

In the UK you can bet on which country Donald Trump will visit first.

I don't know who would bet on a trip to Cuba or Venezuela (not to mention North Korea!). I guess you would take the risk on the small chance (though I think much smaller than the odds given) that somehow there is a radical change of government between now and whenever Trump makes his first trip after inauguration.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Venezuela is Officially Hyperinflating

Check out this study from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and Study of Business Enterprise by two economists explaining the technical reasons we can say that Venezuela has entered a state of hyperinflation. They define is not only as 50% inflation per month, but persisting for at least 30 days, and the estimates had to be replicable. There are only 56 such instances recorded.

Venezuela reached this state nine days ago (December 3, 2016).

The lack of official data makes it trickier for Venezuela. Indeed, what mismanaged government wants to make it easier to say there is hyperinflation?

It is a technical paper, yet the conclusion is suddenly brief and accessible:

Venezuela, welcome to the record books. You have now entered the inglorious sphere of hyperinflation. It is a world of economic chaos, wrenching poverty, and death. Its purveyors should be incarcerated, and the keys should be thrown away.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

PPK in the US Media

The Washington Post has an interview with Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kucznyski. These days he's one of the few Latin American leaders speaking out on a regular basis--too many others seem too embattled to do so. This means he's getting more of a voice in the U.S. than a Peruvian president otherwise might have. I don't have any idea whether he's influential in the region or not (or how representative his views are).

Some good quotes:

On Trump: "If they think that Latin America is just a bunch of guys who climb walls to get illegal work, then it is not going to go well. I hope they go past that."

On Maduro: "Maduro is afraid that if he yields, they will hang him from a lamppost, so he wants to stick with it."

On China: "I don’t love TPP so much. China is our biggest customer. So how can we support something that excludes them?"

On mine protests in Peru: "I’m not like past presidents. None of them actually went to talk to the miners."


Friday, December 09, 2016

Mexican Army Doesn't Want to be a Police Force

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

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


Thursday, December 08, 2016

Podcast Episode 15: Latin America and China

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


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Pinochet's Kleptocracy

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

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


Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Punishing Latin America to Make it Better

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

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

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


Thursday, December 01, 2016

Cuba's Post-Fidel Transition

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Podcast Episode 14: Political Demography and Latin America

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


Monday, November 28, 2016

Fidel, Trump, and Cuba

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

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

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


Sunday, November 27, 2016

China's New Era of Latin American Relations

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

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


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro is Dead (Really!)

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 25, 2016

Venezuelans Migrants Are Like Cubans

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

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


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Obama's Problematic Immigration Record

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Podcast Episode 13: Understanding Dialogue in Venezuela

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


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Rolling Back Cuba Policy

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

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

Read more here:

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

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

Read more here:

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

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


Monday, November 21, 2016

Trump and Macri Talk Buildings

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

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

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

Update: Trump denies the story. So does Macri.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Knausgaard's My Struggle Book 5

Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, Book 5 is mostly about his late teens and into his twenties. He's at a writing academy, then university and compulsory national service in Bergen, Norway, before finally publishing a novel.

He details how he's trying to figure out who he is. His sole goal is to be a writer, but when he writes it comes out hollow. He's given work to do with radio interviews and book reviews, but it is also depressing because it seems to mean he can write about writers and not be one. Realist style is his strength, which of course eventually becomes the basis for these very books. But back then, he saw his friends publish their first novels and he had nothing but a single short story in print. Only toward the end of the book does he succeed, but even then he finds no solace.

As with the other books, shame is ever-present. No doubt much of it stems from his abusive father (who is only sporadically mentioned in this one until the end, when he comes back with full force). Knausgaard never feels he's living up to his potential and tells people that freely. Dangerously, he also blacks out while drinking and does self-destructive things, not just embarrassing himself but also injuring his brother, cheating on his girlfriend and later his wife, and getting arrested. Then he feels shame about that too. It can be painful to read.

He captures mood so well. His emotional gears shift up and down, and as a reader you can feel them, especially because he is so painstakingly honest. He's fumbling forward with a tremendous amount of emotional baggage and trying to get you to feel it with him. As he notes, he was searching for "future and meaning" (p. 527).

As for Book 6, which is the last, as of June 2016 the translator was saying publication would be sometime in 2017. It'll be about 1,200 pages long and I am looking forward to it.

Here are my reviews of Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, and Book 4.

Update (3/29/17) Now it seems Book 6 won't come out until Fall 2018, which is a long time. I'll check out his seasons books when the first comes out in August 2017.


Trump Pushing Latin America to China

The Wall Street Journal looks at how Latin America may be reassessing China in the light of a protectionist Trump presidency.

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a 78-year-old former Wall Street banker who chose to visit China on his first official trip, joked earlier this year that he would “grab a saw and cut” ties with the U.S. if Mr. Trump won. Mr. Kuczynski was more serious recently, warning about protectionism and saying he would support a Pacific trade accord that added China and Russia if the U.S. pulls out. 
His trade minister, Eduardo Ferreyros, said this week he was hopeful Mr. Trump wouldn’t scrap the deal, but Peru was now interested in joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a Chinese-led free-trade agreement of 16 countries seen as a rival to the TPP.
PPK is the sort of pro-business leader the U.S. would typically connect to. Now it seems intent on alienating him. Up to this point, leftist governments had been very active in seeking out economic relationships with China and to a lesser extent Russia. Now our president-elect is encouraging rightist governments to do the same.

And of course they will. They want to trade, and if the U.S. is not interested then others will be. Obama is trying to get Latin America to wait, hoping that Trump doesn't fulfill his many unwise campaign promises. But why should they? In a time of uncertainty, look for the most certain deal. And it's not Trump's.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Performance of Becoming Human

I encourage everyone to buy Daniel Borzutzky's The Performance of Becoming Human, a collection of poems linking the United States and Latin America. Borzutzky just won the National Book Award for it. He is also the son of my friend and longtime co-author Silvia Borzutzky. Here's how he sums it up:

When I wrote this book, I was thinking about Chicago, a city I’ve lived in for nearly 20 years and care for very deeply. I was thinking of how Chicago destroys itself, abolishes public services, closes psychiatric hospitals, privatizes or shutters its public schools, and militarizes its police,” said Borzutzky, who is of Chilean ancestry. “I was thinking about how Chicago is like the Chile my parents left behind in the 1970s, which destroyed itself in many of the same ways. I was thinking about immigrants, refugees, and workers in the U.S. and abroad who give up their lives to survive in economies that exploit them and make them invisible.”

Go check it out!


Friday, November 18, 2016

Podcast Episode 12: Trump in Latin America

In Episode 12 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast I talk with Chris Sabatini about the Trump administration's possible policies in Latin America. One conclusion is that maybe the best case scenario is that the foreign policy bureaucracy takes over. Note: he was in Canada as we talked but that is entirely coincidental.


Trump and Maduro on Twitter

Lying on Twitter about how your political opponents are lying, while also lying about your accomplishments, is now a staple for Donald Trump. He's late to this game, though, as it's already a common practice for Latin American presidents, especially Nicolás Maduro. Given how both hate the opposition press and want a direct line to the people, we can expect both to keep it up as long as they're in office (and, like with Alvaro Uribe, we can also expect them to continue once they're out of office).

There are some differences. Maduro (or at least Maduro's account, because like Trump sometimes it's him and sometimes not) retweets like mad, which Trump has slowed. We'll have to see whether he retweets more admirers--retweeting flattery or false claims--in the future. And as yet, Trump has not started a salsa radio show. But Trump TV may well be around the corner.

Both have a conspiratorial bent. Maduro sees economic war, assassination attempts, and the Empire everywhere he looks. Trump sees the media calling him out for the often false things he says, which drives him crazy. For both, facts are negotiable, which makes Twitter a perfect medium. Press conferences just wouldn't work because they involve follow-up questions and give questioners the ability to frame the topic.

We'll also have to see whether Trump follows the Maduro model of saying increasingly unhinged things while your approval ratings plummet, holding on to the hope that all these admiring followers are actual indications of popular support.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Could Latin America Unite Against Trump?

Reporters at Reuters say that Central American countries are looking to join forces with Mexico to form a joint strategy to respond to Donald Trump's victory. Remittances are critical to all these economies, and mass deportation will cripple them. They say they could expand this beyond Mexico and Central America as well.

On Wednesday, the day after a regional meeting in Honduras, the three countries released a joint statement asking their respective foreign ministries to join forces and formulate positions on jobs, investment and migration to deal with the new U.S. administration together, though the statement did not refer to Mexico.
 But Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, Guatemala's Jimmy Morales and El Salvador's leader Salvador Sanchez Ceren, have agreed to seek support from Mexico, said Hugo Martinez, El Salvador's foreign minister, confirming what another government source told Reuters earlier.
 "What the presidents told us was that aside from this group ... we could expand to look for contact with Mexico, at first, and then also with the other Latin American countries," Martinez said.

Latin American unity has always been an elusive target. It's been too hard to break through traditional rivalries, ideology and nationalism despite having many things in common. It will be interesting to see whether Donald Trump serves this purpose. There has never been an existential threat commonly faced by all Latin American countries at the same time.

South America does not face the same issues with regard to immigration. However, U.S. protectionism would be a problem, and Michel Temer asked Trump not to restrict trade. U.S. trade policy could slow economic growth and also drag down Latin American currencies. Meanwhile, Argentina is looking more closely at Canada in anticipation of negative change.

But could the governments of, say, Rafael Correa and Michel Temer join forces in some way against the negative effects of a Trump presidency? It would be historic, but chances are low.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Will Trump Bully Latin America?

Stars and Stripes asks what the changes to U.S. security policy toward Latin America will be under a Trump presidency. The bottom line, really, is that no one knows, beyond the obsessions with the Mexican border.

But something caught my eye. The reporter interviewed a law professor whose website shows that he believes in conspiracy theories about Muslims. Actually, he also wrote a book on human rights, published by the Peruvian army during the Fujimori years.

And the article concluded with this:

He is critical of the Obama administration, which he believes has not led with strength in the region. That will change next January, he believes. 
“I think our goal should be for countries to respect us, not like us,” he said.

There you go. That sums up a highly possible outlook for a Trump presidency. The problem, however, is that in the history of U.S.-Latin American relations U.S. hard power leads to lack of respect and dislike. Bullying doesn't compel respect.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What Would Gandalf Do?

Eric Grynaviski has a great post at Duck of Minerva using Lord of the Rings to frame the discussion political scientists are having (versus what perhaps we should have) about the election.

Political scientists remind me of Isildur, who refused to throw away the ring when he gained it from Sauron. The political science blogs I regularly read—the Monkey Cage, Political Violence at a Glance, and the Duck of Minerva, for example—have yet to publish any reflections by political scientists about the meaning of the election. The Monkey Cage second post-election post’s “Lesson 1” showed that they forgot they predicted a Trump win but now remember so it’s ok (this is a friendly jab at a colleague who I respect greatly). My bet is there will be a lot of analysis and discussion by political scientists about why Trump won, what he will do and what the effects could be, and how limits on Trump’s use of power might curtail his policy flexibility. At the moment, however, finding ways to make political science relevant by trying to better understand the ring strike me as empty. The first lesson of this election should not be about forecasting.


Instead, political scientists should ask “What would Gandalf do?” One part of the magic of the characters is that they consistently remember their values: Sam and Frodo think about home and hearth, the Dwarves think about their halls of stone, the Elves think about their role in protecting nature and care of the world, and Aragorn remembers a time when the king used a model of rule that relied on autonomy and good government. These reflections on the prospect for a different world with a different politics motivated the characters. 
Political scientists need to think seriously about how to incorporate the study of politics, traditionally conceived as the study about right and justice, into our classrooms, turning them, in part, into fora where we can discuss and debate the justice of mass deportations, sexual violence, racism, policing, and a host of other issues. I also hope the next four years will include more reflection on the nature of political power, the study of electoral reform, and more experimental thinking about alternative ways to think about democratic governance. Using the Trump election as a springboard for inquiry would return us to questions of ethics as central to discussions in political science.

I like this argument, and I am not at all sure I am really doing it. At the moment, I feel like political scientists are focused a lot on who was "wrong" or "right," defined largely in terms of defending one's own predictions. The issue of estimating the Latino vote is downright annoying in this regard, with deep methodological discussions intended solely to prove the other person wrong. It's just academic turf war stuff.

At the same time, thinking about likely futures isn't quite so bad as he says. Latin America is waiting to see what's going to happen, and it makes sense to sort out possible outcomes. I have undocumented students currently protected by DACA, and their lives literally depend on it. So it's not bad to consider what political calculus might be going on.

So let's not ditch consideration of what President Trump might do, but maybe our discussions could break away from the turf wars and include a little more introspection. He's going to make policy that will affect people in very real and sometimes very scary ways, and it should our job to help people understand what's going on. I don't know if that's what Gandalf would do, though we should remember that even he made educated guesses about the future: "But all such places will soon become islands under siege, if things go on as they are going. The Dark Lord is putting forth all his strength.."


Monday, November 14, 2016

Senator Ernst Wants Latin America to Focus on Terrorism

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) wrote a letter to President Obama on the even of his visit to Peru, requesting that he try and make sure Latin American countries are as obsessed with terrorism as we want them to be. It is basically boilerplate calls for more securitization of U.S. policy toward Latin America.

These calls have been happening for many years, though the focus shifts (for example, sometimes it's Iran, which curiously not mentioned in this letter, and sometimes it's ISIS or Hezbollah). I don't think the essentials have changed. There is no sign of an imminent threat and there is little support within Latin America for drastic measures, but it's something to keep an eye on. And I think we are.

The obvious next question is what steps the Trump administration takes. I would assume he will appoint hardliners to key Latin America policy positions. Assumptions about what he'll do are often wrong, but it makes sense as a strategy for an area of world he has no interest in. But if he starts pushing Latin American leaders hard on something they don't feel is the same level of threat, then he'll end up like the Bush administration, which was unpopular and lost all leverage in the region.


How Do You Define "Mass" Deportation?

Paul Ryan says there will be no "mass deportations."

“We’re not focused on, we are not planning on erecting a deportation force,” Ryan said, adding: “Donald Trump’s not planning on that.”
So how many is mass anyway?

On 60 Minutes, meanwhile, Trump said that he was going to quickly deport 2-3 million people. That is the number he chose to denote violent criminals.

According to The Washington Post Fact Checker, Trump likely gets these estimates from a Department of Homeland Security fiscal 2013 report saying there were 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens.” However, that figure includes undocumented immigrants and people who are lawful permanent residents, or those who have temporary visas.

No matter how he arrived at the number, it's definitely "mass." If we give Ryan the benefit of the doubt, he is referring to undocumented immigrants who have committed no offense other than being in the U.S. illegally.  But the problem with creating a deportation force, which this clearly is, is that many other people will be targeted. Indeed, in the violent nationalist mood the country is in, targeting will become sport. When a high level presidential strategist is from Breitbart, then xenophobia will be part of it. And it will be "mass."


Sunday, November 13, 2016

New Colombian Peace Deal

The Santos government and the FARC signed a new peace deal. Some key changes appear to be eliminating the legislative seats, using FARC money for reparations, and being more precise about the restrictions on where sanctioned FARC members could go. That had previously been more vague. There are some other issues as well, such as limiting the time there would special jurisdiction (Jurisdicción para la Paz) rather than the regular Colombian courts.

Although the official negotiations are taking place in Havana between the Santos administration and the FARC, there is a third party in Bogotá. As soon as Santos had a document (which has not been released to the public as far as I know) he got it to Alvaro Uribe. Uribe released a statement saying the "No" side would read and make comments on it within a short amount of time. This cannot go forward without Uribe's imprimatur.

Also unexplained at this point is how this moves forward. Given Uribe's stature within the right and the "No" vote generally, we could plausibly see his approval as sufficient. Otherwise this would go to another vote, which would seem to be a colossal waste of time and resources. If Uribe still doesn't like it--and that's certainly possible--then it is dead on arrival.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Podcast Episode 11: The Nicaraguan Election

On Episode 11 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talked with Christine Wade, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Washington College, about the recent Nicaraguan presidential election. We even discuss how to define "cheating" and "democracy." Naturally that leads us to how a Trump administration might approach Nicaragua.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Podcast Episode 10: Venezuela in an International Context

In Episode 10, I talk with Tim Gill, who is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane University, and who finished his Ph.D. in Sociology in 2016. The topic is Venezuela, particularly the international factors involved in Venezuelan politics. The discussion ranges from the Venezuelan government’s view of foreign NGOs to the likely policies of the Trump administration to the possible outcomes of the dialogue between the government and the opposition.


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Venezuela and Trump: No Joy in MUDville

During the campaign, Donald Trump had this to say about Venezuela:

“The next President of the United States must stand in solidarity with all people oppressed in our hemisphere, and I will stand with the oppressed people of Venezuela yearning to be free,” he promised.

You might reasonably expect that the Venezuelan government would respond indignantly to Trump's victory and the opposition would celebrate him for his strong stance. As it turns out, practically the opposite happened.

From the government:

El Gobierno bolivariano de Venezuela felicita al Presidente electo Donald Trump, y hace votos para que se pueda avanzar en un futuro donde impere el respeto a los principios y propósitos de la Carta de las Naciones Unidas, que consagra la igualdad soberana de los Estados y la autodeterminación de los pueblos, entre otros, mediante relaciones políticas y diplomáticas bilaterales respetuosas.

Quite measured, and not an ounce of bluster. Uncharacteristically, at least for now the Maduro government is in wait-and-see mode and is not interested in picking a fight.

From the opposition:

"We come from this disaster - the fantasy of politics driven by a single leader, these hegemonic and totalitarian projects," Jesus Torrealba, spokesman for the opposition's Democratic Unity coalition, said in a statement. "(Now) others appear to be heading toward that cliff," he said, adding that U.S. institutions "will be put to the test."

The opposition is actually more disgusted by how Trump appears to be like Hugo Chávez than by the prospect of getting a harder line U.S. policy.


Initial Thoughts on Trump and Latin America

The effects of Donald Trump's victory depend a lot upon how committed he actually is to following his campaign promises. U.S.-Latin American relations were part of some of his most repeated promises, which suggests they're likely to become policy initiatives. It also depends on Congress, where at this point I figure anti-Trump Republicans will be afraid to go against him.

1. The Mexican peso is getting hit, and its economy will be hit if Trump goes after NAFTA or tries to build more wall, which he has promised.

2. Cities on the U.S.-Mexico border will be damaged economically if Trump follows through with campaign promises limiting trade.

3. We will see some serious hardliners appointed, who will drive Trump's policy toward Latin America. Trump has no interest in Latin America beyond making fun of Mexico.

4. Cuba policy will be rolled back to some degree, perhaps entirely, as promised. This depends on how much he responds to counter-pressure from business.

5. Attacks on Latinos, especially immigrants, will likely increase. Trump's victory has made racism more acceptable to so many Americans.

6. Venezuela policy will veer off the tracks. I can see Nicolás Maduro hunkering down and looking for regional support to hang on.

7. The "Slumbering Giant" of the Latino vote needs to be rethought. I said as much for North Carolina.

8. Immigration reform is dead and buried.

In short, U.S. policy toward Latin America will change, and it is unlikely that change will be positive.


9. Adam Isacson's post led me to realize that I had forgotten Colombia. The RNC platform explicitly opposed the peace talks. And Alvaro Uribe was really excited by Trump's victory.


Monday, November 07, 2016

Daniel Ortega Wins

Daniel Ortega won a third consecutive term as Nicaragua's president yesterday. Current numbers show him at about 72%. The government says turnout was 66% while the opposition claimed abstention was 70%. Either way, he's president and has been carefully setting up a dynasty.

I had written at Latin America Goes Global about why Ortega felt the need to do so much cheating when he was going to win anyway. I still think this is a critical question.

Meanwhile, Mercedes Hoffay and Chris Sabatini discuss what the U.S. policy response should be. I am a bit dubious on some of these, like how easy/desirable it is to mess with CAFTA-DR. But it's useful to think about what kind of response the U.S. should have.

I'll be talking to Christine Wade tomorrow on my podcast. She's a go-to political scientist for Nicaragua.


Saturday, November 05, 2016

Cristina Henríguez's The Book of Unknown Americans

I read Cristina Henríquez's The Book of Unknown Americans (2014), a very fitting novel to counter the anti-immigrant Trump message we're bombarded with now. It is the story of immigrants--the unknown Americans--from a variety of Latin American countries who live in an apartment complex in Newark, Delaware. It centers in particular on two teens: Maribel, whose parents brought her to the U.S. after she sustained a head injury in Mexico, and Mayor, a teenage boy who lives near her. Their relationship drives the narrative.

Each chapter is in the first person, switching between different characters. I liked the second half of the book more than the first, as it took a while for the narrative to gain traction. Once it did, it was both sweet and melancholy. There is one character, a white boy who is troubled (e.g. he tells the principal he hasn't seen his father in three days and has no idea where he is) and bullying, whose voice we never hear. That was disappointing, because it perhaps could've provided a sense of why people like Trump resonate with people, a fear and hate that would contrast with the immigrants' own experiences.

Overall, though, it's a good read.


Tom Shannon on Venezuela

Tom Shannon had a press briefing about his trip to Venezuela. A few points:

First, the good cop/bad cop tactics of the Obama administration, where targeted sanctions are accompanied by discussions, are effective in keeping lines of communication open while isolating key members of the government.

Second, it struck me how the U.S. and everyone else openly uses the phrase "political prisoners" and no one bats an eye. There's not even a pretense anymore that these arrests were legal.

Third, the U.S. is all-in with dialogue because it figures there is no other peaceful option, and violence will be bad for everyone involved, including the United States.

Absent this dialogue process, Venezuela will find itself in a state in which both the government and the opposition will have to measure themselves through their ability to put people onto the streets. And while mobilization can be an important part of a negotiated – a negotiation process, absent a negotiation process, mobilization is unpredictable and can be very dangerous.

Fourth, the U.S. election matters a lot. I shudder to think what President Trump would do.


Friday, November 04, 2016

Summing Up the Venezuela Crisis

Chris Sabatini just published an article at Foreign Affairs on Venezuela. He gives a good overview of the situation and then rightfully focuses on the failure of Latin America to come to grips with the crisis.

The threat of broad social conflict or collapse in Venezuela is real. Seventeen years of chavista government have hollowed out and corrupted the state, sent the economy into a downward spiral, brought food shortages and malnutrition, and turned Venezuelans against each other. With no other means left for Venezuelans to express their frustrations and demand accountability for the humanitarian disaster they now face, citizens will increasingly take to the streets, but they have no clear end goal. At some point, the standoff between the government and its citizens could explode. Until now, Venezuela's neighbors have been largely silent bystanders, hoping that the crisis will somehow resolve itself. As the electoral council's announcement and the failed mediation that followed showed, it will not.

For now, we await the results of the dialogue, however long that takes.


Donald Trump and AMLO

David Agren writes at Americas Quarterly about the similarities between Donald Trump and Andrés Manual López Obrador. More important than the comparison itself is the recognition that Mexicans are talking about this. A lot. And Agren concludes that it may well be that Mexican elites fear AMLO more than they fear Trump. This makes sense, because AMLO directly threatens the positions of Mexican elites, while Trump does not.

AMLO himself doesn't see any similarities with Trump, though no sane person would.

As for AMLO himself, he thinks the comparisons to Trump are simply an attempt to associate him with the foreign villain du jour. Following the third presidential debate, he was dismissive of any claims of similarity. “No manchen,” roughly translated as “gimme a break,” he tweeted. 
Now who does that remind you of?



Thursday, November 03, 2016

Contradictory Environmental Debate in Bolivia

Really interesting new article in LASA Forum by Nicole Fabricant and Kathryn Hicks about the contradictions of the environmental debate in Bolivia. Evo Morales and the MAS are vocally critical of developed world polluters and label themselves as dedicated to the earth, but in practice focus on extractive industries that pollute badly and endanger indigenous groups.

The Bolivian context illustrates the impossible set of choices for nations in the global South between a noninstrumental relationship with nature and protection of the rights of Mother Earth, and using large-scale resource extraction to finance social welfare, all the while hoping that the largest carbon emitters will act in time to prevent imminent ecological disaster.   

There are political consequences as well. For example, mining cooperatives have fought against what they call the "neoliberal" policies of Evo Morales.


Latino Vote in North Carolina

I just published a piece in Latin America Goes Global about the Latino vote in North Carolina. The upshot is that at this point I do not see it being a major factor in the presidential race. Someday it will be, but not right now.


Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The OAS and Venezuela

I've written a lot about how Latin America has remained very hands-off with regard to Venezuela, which in my opinion has exacerbated the crisis. One vocal president has been Peru's Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who has called for invoking the OAS' Democratic Charter. In return, Venezuela's Foreign Minister argues that he is a tool.

In an official response to the statements last Sunday, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry accused its Peruvian counterpart of “obeying the interventionist rulebook of Washington to justify intervention in Venezuela, in concert with opposition groups”.   
The communique also stated that Rodriguez had demanded respect from Kuczynski during the summit’s closed door lunch, while reminding “the Peruvian government that mutual respect, sovereign equality amongst states and non-intervention in the internal matters of another state… are some of the cardinal principles of international law”. 
As always with Venezuela, there is a contradiction between one function of the OAS--protecting and promoting democracy--and "non-intervention." For Venezuela, recognizing there is a dire crisis is intervention, and certainly calling for multilateral solutions is as well. Too many Latin American leaders are too intimidated to do anything.

Latin American dithering, however, has prolonged the crisis. Non-intervention now means watching countries fall apart while you stand around. Or dance, as the case might be.


Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Podcast Episode 9: The Venezuelan Mess

On Episode 9 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast (iTunes version will be appearing shortly), I talk with John Polga-Hecimovich, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the U.S. Naval Academy, about the crisis in Venezuela. Among other things, he says to keep an eye on Vladimir Padrino-López. We also discuss whether targeted U.S. sanctions will likely work and what the role of other Latin American countries might be.


Blocking Change in Venezuela

David Smilde has a pretty devastating op-ed in the New York Times about Chavismo.

Hence Chavismo has come full circle. From a movement that showed how nonelite actors could use the instruments of electoral democracy to upend an entrenched elite, Chavismo has itself become an entrenched elite preventing those same instruments from upending it.

That sums it up. It sums up so many governments over the years that came to office with a message of change, which becomes impossible once you are the one in power defending your own interests.

His conclusion is also true:

Any dialogue that occurs should not be seen as an alternative to the referendum but should focus primarily on restoring the people’s right to choose their leaders. Debate regarding the economy, education and crime would serve only as a red herring for a government that is doing whatever it can to prevent change.

The government's refusal to allow a vote has delayed things to the point that if a recall is held, it will be too late for a new election if the government loses the vote. Instead, the Vice President would take over. The opposition will have to decide whether this is an acceptable alternative. If it is, then the dialogue has a logical goal. If it isn't, or if the opposition is too divided even to decide, then I'm not sure what dialogue will accomplish.


Friday, October 28, 2016

When Protests Turn Violent in Venezuela

Jonathan Pinckney, a doctoral student at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, has an interesting post at Political Violence at a Glance about how protests turn violent. He doesn't mention Venezuela, but one part of his discussion caught my attention.

2. Concessions also present challengesGovernment concessions are also associated with more breakdowns in nonviolent discipline. While data limitations kept me from digging into the mechanisms behind this in this piece, previous scholarly work suggests that concessions may split movements between moderate and radical factions, pushing radicals to “prove themselves” through violence.
Periodic concession, especially dialogue offers, have vexed the Venezuelan opposition, which cannot agree on whether to participate. There are clearly moderate and radical factions, with the more radical members wanting more action.

What I wonder, however, is at what point the moderate factions become so disillusioned with concessions that they accept the radical side's plans. In Venezuela this has not yet happened, but as legal avenues of change are choked off, it's not difficult to imagine it developing.


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