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.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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 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.
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
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
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
Wednesday, November 09, 2016
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.
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 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
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 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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.