Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Pence Pushes North Korea Policy in Latin America

I'm quoted in this story about how Mike Pence's visit to Latin America failed to get any regional backing for U.S. policy toward North Korea. My main points were that Latin American leaders want to make 100% sure no one believes they support Donald Trump's stance on North Korea; and that they do not want to talk about North Korea.

It's just tone deaf, and is reminiscent of George W. Bush's bullying tactics during the debate over the Iraq invasion in 2003. They backfired, relations were set back, and they never recovered. Latin America is not a place to find support for war or aggression, and leaders want the U.S. to acknowledge the issues they find pressing. North Korea is not on the foreign policy radar, and trying to push it there just strengthens the impression that the Trump administration has no interest in Latin America.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Venezuelan Legislature

According to Delcy Rodriguez (and repeated uncritically by state media in English) the Venezuelan legislature was not dissolved. You imperialists keep repeating such nonsense.

Instead, there appear to be two main points. The constituent assembly (ANC) only took some, not all, of the legislative duties. So no biggie. And you claim to want dialogue, yet we offered to make a big federal legislative unit where your deputies can work with the ANC while exerting no real power, but you refused. We have to remember, she said, that Venezuela is in the middle of "institutional reorganization" where by the ANC has "absolutely faculties" to achieve "reorganization of the state." You know, for peace.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

FDI in Latin America 2017

A new report from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean shows that Foreign Direct Investment in Latin America dropped. It feel 17% from 2011.

But in all this, some good news. The end of the commodity boom has had some positive effects.

After the end of the commodity price boom, investment in extractive industries slowed and this sector’s share of FDI has been falling since 2010, down to 13% of the total in 2016. By contrast, the share of manufactures and services increased to 40% and 47%, respectively. The new investments announced were concentrated in renewable energies, telecommunications and the automotive industry, with the region receiving 17%, 21% and 20%, respectively, of overall investment. Meanwhile, for a second year in a row, the renewable energy sector attracted the most investment, receiving 18% of the total announced for the region, with a third of those investments going each to Chile and Mexico.

Of course, those industries need investment, and it's up to governments to find creative ways to attract it.

The report talks about a "revolution" in the automobile industry. As Europe moves to end the combustion engine and people in the U.S. think more about electric cars, this is obviously a critical time for strategic change. And, as the report notes, cars have increasingly sophisticated computer systems, and Latin America needs to produce the necessary engineers.

It goes without saying that screwing with NAFTA puts all this in jeopardy.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Nick Hornby's Housekeeping vs. the Dirt

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt is the second collection of Nick Hornby book review essays that I've read (the other was The Polysyllabic Spree, which I see I thought was less funny than he thought. I didn't get that type of impression this time). I find these books irresistible because he's a great writer, is not at all pompous about the books, and embraces the idea of being spontaneous about buying books but then reading according to mood. In fact, reading him makes me add stuff to my Amazon list that I may or may not ever buy or read.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Podcast Episode 39: Muslim Immigration to Argentina

In Episode 39 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Steven Hyland, an assistant professor in the Department of History and Political Science at Wingate University. He specializes in modern Argentina and international migration. He has a new book coming out entitled More Argentine Than You:Arab-Speaking Immigrants in Argentina with University of New Mexico Press. We discuss Muslim immigration to Argentina how that fit with Peronism, and broader patterns across Latin America.


Trump Doctrine in Latin America

I have a post up at Global Americans, trying to explain the contradictions of the Trump Doctrine in Latin America, and how Mike Pence and others have to spend time explaining to foreign leaders that they need to ignore his boss. My take on the Trump Doctrine.

Indeed, at least to this point the “Trump Doctrine” in Latin America has two essential elements: first, strong and sometimes bellicose rhetorical opposition to the Obama Administration’s policies; second, significant substantive continuity with Obama Administration policies combined with threats to change that fact. 

Click to read more!


Monday, August 14, 2017

Santos Lectures Pence

It happened that Mike Pence went first to Colombia for his Latin America visit, so it was up to Juan Manuel Santos to tell him that Donald Trump's comments on Venezuela were counterproductive.

Santos said no Latin America country would accept any form of U.S. military intervention in Venezuela and that it should never even be considered. Recalling more than a century of U.S. military action throughout Latin America, Santos said no Latin leader wants "that phantom" to reappear.

There's an important point here. Trump supporters (or those playing devil's advocate) say that of course every option is on the table, that's true for all presidents, and Trump was just stating the obvious. But Santos is pointing out that in Latin America the military option should remain off the table. It won't work as planned and is not credible.

Remember, that's coming from an ally. And ideologically, Santos is not one to harp on U.S. intervention, given how deeply involved the U.S. government was with Plan Colombia. In other words, the Trump administration needs to make sure it's listening.

Instead, as I noted two days ago, the administration is insisting on treating the situation as bilateral.

Earlier Sunday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told Fox News Sunday that Trump talked about the possibility of military action to "give the Venezuelan people hope and opportunity to create a situation where democracy can be restored.

The only "opportunity" will come with multilateral pressure. The only way to generate multilateral pressure is to avoid inflammatory statements. Coalitions are hard to construct and they require a lot of keeping your diplomatic mouth shut.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Will Englund's March 1917

Will Englund's March 1917 covers the events of that month that culminated with Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war and enter World War I. He's a good writer and especially in the second half he narrates the tension that led up to Wilson's speech (which actually was not in March).

The disparate figures in the book, from Wilson to musician James Europe, first female member of Congress Jeanette Rankin, journalist H.L. Mencken, and a number of others, don't always add up to any particular whole. People were doing stuff, even interesting stuff, as the country lurched toward war. Some were influential, some were not. So I think the book is trying to get at mood more than anything else.

One element of the book that is worth pondering is how World War I gave Americans more of a sense than ever that they were messianic saviors of the world. The messianic part had always been there*, but the war made it truly global. We've suffered a lot as a country as a result because it is applied so broadly.

* On this point, read Brian Loveman's No Higher Law.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Trump's Venezuela Policy

I have a piece in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs that just came out about U.S. policy toward Latin America. More specifically, it examines the effectiveness of soft power versus hard power.

Coincidentally, shortly after it came out Donald Trump announced that a "military option" was not off the table for Venezuela. This is Trump's "deal making," whereby he blusters to appear tough and then backs down. I suppose he believes such a statement will frighten the Venezuelan government to the bargaining table.

I am one of many who argued that doing this was a gift to Nicolás Maduro, who can use it to whip up nationalist sentiment. Chavistas who are wavering will find it harder to pull away when he talks like this.

But it was also unfortunate because Trump seems to be claiming that the Venezuela situation is somehow bilateral. It makes diplomacy more difficult, to the extent that the Trump administration cares. Allies in the region such as Mexico, Colombia, and Peru, all came out against the statement. It makes a multilateral solution even more challenging, and it was painfully difficult to begin with.

Henrique Capriles hasn't said anything, except to retweet the U.S. Defense Department's statement that it didn't know anything, and in general the opposition isn't talking. That's unfortunate. Perhaps they want to be careful about offending Trump, since they like how he keeps Venezuela in the headlines. Trump is a vain man who pays attention to those who criticize him.

Several months ago, I noted that Trump was doing little with Venezuela and that was a good thing. It is likely he will continue doing little, but there comes a point when the "walking loudly" is counter-productive.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

U.S. Leverage in Venezuela

A group of U.S. senators seem not to understand leverage. They are publicly asking Donald Trump not to impose sanctions on the Venezuelan oil industry, arguing (correctly, in my opinion) that such a move would hurt U.S. refiners and would push Venezuela more toward China and Russia.

“There is a market outside of the U.S. to receive the Venezuelan oil,” the senators wrote. “Ultimately, it is in the best interest of the U.S. and the Venezuelan people to maintain our economic ties as leverage for delivering a democratic government back to the people.”

Right now, a chunk of the U.S. economy is dependent on the continued flow of Venezuelan oil. As a result, no U.S. president has seriously contemplated stopping it. That means the economic ties do not generate any leverage. If anything, they do the opposite--Nicolás Maduro and the Constituent Assembly can feel reasonably confident that their actions will not be punished beyond the individual sanctions, which don't have much impact.

The idea that the U.S. could "deliver a democratic government back to the people" is both insulting and incorrect. The U.S. won't have much to do with the solution to the Venezuelan crisis as long as it fails to forge a multilateral solution, which right now it appears not to be doing.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Immigration Policy and Prices

When I've been asked about the effects of immigration reform, one answer I always give is that prices will increase. One reason produce is so cheap, for example, is that undocumented workers are being paid very low wages. Since picking fruits and vegetables is so taxing, if all workers are legal then farmers will have to raise wages significantly.

In California we're seeing a problematic wrinkle on this issue. In the absence of reform and in the context of harsh anti-immigrant policies, growers are offering higher wages and benefits but not getting takers.

Farmers say they're having trouble hiring enough people to work during harvest season, causing some crops to rot before they can be picked. Already, the situation has triggered losses of more than $13 million in two California counties alone, according to NBC News. 
The ongoing battle about U.S. immigration policies is blamed for the shortage. The vast majority of California's farm workers are foreign born, with many coming from Mexico. However, the PEW Research Center reports more Mexicans are leaving the U.S. than coming here.

This is the worst of all worlds. Crops rot, farmers get hit, workers don't have jobs, and prices go up.

Update: Minneapolis Fed President tells employers to shut up, stop whining, and just raise wages higher.


Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Ecuador Supports the Constituent Assembly

9 days since constituent assembly vote. 4 days since it took power.

I had been writing about how Lenín Moreno was remaining conspicuously silent about Venezuela. He as an individual remains silent*, but his government released a statement condemning Mercosur's suspension of Venezuela. Here is the key part:

Ninguna voluntad extraña puede conminar al Gobierno de Venezuela a tomar decisiones contrapuestas a sus intereses legítimos, ni a desconocer la voluntad general de su pueblo, que se ha expresado en las urnas a favor de instalar al Poder Constituyente

Ecuador is saying straight up that a clearly fraudulent process is the will of the people. This is a very nice boost for Nicolás Maduro. Bolivia and Ecuador can stand as serious obstacles in the OAS.

* As a matter of fact, on Twitter he was talking about getting more foreign oil investment.


Monday, August 07, 2017

Broadening the Venezuelan Opposition

8 days since constituent assembly vote. 3 days since it took power.

Henrique Capriles is reaching out to disaffected Chavistas. This is a good move that will broaden the opposition and shift its image. This won't be easy because those Chavistas hate Maduro, not Chávez.

I would go even further and consider giving one of those leftists a prominent leadership role. The opposition has found it hard to shake accusations of privilege, of wanting to ignore the reasons Hugo Chávez came to power in the first place, of disregard for the poor. Leopoldo López can't be the face of a unified opposition. The "united" part would be for free elections only--I can't imagine such a thing morphing into a ruling coalition sometime later.

Since Maduro is not allowing democratic change to occur, a broader opposition will serve as a signal both to Chavistas and the armed forces that the government is too unpopular to support. No doubt the opposition is putting out feelers to the military as well. Ideally, the combination of domestic and international pressure would force the government to engage in substantive dialogue, which would ultimately lead to elections. I am not holding my breath, but that's the hope.


Sunday, August 06, 2017

Rebellion in Venezuela

7 days since constituent assembly vote, 2 day since it took power.

A major question in Venezuela right now is what the rank and file military officers are thinking. They are the foundation of state power, and we do not know the extent of the gap between the generals and lower-ranking officers.

Along these lines there was an attack on a military base in Carabobo state, which may or may not involve active duty officers but which is likely not to be the last example of rebellion. The state is eliminating all forms of legal political opposition (forcing out Luisa Ortega is the most obvious recent example), which means the opposition can only take to the streets and encourage military action. Closing out legal channels of dissent may well be the most dangerous thing the government is currently doing--the long-term effects will be violent and bad for everyone.

As the violence increases, the government will need the army to quell dissent. That is where loyalty is sorely tested. The soldier on the street aiming his gun at fellow Venezuelans--not the general sitting in his air-conditioned office and driving a new imported car--is the one whose loyalty will matter. And the worse things get, the less you can count on it.


Saturday, August 05, 2017

Review of John Farrell's Richard Nixon: The Life

John Farrell's Richard Nixon: The Life is a snappily written and well-documented biography. The tone can move toward disbelief and sarcasm here and there, but given the record of unethical, illegal, and downright stupid actions, that can perhaps be forgiven.

The main attraction of the book is that Farrell does a tremendous job getting at the emotion, especially through the use of recorded interviews, notes, and the like regarding key moments. The Checkers speech was preceded by intense frustration and tension, with everyone wondering whether it would end with his announced resignation as VP candidate. The Pentagon Papers, which should've been a hit to LBJ and JFK, made him furious and so he lashed out. Watergate, of course, led to despair. There are a lot of great quotes, often related to Nixon's utter amorality or his extreme discomfort with other human beings.

That emotional side also helps you see Nixon's gradual emotional decline. By the time he was president, it took almost nothing to set him off. Indeed, he knew he would give orders that shouldn't be carried out. He admitted it, which itself is insane for a president. But when you're surrounded by ideologues like Charles Colson, those orders will sometimes be followed. And he'll hire crazier people like Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. Farrell argues that Nixon hoped J. Edgar Hoover would do the dirty work, as he had periodically done for past presidents, but when he refused Nixon had to find his own people.

As I read, I realized there was no mention of previous biographies until the end, no explanation of what niche this book fills. Not until the acknowledgments do we learn that he liked the past biographies but wrote it to include more sources (like oral histories, which help capture the emotion) and to be an accessible one-volume biography for people to read for the 50th anniversary of his 1968 election. Fair enough.


Friday, August 04, 2017

Podcast Episode 38: The Russia-Cuba Connection

In Episode 38 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Mervyn Bain, who is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations and Head of School of Social Sciences at the University of Aberdeen. He has published extensively on the relationship between Russia and Cuba. Among other things, we discuss the continued strength of the relationship, the role of the United States, and what the future might hold. I find it particularly intriguing to think about how many Russians might feel angry if they felt they "lost" Cuba, just as Americans felt the same way half a century ago.


Veto in Quito

Fascinating scene in Ecuador, where there is a leftist brawl, a mirror image of the conservative brawl in Colombia. Lenín Moreno stripped Vice President Jorge Glas of his authority because of corruption charges and because of Glas' criticisms, which prompted Rafael Correa to go off on Twitter.

Get out your popcorn on this one. Glas is still VP but without any authority, which I have not heard of before, but he says he will not resign. The Alianza País party is in an uproar. The party released a statement on Twitter calling for unity and telling the "rancid" right this would not mean any change of platform or ideas.

Article 147 of the Ecuadorian constitution stipulates the following:

The Vice-President of the Republic, when not replacing the President of the Republic, shall perform the duties that the latter assigns him/her.

What this means it that the Vice President has power only to the extent that the President assigns/delegates it. If the president assigns nothing, the VP does nothing even though he/she remains in office.

Incidentally, this is yet another reason not to expect Ecuador to play much of a role in the Venezuela crisis.


Thursday, August 03, 2017

Venezuela's Core Support

TeleSur notes that four countries support Venezuela's Constituent Assembly: China, Russia, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. Unwittingly, the article gives a long list of countries opposed but can only come up with four specific examples of supporters. (Oddly enough, they do not mention Cuba, which is unsurprisingly supportive). What this shows is how weak Venezuela's international position is.

China's support is based on protecting its investments. The Chinese government made a statement that the voting was "generally held smoothly," which helped boost Venezuela's bonds. Last year China indicated it did not want to throw good money after bad, and it does not want default. Therefore it does not want unpredictable regime change.

Russia's support is based largely on poking the United States. Russia has a long diplomatic relationship with Venezuela, which has fueled countless conspiracy theories, but for the most part it's a reminder to the United States that Russia is present in its back yard (with the obvious message that the U.S. should stay out of Russia's). At the same time, Russian companies are also exposed in Venezuela and so do not want more upheaval.

Neither country will stick its neck out for Nicolás Maduro, and China in particular just wants reassurance about its investments.

Nicaragua's support is Daniel Ortega's ingenious ability to support everything. He talks stridently about imperialism while working closely with the U.S. government. He can be counted on to stick with Maduro all the way, but would also be ready to work with anyone. He will not sacrifice much for Maduro.

Evo Morales, meanwhile, is a true believer. He can be trusted to support Maduro to the hilt and blame all troubles on the U.S. He is one of the last of the leftist leaders who swept in over a decade ago still in office, and seems to see himself as the standard bearer of that era.

Conspicuous by its absence here is Ecuador. Rafael Correa was a vocal leftist internationalist but Lenín Moreno is not, which is partly why they're beginning a Juan Manuel Santos/Alvaro Uribe type of feud. Moreno tends to keep his mouth shut about Venezuela, and definitely is not providing support.

Overall, this is shallow support. Evo Morales is the key, as he can work the smaller countries in the hemisphere to reduce any majority in the OAS. Cuba is not particularly relevant diplomatically, and the rest will not stick their necks out too far.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

U.S. Support for Colombia Peace

There was a hearing today on the Colombia peace process before the Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women's Issues. What's especially notable is that there is a diverse group of people giving testimony and two of them are the current front runners for the important Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs position (William Brownfield and Francisco Palmieri, who is currently the interim). But all agree that the U.S. needs to stay committed to promoting the peace process.

The Trump administration is focused almost exclusively on drugs. Well, fine--funding alternative crops and bringing the displaced back into the formal economy helps with that, but it requires commitment. You hate the FARC? Fine, but never-ending war doesn't achieve much. Bring them into the formal economy and the political system, all the while verifying what they're doing. We can only hope that Trump doesn't care about Colombia to the point that he lets his own officials do the work. Work, incidentally, that is just a continuation of President Obama's policies.


Taking Stock in Venezuela

3 days since the constituent assembly vote.

In terms of the hemispheric response to the Venezuela vote, there's a sense of taking stock.

--Chile announced that two Venezuelan judges had taken refuge in their embassy and might be granted asylum. 

--Overall, the hemisphere is largely critical but cautious (see this post at Global Americans). It's worth noting, however, that criticism is more widespread than it has ever been since Hugo Chávez first took office.

--Rex Tillerson continued the administration's blustery response with ill-advised words:

The situation, from a humanitarian standpoint, is already becoming dire. We are evaluating all our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future and wants to leave of his own accord or we can return the government processes back to their constitution. 

Talking off the cuff about regime change doesn't help anything.

--Smartmatic, which made the voting machines used in Venezuela, said the vote total was false.

This is going to be the sort of situation that involves a lot of small factors gradually coming together. As more evidence of fraud and human rights abuses emerge, more governments will feel empowered to be critical and perhaps even more Venezuelan government officials will feel empowered to speak out against their own leader (which, incidentally, is precisely why you have to be careful about imposing sanctions on lots of people in government).

At this point, the Venezuelan government will get the assembly together as fast as it possibly can to impose change before more of the hemisphere becomes more critical. Nicolás Maduro says it'll happen soon.

Finally, here's a nice look at the issue of the military, which has to keep order throughout all this. As I've written, Hugo Chávez become prominent in large part because of resistance to Carlos Andrés Pérez using the military to attack the people. Now we've come full circle and at some point one has to wonder whether the rank and file like to keep repressing fellow Venezuelans.


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Symbolic Unilateral Sanctions in Venezuela

2 days since the constituent assembly vote.

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Nicolás Maduro himself, which puts him on a list of people who are given symbolic sanctions yet remain in power. Maduro responded by referring to Trump's popular vote loss, which is actually something that might get the president's attention. Meanwhile, Canada condemned the vote but is not pursuing sanctions. That's true of a number of countries in the hemisphere.

And that's really the problem. Unilateral sanctions aren't going to do much but no one has the stomach to act multilaterally--not just for sanctions but for anything.  Back in March I argued that Latin America would not unite and so far it hasn't. Inaction is Maduro's biggest ally right now. The Trump administration can bully and bluster but at best that has little impact and at worse entrenches the Chavista core and makes other Latin American countries more hesitant to jump on board.


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