Friday, July 31, 2015

Hillary Talks Anti-Embargo in Miami

I am not the first nor will I be the last to mention the historical importance of Hillary Clinton's speech in Miami on Cuba, but it's worth bringing up. She said:

“It’s time for [GOP] leaders to either get on board or get out of the way. The Cuba embargo needs to go, once and for all,” Clinton said. 
The 2016 Republican candidates “have it backward,” Clinton said. “Engagement is not a gift to the Castros, its a threat to the Castros. An American embassy in Havana isn’t a concession, it’s a beacon.”
This is a big deal. Clinton is the heavyweight of the Democratic Party and is now making ending the embargo a campaign pledge. President Obama's normalization of relations, which were announced only last December, are having the effect of making normal relations with Cuba more...normal. Even more importantly, she is a major candidate who will face a tough campaign (for anyone, following a two-term president of your own party is very difficult) yet still sees this message resonating in Miami! I'd love to see a study of the evolution of Florida presidential campaign rhetoric.

Back in 1992, Jorge Mas Canosa praised Bill Clinton for being very anti-Castro. As president, Clinton made sure to keep that allegiance, at least until he returned Elián González, by which time he was a lame duck anyway. And of course Al Gore, who was running for president, made sure to disagree because he hoped to win Florida. We don't need to get into how that worked out.

My overall point is that things have changed quickly. Not long ago, opposing the embargo would've been electoral disaster. Florida is an important part of our odd presidential electoral system, so candidates need to tailor their speeches to the local audience. That audience no longer needs anti-Castro red meat.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Wikileaks and Latin America

Dan Drezner writes about Julian Assange's claim that somehow academics aren't citing WikiLeaks because they're cozy with the State Department and that international relations journals won't publish articles with such citations. Drezner's point is that for the most part the revelations aren't that interesting:

Indeed, the effect of WikiLeaks’ cables on American foreign policy was pretty mild — in contrast to, say, Edward Snowden’s revelations. It was so mild that I once had a Fletcher student ask me if Julian Assange was actually a CIA agent designed to bolster America’s image in the world, because it turned out that what U.S. diplomats said privately closely matched what they said publicly.

With regard to Latin America, I agree with this. Five years ago I wrote the following:

With virtually all of the cables on Latin America, we learn relatively little but get a fairly discouraging confirmation of what we already know...There's nothing shady or nefarious; instead, the overall effect is one of cluelessness.

The "discouraging" part I referred to was the Bush administration's way of dealing with Latin America. But my discouragement wasn't caused (or even changed) by WikiLeaks. I've yet to read anything in WikiLeaks that changed my way of thinking about U.S. policy in Latin America or suggested there was a deeper conspiracy of which I was previously unaware. In fact, one of my main reactions was to note the hypocrisy of dictatorships applauding transparency. Even Peter Kornbluh, whose body of work is based on declassified documents, made the point that the cables shed more light on Latin America than on Washington, and often provided a more nuanced (as opposed to more sinister) view of how U.S. policy is made.

Incidentally, Wikileaks got really annoyed at Drezner's post.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Latin America in Middle East Terms

As a Latin Americanist, it is frustrating to have a congressional representative who thinks of Latin America primarily in terms of being a staging ground for Iran. His latest Facebook post asserts that Iran has a "footprint" in Latin America as well as in the Middle East. He actually argues that the Iran deal will increase the Iranian threat to the U.S. in Latin America. In general, he has viewed Latin America almost exclusively in Middle East terms.

Fortunately, I think this particular view is not widely shared--there are plenty of proponents but they're (currently) at the margins. Beyond the lack of evidence, though, there is the troubling tendency to propose Latin America policy without thinking at all of Latin America. This is a very Cold War-esque way of thinking. Whether or not a particular policy makes sense takes a back seat to whether it fits a prevailing narrative in some other part of the world. This leads to gross inflation of threat perception, which in turn leads to more bad policy.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Middle Class and Ideology

Talking about the growth of the Latin American middle class is a thing these days. The Pew Research Center takes a look and yields a conclusion that defies ideology. The country that gained the most from 2001-2011 is Argentina. In the top 10 we also have Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and Chile.

This is common, incidentally. I've written tons of posts about economic growth, commodities, trade, poverty, you name it. Very rarely does the ideology of the government matter nearly as much (either positively or negatively) as people claim.

With regard to the middle class more specifically, the problem with this data is that it's four years old. I'd figure Argentina is holding steady but post-Chávez Venezuela is likely a different story.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Misión 19

To celebrate our 15th anniversary, my wife and I had dinner at Misión 19 in Tijuana. It was fabulous. The restaurant was reviewed by the New York Times several years ago, as it was part of an overall effort to rebuild the city's image after being ravaged by the drug war.

There are no margaritas here. I had a cocktail with tequila, agave honey, lemon, and a jalapeño, while my wife had a light mezcal drink with fruit and a chile de árbol. She then had seared tuna and I had risotto. Meanwhile, the wine list shows how far the Mexican wine industry has come. The food was tremendous and the service was excellent.

I had not walked across the border in 15 years, and of course things have changed a lot. We had to wait 25 minutes in line to return, which was primarily because the immigration line was clearly understaffed. This seemed odd given how much money is being invested in the border. We had to suffer through an older American who talked loudly (of course!) and then in bad Spanish (of course!) on his phone about how they're "lookin' for El Chapo" and he's not an illegal so he shouldn't have to wait in this fucking line.

If you are in San Diego, make sure to bring your passport and check out Tijuana. It could not be simpler to park and walk across. If you have a destination already figured out, then you can just quickly grab a taxi. It's well worth it. And I hope you're not stuck with an obnoxious American on your way back.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Negotiating With the FARC

A Colombian friend asked my opinion of the FARC negotiations. I said I thought the negotiations would in fact work out--she disagreed and thought Colombians would tire of the continued FARC attacks. But here is my logic:

--the FARC really wants it. In my opinion, the attacks can be attributed primarily to positioning (i.e. showing strength) or are isolated to units that have autonomy because of its decentralized structure. That's why they called another unilateral ceasefire and released a prisoner.

--President Santos really wants it. This is his legacy, pure and simple. He will have gone from someone perceived as Alvaro Uribe's puppet to the president who finally ended the war.

--the Colombian people strongly support the effort (see this extensive Gallup poll). The devil is always in the details, and the FARC could potentially overplay its hand with too many attacks, but overall Colombians support the negotations.

--President Obama supports it. It is not a major issue for Obama, but he's publicly supportive (including a State Department statement just last week) and it would buttress his own overtures to Cuba given where the talks are taking place.

There are plenty of wrenches that could be thrown into this process, but at the moment the key signs are positive. Or at least as positive as you're likely to get.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

El Chapo and Violence

Brian Phillips has an interesting article at The Monkey Cage about the effects of leadership removal on violence, using the case of El Chapo as an illustrative case. "Removing" (e.g. killing or imprisoning) the leader of a terrorist organization can be effective in reducing violence because of the psychological/leadership impact, but a criminal organization can become even more violent as would-be leaders fight to take control. As he points out, that latter point is the source of much of Mexico's violence.

As he alludes to, imprisonment works differently for criminal organizations than for terrorists, so the type of "removal" also matters. For me, the takeaway with El Chapo is that strictly with regard to violence, it makes no different at all whether he is in jail or on the lam. Either way, he is firmly in charge and there is minimal jockeying for power (or at least no more than normal). But if he gets killed, the Mexican authorities will have a brief time where they can claim victory and then things will get a lot worse.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Reforms to "Wet Foot, Dry Foot"

It was inevitable that the "wet foot, dry foot" immigration policy would be a major issue in the U.S.-Cuban relationship. Oddly enough, getting rid of it seems to unite restrictionists and progressives. The former want less immigration in general, while the latter decry the preferential treatment.

There are really two separate issues. The first is the original idea of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which is the preferential treatment part. Cuban emigrants just need to stay in the U.S. a short amount of time and they can become permanent residents (it was originally two years, then was reduced to one). There is no cap. The idea was that they were facing imminent persecution. Now we know that it's constantly abused--people are commonly claiming persecution yet going back and forth between the two countries. Even hard liners like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen openly acknowledge those abuses.

The second issue is the 1995 "wet, dry" revision. It famously stipulates that Cubans are only eligible if they make it to U.S. territory. That takes us into the absurd position of determining whether a derelict bridge is "land" (it is not!).

There is no valid reason to maintain the Cuban Adjustment Act at all. People in other Latin American countries face worse repression, and so there is no reason to single out Cubans. The "wet, dry" part is just icing on the cake of an outdated policy. Like other aspects of U.S.-Cuban relations, we need to get ourselves out of the 1960s.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Greece and Latin America

After a popular vote demonstrating support for the exact opposite, the Greek government has accepted painful structural adjustment in return for loans to help pay off old loans. Latin America did this in the 1980s and 1990s, and this is what happened over the long term: Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Néstor Kirchner, et al. The PRI lost an election in 1988 as a result so had to steal it. The big difference with Greece is that a leftist is doing the dirty work. How you qualify as "leftist" after that is beyond me--Prime Minister Tsipras is being rejected by the left and will have to pass any deal by allying with the opposition.

On NPR earlier I actually heard an analyst say this is necessary "for the children." Not even being tongue in cheek. We'll see how well children do when their parents are laid off in droves. Understandably, people will be open to a populist voice that offers solutions free of European domination. It would be surprising if such a voice didn't emerge. I don't know Greek politics at all, but the Latin American example and logic are useful.

That said, the parliamentary form of government creates a really different dynamic. Latin American presidents have more power, so a Greek populist would have to do quite a bit more negotiating to pass major reforms. The Hugo Chávez means of reaching power would also not work because you have to be a party leader who forms coalitions--it's extremely difficult to appear out of nowhere and win the election.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Media and the Fiery Pope

The Pope is going to Paraguay today, and of course everyone is paying close attention to the things he says. He is scheduled to come to the United States in September, so we should expect this attention to recur quickly.

For the media, this has meant inordinate attention to fire-related imagery. Just Google "Pope fiery." You can barely read anything without getting that, or perhaps incendiary, explosive, flame-throwing, or the like. Andrew Chesnut suggested "Papal napalm," which I like.

This is the same kind of imagery commonly used to characterize speeches by people like Nicolás Maduro, Rafael Correa, and Evo Morales. It suggests condemnatory, loud, but also somewhat threatening. The New York Times is already making the comparison explicit (with a fiery headline to boot!). By the time he gets to the United States, I would expect a fire-related word and "populism" in just about every article. Conservative denunciation will follow.

Meanwhile, a good drinking game is to read the news and take a drink each time you read about the Pope's words are related to fire. You'll be under the table before you know it.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pope Francis and Socialism

I'm quoted in this Associated Press story on Evo Morales' assertion that the Pope is espousing socialism. I don't think he is.

As my quote makes clear, we should not confuse criticism of capitalism with socialism. The Pope is definitely critical of how unbridled capitalism has a lot of negative effects--environmental, humanitarian, etc.--but he is not calling for government to take it over. What he wants is more attention paid to the human cost, recognition of why they occur, and then solutions. But the solutions are not necessarily socialist.

When the Pope comes to the U.S., we're going to hear a lot of Latin American stereotypes--Pope Francis is a populist like Hugo Chávez (or Juan Perón!), he's a caudillo, he's a socialist. It'll be nonstop.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Inter-American Relations and Regional Disputes

Aaron Coy Moulton, "Building Their Own Cold War in Their Own Backyard: The Transnational, International Conflicts in the Greater Caribbean Basin, 1944-1954." Journal of Cold War History 15, 2 (2015): 135-154.


Incorporating previously-untapped Dominican, Costa Rican, and Cuban sources, this article reveals how the international Cold War and US policy towards Guatemala overlapped with long-standing regional conflicts in the greater Caribbean basin. During the post-war democratic openings, exiles with patron presidents or dictators composed two loosely-formed networks seeking to destabilise opposing governments. The resulting inter-American conflicts contributed to critical events in the region, most notably US officials’ Cold War-influenced policy to overthrow the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz in the early 1950s. These conflicts persisted and continued overlapping with the international Cold War while often challenging US officials’ Cold War goals.

This is a good article, and I think has considerable contemporary relevance. The argument is that we always tend to see the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in a rigid Cold War/big powers manner. A more accurate view considers how leaders in different countries were working against each other in purely Latin American alliances.

This article addresses this oversight by demonstrating how the US-sponsored overthrow of the Arbenz government in 1954 represented one of various interAmerican regional conflicts throughout the greater Caribbean basin in the 1940s and 1950s. During the democratic openings of the mid-1940s, Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, Honduran dictator Tiburcio Carı´as, and Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo monitored movements of anti-dictatorial exiles into Guatemala and Venezuela who networked with students, journalists, and political leaders in support of a transnational anti-fascist ideal. Simultaneously, dissident Guatemalan and Venezuelan exiles reached out to Somoza, Carı´as, and Trujillo in a transnational and anti-communist opposition to the Guatemalan Revolution and the Venezuelan government of Ro´mulo Betancourt and the Accio´n Democra´tica party. What emerged were two loosely-formed transnational networks which ‘Latin Americanised’ the region’s foreign relations by pursuing conspiracies against one another against US officials’ policies. A ‘revolutionary’ network of anti-dictatorial exiles with patron presidents serving as regional proponents carried the ideals of the post-war democratic openings into the 1950s and actively challenged dictatorial and military regimes. A ‘counter-revolutionary’ network of dissident exiles with patron dictators and military regimes as regional proponents sought to repress and eliminate their opposition through intelligence-sharing and a series of coup plots.

Good points. I wouldn't say they've really been ignored, but they are downplayed, It is definitely important, though, to better understand how Latin American leaders defined "anti-Communism" and how it affected their behavior.

In Latin America today, this is relevant because in the United States we have a fairly rigid sense of "leftist," which masks the different ways it is defined in Latin America and how regional disputes influence how Latin American leaders act. You can dive deeper and see where Venezuelan opposition leaders go, how student leaders interact across countries, etc.


Would Marco Rubio Roll Back Cuba Changes?

I'm quoted in this story about Marco Rubio's position on Cuba policy. He is setting himself apart but not only opposing Obama's changes but by saying he will roll them back if he becomes president.

I don't think he actually would. If he is elected president, he won't take office until the beginning of 2017. By then people will be accustomed to the changes in Cuba policy. That includes both U.S. citizens and Latin Americans. He would have to start his presidency by alienating a large chunk of his own electorate and ensuring that U.S.-Latin American relations would be tarnished for the next four years. Now, that's certainly possible, but there would be enough potential backlash to make him think twice.

What also occurs to me is that I am not even sure this message is going to matter much in the primaries. As my quote gets at, Cuba is just wrapped up in a bigger package of Obama foreign policy criticism. Most people will not vote on Cuba, and those who do increasingly are unpredictable. Many Cuban Americans wants engagement, and many non-Cuban American Republicans want the freedom to trade with whomever they want.


Thursday, July 09, 2015

Evo Morales' Gift to the Pope

Evo Morales gave the Pope a crucifix in the form of a hammer and sickle. It is a established prize based on a carving by assassinated priest Luis Espinal that the president has handed out before and which is intended to suggest dialogue.

This is a poor job of PR by the Bolivian government. The Pope clearly was not expecting it and didn't like it--he looks like he took a big bite of a lemon and he actually says, "Esto no está bien."

But it's memorable, I'll give him that. Remember that he gave Condoleezza Rice a coca-lacquered guitar.


The Pope and Latin American Politics

I'm quoted in this article by David Agren on the Pope's visit to Latin America. He does a nice job of placing the Pope in a political context. The point I make is that he has been criticizing the status quo whether it is left or right (a few days ago I blogged about the conservative reaction). I agree with his point that the Pope has emerged as a regional leader at a time when there aren't any.


Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Marco Rubio Doesn't Like Reagan's Approach

Marco Rubio has an op-ed critical of Obama's Cuba policy. It is extremely difficult to understand the logic.

First, he says this is a Faustian bargain. I don't think this is what he means. A Faustian bargain is one in which you sell your soul for riches. I am guessing he refers to the "legacy" issue, but as I've already argued that makes no sense. He does mention U.S. businesses, but it's not clear to me whether he blames capitalism--it would be far more interesting and ironic if he did.

Second, he says we should learn from history:

Just as we have stood on the right side of history against the repression of other totalitarian regimes, we owe the Cuban people more time so we can get it right and not worsen their situation.

The problem here is that President Reagan--who credentials are untouchable for Republicans--had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union while also criticizing the Soviets for human rights abuses. By the way, he went to the Soviet Embassy to give condolences for Leonid Brezhnev! So it makes sense to have diplomatic relations. It gives you leverage you lack otherwise.

I assume that Rubio would issue a complaint that Reagan was soft on Communism.


Impeachment Talk in Brazil

Boz writes about impeachment talk in Brazil. Gossip is gearing up bigtime: Dilma wanted to commit suicide! She won't last! Don't invest! Brazil should adopt a parliamentary system (though remember it already voted against it before)!

There are countless articles mentioning impeachment, but they don't actually ask why it would be possible. That's not even clear for Brazilian analysts.

If you're curious, here is the relevant portion of the Brazilian constitution (their English translation).

Liability of the President of the Republic
Article 85. 
Those acts of the President of the Republic which attempt on the Federal Constitution and especially on the following, are crimes of malversation: I – the existence of the Union; II – the free exercise of the Legislative Power, the Judicial Power, the Public Prosecution and the constitutional Powers of the units of the Federation; III – the exercise of political, individual and social rights; IV – the internal security of the country; V – probity in the administration; VI – the budgetary law; VII – compliance with the laws and with court decisions. These crimes shall be defined in a special law, which shall establish the rules of procedure and trial. 

Article 86. If charges against the President of the Republic are accepted by two thirds of the Chamber of Deputies, he [sic!] shall be submitted to trial before the Supreme Federal Court for common criminal offenses or before the Federal Senate for crimes of malversation. The President shall be suspended from his functions: I – in common criminal offenses, if the accusation or the complaint is received by the Federal Supreme Court; II – in the event of crimes of malversation, after the proceeding is instituted by the Federal Senate

The question I have is whether the major Petrobras scandal is impeachable at all because Rousseff was not president at the time. I would think her removal would only be possible if the corruption was linked to her presidency (say, her re-election effort) but that'll be up for debate.

What the opposition may well do is push the idea of impeachment as far as possible, such as publicly trying to gather the necessary 2/3 votes in the lower house, which if my math is correct would be 344 votes. In the Chamber of Deputies there are 29 parties in 16 blocs. There is lots of talk but actually getting those votes is a different story. Nonetheless, it creates public pressure, which might be augmented with protests. Will a combination of scandal, protests, impeachment talk, abysmal approval ratings, and a weak economy be enough to force resignation?


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