Saturday, April 19, 2014

Understanding Latin American Politics

The very final pieces of my forthcoming textbook Understanding Latin American Politics are now falling into place. One that makes it feel especially real is the cover art.

It will be out very soon and if you are a professor then I encourage you to ask for an examination copy for consideration in your Latin American politics classes. My goal was to produce something with the right combination of undergraduate accessibility, conceptual coherence, case selection, and depth.

Here is the table of contents:

Chapter 1. Theoretical Perspectives on Latin American Politics
Chapter 2. State Formation and Economic Development in the Nineteenth Century
Chapter 3. Dictatorship, Democracy and Revolution in the Modern Era
Chapter 4. The Politics of Capitalism and Socialism Through the Twentieth Century
Chapter 5. Mexico
Chapter 6. Central America
Chapter 7. Cuba
Chapter 8. Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru
Chapter 9. Colombia
Chapter 10. Venezuela
Chapter 11. Brazil
Chapter 12. Argentina
Chapter 13. Chile


Friday, April 18, 2014

Catholicism in Latin America

Latinobarómetro takes a look at religion in Latin America, with Pope Francis as the backdrop. He is facing an uphill battle to counter the decline in identification with Catholicism in the region. There is a slow downward trend, even in countries with high levels of identification. Here is the trend:

The decline is most pronounced in Central America, which we've known for a long time.

I would love to see how this correlates to ideology. The rise of leftist governments and the decline of Catholicism have occurred together but how much correlation is there? Eyeballing the list of countries suggests a complicated relationship.

It won't be long until only a bare majority of Latin Americans identify as Catholics. The authors argue that the Pope's presence is giving a boost to Catholicism but I would argue that it is too early to tell that the long-term trends provide grounds for skepticism.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fertility in Cuba

I took this directly from Patrick Oppmann, a CNN reporter in Havana, so I can't claim originality but this is a great juxtaposition. On the one hand, the Cuban government is concerned about the low birth rate in the country:

According to experts, the decreasing fertility trend in Cuba, low mortality rate, and negative results from external migrations (-4.2 per 1,000 inhabitants according to the 2012 Statistical Yearbook) has caused a low population growth in Cuba for many years, and is the lowest one in Latin America when compared at the regional level. 

Hence, the Ministry of Public Health has already implemented certain policies to encourage fertility and ensure safe gestation, providing attention to women before, during and after pregnancy, as well as encouraging reproduction among women from 30 to 39 years old, and carrying out other actions to increase medical assistance for infertile couples.

On the other, condoms are suddenly and mysteriously in short supply.

The Communist Party’s newspaper in the province of Villa Clara, Vanguardia, tried to explain the reasons for the condom shortage in an April 3 report, and all but drowned in a sea of unanswered questions and typically complex acronyms for government agencies.

Read more here:

The Communist Party’s newspaper in the province of Villa Clara, Vanguardia, tried to explain the reasons for the condom shortage in an April 3 report, and all but drowned in a sea of unanswered questions and typically complex acronyms for government agencies.
Read more here:

Here are some ways other countries have dealt with low fertility. Do it for Denmark!


2014 UNC Charlotte Common Reading

Hot off the presses:

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers has been selected as UNC Charlotte’s Common Reading text for Fall 2014.  The Common Reading Experience selection committee, chaired by Dr. Gregory Weeks, is excited to engage our campus in discussing the impact of the Iraq war, and increasing awareness of the issues veterans face that often remain hidden from view. According to the National Book Foundation, “Poetic, precise, and moving, The Yellow Birds is a work of fiercest principle, honoring loss while at the same time indicting the pieties of war.” Author Kevin Powers is himself a veteran, having served in Iraq in 2004 and again in 2005. A poet as well as a novelist, Powers earned an MFA from University of Texas at Austin after an honorable discharge from the army.  He will visit campus October 16, 2014.

Since I love reading, I love this committee and it was fun to chair this year. I am really looking forward to meeting Kevin Powers in October. Here is my review from last July--if you haven't read the book, you definitely should.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Latin American Views of the United States

Laura Silliman, "Bridging Inter-American Divides: Views of the U.S. Across the Americas," AmericasBarometer Insights 105 (2014). Ungated


The United States has long suffered from an image problem across much of the Americas, due in large part to the many cases of U.S. involvement in Latin American and Caribbean affairs. As these legacies of military and economic interventions perhaps begin to recede in the minds of Latin Americans, the question arises asto what factors influence the views of the U.S. among citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean? In this analysis of 2012 AmericasBarometer survey data, I  find that the growing levels of economic and social ties between the U.S. and some countries in the Americas are a source of more positive views of the U.S. Alternatively, citizens living in those countries with fewer direct connections to the U.S. tend to express more negative views of the U.S. This study examines these relationships and the resulting policy implications.

This goes along the lines of an article by Baker and Cupery that I wrote about last year (and which is cited in this one).

Two things come to mind:

First, the distance issue is quite interesting and counter-intuitive because the U.S. has interfered/intervened more with nearby countries, which you would expect to generate some negative feelings (depending on how long ago it was). This is a short article and she doesn't really get into it, but part of the answer may well be ideology, which she does note. At least right now, countries closer to the United States tend to be more conservative while countries further away tend to be more leftist.

Second, we need to stop talking about U.S.-Latin American relations in terms of grand strategy, big plans, bold moves, etc. The daily, consistent and lower level interactions are what really make the relationship tick. She mentions the potential positive impact of free trade, which I would argue is not necessarily clear given that trustworthiness with Chile and Mexico are under 50%. However, engagement in general is a good thing, and it does not need to be "big," which unfortunately seems to be a fad with a lot of the commentariat even in the total absence of supportive evidence.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Yasiel Puig's Journey

Read this story about how Yasiel Puig got to the United States. It's a mix of Cuban repression, Mexican organized crime violence, and U.S. capitalism, which come together to haunt an amazingly talented young man. The collision of communism and capitalism is nasty.

All I can say is: think twice before getting annoyed at Puig, whose behavior gets plenty of negative attention in part because of his salary and in part because he's Cuban. He's been through more than you will ever deal with. And after reading that, I can only hope he doesn't fall apart completely before long. I hate the Dodgers but I can't help but root for him to overcome it. Many players without his raw skills will not.


Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombia

I highly recommend Adam Isacson's detailed report on the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC, Ending 50 Years of Conflict: The Challenges Ahead and the U.S. Role in Colombia. It provides background, context, policy options, and a sense of where everything stands right now.

One of the many important takeaways is how painful a post-conflict scenario will be. The Colombian armed forces, the FARC and the United States have known nothing but civil war for many, many years* and will find it difficult to rethink their roles, which will entail some measure of mutual acceptance, budget cuts, and mission revisions. This has worked elsewhere but it's tough and we cannot take it for granted. Just having talks is only a beginning.

But if the talks fail, then violence continues. Much is made of the FARC's weaknesses, and indeed they're weaker than in the past, but this shows how much violent impact they still have:

If peace talks should fail, it will take many bloody years to defeat the FARC on the battlefield. This chart, from Colombia’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, shows the number of FARC “armed actions” in recent years. The guerrillas are weaker than they were a decade ago: most of the more recent “actions,” like sabotage of infrastructure or detonation of landmine fields, are smaller in scale, and occur in more remote areas. But they are still capable of several actions per day all around the country, despite an enormous effort by the security forces. On the battlefield, the conflict is decidedly not in the “home stretch.”

Several attacks a day is nothing to sniff at, especially when it contributes directly to the swelling ranks of the Colombian displaced. Americans take drugs, the FARC makes money from the drugs, and uses the money for weapons and supplies. If the talks fall through, that dynamic remains, and millions of Colombian continues to suffer.

* a very rough demographic estimate is that 85% of the Colombian population is 54 years old or younger. The FARC was founded 50 years ago, and so only a very small fraction of Colombians can remember a time when it was not fighting the government.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Reagan and Bush on Immigration

Reading this story on whether Republicans who have compassion about undocumented immigrants will hurt their 2016 presidential chances made me want to dust off this gem from the 1980 primary debate between Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Just watch and listen for two minutes, then tell me this is the party of Reagan.

Both even relate it to the importance of strong U.S.-Mexico relations.


Framing Immigration in Costa Rica

Caitlin E. Fouratt, "'Those Who Come to Do Us Harm': The Framing of Immigration Problems in Costa Rican Immigration Law." International Migration Review 48, 1 (Spring 2014): 144-180. Gated link


This article examines the political rationales at work behind the particularly repressive 2006 Costa Rican immigration law and subsequent immigration reform process and resulting 2010 law through an analysis of two rival framings of immigration in Costa Rica. First, I examine how the rushed nature of the 2006 law constructed a crisis in which migrants, particularly Nicaraguans, represented urgent threats to national security. Next, I examine the 2010 law that emerged from the reform process and the alternative framings of immigration as an issue of human rights and integration that migration advocates contributed to the new law. I argue that the juxtaposition of integration and security frameworks in the new law reinforces the law's most repressive measures, contributing to an overall project of securitization and marginalization of immigrants.

This should sound familiar! She starts with a quote from a member of Congress, and this could've come out of the mouths of any number of counterparts in the United States:

…Costa Rica continues being Costa Rica, although we have been bombarded by brothers from third countries and our borders have remained open, unfortunately, for many who do not come to Costa Rica to do good, but rather to do bad, many of them come to kill our women; many of them come to rob our banks; to rob our sons and daughters in the streets […] the moment has arrived for making decisions to not continue with the windows and doors of our house open so that anyone can enter, and although we give them our heart, although we care for them, they come in to our house to rob us, to rape us. […] Mr. President, fellow Congressmen and women, […] why continue opening [the country, the border] to those who come to do harm, to collapse our education system, to abuse our medical services?”

The nasty immigrants are coming for our women!

When I was in Costa Rica a few years ago, I heard disparaging comments about Nicaraguan migrants more than once in only a short visit. It's like Leo Chávez's argument about a "Latino threat narrative" in the United States. As Fouratt notes, the security narrative that existed in the U.S. and then accelerated after 9/11 is being incorporated elsewhere. It's remarkable how similar the entire process is to the United States, including increased reliance on ad hoc administrative solutions to problems that legislation creates and does not deal with adequately.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fromkin's Europe's Last Summer

I read David Fromkin's Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? which was an impulse buy in a Washington DC used bookstore some months ago.

World War I is mindblowing. You can draw causal lines to such disparate things as women's suffrage, Adolf Hitler, the Cold War, class consciousness, the Soviet Union, and more. Yet it started in such a small way, a minor aristocrat--not even widely known--murdered by a young radical. It was a seemingly isolated incident that did not immediately alarm diplomats.

This book is a nice general history that looks at every country and major players, often coming back to General Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the General Staff. Like a number of other German elites, he wanted war because he thought Germany would fade in influence without a pre-emptive strike against Russia in particular. He fought as hard as he could against dialogue.

Fromkin says the key to understanding war's outbreak is to see it as two wars. Everyone wonders how a little dispute between Austria and Serbia could suck in the world, but it was only the pretext. Germany wanted to declare war on Russia but needed to make it seem that Russia was attacking first. The archduke's assassination served that purpose. Austria wanted to wipe Serbia off the map, and Germany (especiallu Moltke) wagered that Russia would step in to protect Serbia.

Basically, the Germans wanted a European war and they got it. Be careful what you wish for.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Venezuela Dialogue Aftermath

Both Caracas Chronicles and David Smilde live-blogged the dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. Thank goodness, because it means you don't have to sit through it! My sense is that both came to very similar conclusions--Nicolás Maduro droned on too much, there was no real structure or mediation, the government got a photo op, and the MUD managed to get its message out to a very large audience.

In other words, there was no "winner" per se, which in fact is a good thing. This was, hopefully, a first encounter and as such it just lays the groundwork and establishes some level of trust in the endeavor. That alone is a success.

The big question right now is how the more extreme elements of the opposition take it. Dialogue undermines everything they're going for. That's a general theme--the protests did not crack the government, so what now? The opposition's unity will be tested and it does not have a history of holding together.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

I Have a Political Agenda on Cuba

Via Tracey Eaton, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen about Cuba Twitter:

Some may have a political agenda geared toward supporting the Castro dictatorship - instead of supporting the people of Cuba – and wish to put an end to these successful programs.

This is a doozy on all levels. In what way can that program and the hundreds of millions of dollars from USAID be considered "successful"? Show me exactly what policy goals have been achieved. The logic is positively illogical. The programs exist, therefore they are successul.

Those who support the embargo and many of the ill-conceived covert operations are indirectly supporting the dictatorship. The more the U.S. opens to Cuba, the more it will change in ways that the dictatorship will be unable to control. Cutting the country off enhances that control. The USAID money pit is good for PR and contractors (who are making a bundle) but not for Cubans.

I'll repeat a point I made two years ago in a Military Review article, which is that American money won't cause change in Cuba.

To make a legitimate claim that a policy supports the people of Cuba, you must first acknowledge that the policies followed since the Eisenhower administration have strengthened the Castro regime. Then you must accept that many people--like me--hope for democracy in Cuba just like you even though they believe that a strategy should be discarded if it has failed to achieve its goals in 55 years. Once we talk openly about those two things then we have some possibility of a more successful strategy that actually helps Cuban people.

So if I have a political agenda, it's that I strongly favor common sense.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Venezuela Dialogue

The Venezuelan government has consistently said it wants UNASUR to serve as mediator if there is to be dialogue, while the opposition has resisted. So this appears to be a happy medium: you use UNASUR and the Vatican. This is a good step.

The question for the MUD is whether it can hold together. Leopoldo López opposes the talks, saying they are for show, but he has yet to show any realistic alternative. His strategy seems to be protesting as long as possible so the government is forced out...somehow.

The rest of the MUD is focused on four points:

1. Amnesty
2. Creation of a Truth Commission
3. "Renovation" of certain government agencies
4. Demobilization and disarming of the colectivos

My hunch is that these are not nearly far reaching enough for López and others from the right of MUD, but if the government budges at all he'll have a difficult time claiming that the talks are illegitimate.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Defending ZunZuneo

USAID pushes back against the Cuba Twitter accusations. The very first response is problematic.

1) The story says the “program’s legality is unclear” and implies the program was “covert.”FACT:  USAID works in places where we are not always welcome. To minimize the risk to our staff and partners and ensure our work can proceed safely, we must take certain precautions and maintain a discreet profile. But discreet does not equal covert. 
The programs have long been the subject of Congressional notifications, unclassified briefings, public budget requests, and public hearings. All of the Congressional Budget Justifications published from 2008 through 2013, which are public and online, explicitly state that a key goal of USAID’s Cuba program is to break the “information blockade” or promote “information sharing” amongst Cubans and that assistance will include the use or promotion of new “technologies” and/or “new media” to achieve its goals. 
In 2012, the Government Accountability Office—the U.S. government’s investigative arm—spent months looking at every aspect of USAID’s Cuba programs. GAO’s team of analysts had unrestricted access to project documents, extended telephone conversations with Mobile Accord (ZunZuneo) and even traveled to Cuba. The GAO identified no concerns in the report about the legality of USAID’s programs, including ZunZuneo, and offered USAID zero recommendations for improvements.

Here is my post on defining "covert" operations. Where were the public hearings and debate on this specific program? I've seen no evidence that any ever happened (and where is the GAO report on this if they did a ton of investigation?). Vague references to "information sharing" is not the same thing. You got a blanket authorization, then created an entirely secret program. Whether you think it is good or bad, it is covert. This whole "discreet" thing is troublesome since it is a very conscious effort to sanitize the covert. If you like covert, say so and don't hide behind language.

Unfortunately, USAID also does not offer any rebuttal to the accusations that the program was counterproductive and doomed to failure because ultimately you can't keep U.S. involvement secret for long and it undermines the entire effort.

FYI, the Cuban response is even dumber. The government notes how awful it is that ZunZueno might have encouraged Cubans to get together politically. Horrors! At least they're honest, I guess.

h/t Boz on Twitter


Monday, April 07, 2014

Respect Venezuela

The Venezuelan government published a report called "Respect Venezuela," which lays out its interpretation of the crisis. As you might guess, the government is blameless.

It's essentially a mishmash of facts, allegations, evasion, and a lot of pictures. Yes, it's true that a CNN Español reporter was detained but it was because...she reporting the facts in a confusing way. No, it is not true that students are key to these protests because....we're arresting non-students more. Leopoldo López is a criminal because..well, I will let the report speak for itself:

The call made by López is the expression of a criminal plan against Venezuela: documents filtered by the web site Wikileaks revealed that Leopoldo López, related to the extreme right wing in Latin America and sponsored by Álvaro Uribe Vélez, is mentioned at least 77 times in the diplomatic cables of the United States on Venezuela (p. 15).

If a longtime political leader is mentioned in cables, it must be dangerous. And (of course!) somehow related to Alvaro Uribe.

It also has sinister references to Gene Sharp, a political scientist who actually advocates nonviolent protest--like praying and singing--against dictatorships. He has the public support of people like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. If you say he's part of the problem, then you're putting yourself in a pretty awkward position. A quick Google search, though, shows that Hugo Chávez already feared him and accused him of working with the CIA.

Is this the best the government could do?

h/t Hugo Pérez Hernáiz


Saturday, April 05, 2014

U.S. and Latin American Relations writing (Part 5)

These periodic posts follow my progress on the 2nd edition of my book U.S. and Latin American Relations. I last posted back at the end of February. I am getting to the thematic chapters, which require more work because there is so much more dated material.

Progress is fine, though March went pretty quickly. Soon I need to sit down with a calendar and start figuring out micro-deadlines. I tend to feel more organized that way.

Progress (Deadline: August 1, 2014)

Chapter 1 (Theory) - Revised but not polished
Chapter 2 (Historical) - Revised but not polished
Chapter 3 (Rise of US Hegemony) - edited with red pen but not revised
Chapter 4 (Intervention/Good Neighbor) - edited with red pen but not revised
Chapter 5 (Early Cold War) - edited with red pen but not revised
Chapter 6 (Cuba Revolution)- edited with red pen but not revised
Chapter 7 (Communist Threat) - in the process of reading/commenting
Chapter 8 (Challenge to US Hegemony)- writing (7 pages)
Chapter 9 (Political Economy)- in the process of reading/commenting
Chapter 10 (Immigration) not started
Chapter 11 (Human Rights) - not started
Chapter 12 (Drug Trafficking) - printed and thinking about all the outdated parts


Friday, April 04, 2014

Defining Covert Operations in Latin America

This ongoing Cuba Twitter story is depressing. White House spokesperson Jay Carney said the operation was not covert.

“It was not a covert program. It was debated in Congress. It was reviewed by the [Government Accountability Office]. Those sorts of things do not happen to covert programs,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.


“Suggestions that this was a covert program are wrong,” Carney said. “You're discreet about how you implement it so you can protect the practitioners, but that does not make it covert.”

Carney said officials "of course" have to be discreet when the government implements programs in “non-permissive environments.”

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” Thursday that the program was “not covert” and said the AP’s story had “a number of significant inaccuracies.”

A GAO report from 2013, he said, examined the agency’s project in Cuba and said it was consistent with the law.

This is an entirely new definition of "covert" that magically transforms past covert operations into some less objectionable category, "discreet" perhaps. It is worth pointing out that the CIA does not use Carney's definition.

Generally speaking, covert actions are activities that the CIA might undertake in other countries to accomplish a US foreign policy objective without the hand of the US government becoming known or apparent to the outside world (p. 259).

So where did the congressional debate take place? As far as I can tell, there is debate about general principles of foreign policy but nothing about secret programs, which of course would immediately become public. There may well be congressional committee briefings (and the CIA suggests such briefings took place in the past as well) but that is not what Carney is suggesting. These are secret operations where the role of the U.S. is supposed to remain hidden.

I did a quick check in the Library of Congress to see if the word "Twitter" or "Zunzuneo" was mentioned in debate and nothing came up. If this was "debated" it was done so in a very generalized manner about Cuban regime change that very likely never touched on the operation itself. Or at least there is currently no evidence to suggest otherwise. So this program isn't so much different than others in the past.

On Carney's last point, here is the GAO report from 2013, which does not mention the program at all. What you see is a lot of money with very little oversight. GAO admits that reporting has been problematic. What is all this money being used for? Secret stuff with large payments going who knows where. (Side note: how do I get on that gravy train? They throw money around like nobody's business).

In sum, this is "covert" by the commonly accepted definition of the word, which is that it is secret and intended to hide U.S. involvement. From a normative perspective, we need to resist such efforts to sanitize language. In that regard, the Obama administration is simply copying the Bush administration, which among other things tried to pretend torture wasn't torture.

So don't accept the word "discreet." It's just bogus.


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