Friday, October 09, 2015

Quant vs. qual and baseball

Watching the baseball playoffs, the issue of advanced metrics came up with regard to deciding the American League MVP, which unleashed a torrent of tweets. I thought for the umpteenth time how similar the "old school" vs. "advanced statistics" debate in baseball is so similar to the quantitative vs. qualitative debate in political science. Both sides dig in and puff up, too often asserting that the other side is just flat wrong. The tone gets really snotty, with both sides mocking the other. People routinely get genuinely angry, especially when they sense that their entire way of thinking is being challenged.

And in both baseball and political science, it's all so tiresome and unnecessary. There is (or at least should be) plenty of room for everyone to live together if every single one of us just decided to be even just slightly more tolerant.


Latin America's Economic Downturn

Moisés Naím has a doom and gloom forecast for Latin America: "perilous years lie ahead for Latin America." His argument is that people moved into the middle class, but with recession will fall behind and then they will...well, I am not sure and he doesn't say. I guess he is referring to protests.

There are obviously protests going on in a number of different countries, but I am not convinced that these automatically become indicative of "corrosive social conflict." In Guatemala, for example, they were an expression of broad consensus that corruption was incompatible with democracy. That's the opposite of corrosive. In Brazil, protests against Dilma Rousseff are not destroying the country. Same in Chile.

In the very first sentence of his article, Naím links to a news article showing how perilous things are. That article, which he uses as a base to discuss that "peril," notes that plenty of countries, including Mexico and in Central America and the Caribbean, are doing relatively well.

At this point we need to discuss not just economic downturn, but how political institutions have become stronger over time and better able to absorb discontent. By that I mean we need to shed the assumption that protests are necessarily a sign of instability. They may well reflect a belief that change is possible within existing political rules. This is not revolution, civil war, or military intervention.


Thursday, October 08, 2015

More Pinochet Guilt

Newly declassified documents show that Augusto Pinochet personally ordered the murder of Orlando Letelier in Washington DC and that he even contemplated murdering Manuel Contreras to cover it up. That Pinochet had ordered it never really seemed in doubt--Contreras was a thug but even he would pause before attacking the United States.

The documents note that Secretary of State George Shultz explained all this to President Reagan, which in turn helps us understand why Shultz became such a vocal opponent of Pinochet. Reagan vacillated, feeling ideological affinity with Pinochet, but Shultz was adamant.

As far as I can tell, the documents are not yet public but I would suspect that'll happen quickly.

h/t Ricardo Valencia on Twitter


U.S. Rhetoric and Latin America

Christa J. Olson, "But in Regard to These (the American) Continents: U.S. National Rhetorics and the Figure of Latin America." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 45, 3 (2015): 264-277.


This essay draws attention to the vital role that the “other” America has played in the creation of (U.S.) American rhetorics. It examines how U.S. presidential invocations of the Monroe Doctrine make use of the figure of Latin America to imagine the United States and its role in the world. In 1823, when James Monroe articulated what became the “Monroe Doctrine,” the idea that the United States had a two-continent sphere of influence was novel at best. Over time, however, U.S. public discourse developed a ubiquitous common sense in which U.S. strength, security, and even national being have a hemispheric basis. From Monroe’s assertion that actions against any American state would manifest “an unfriendly disposition toward the United States” to Theodore Roosevelt’s lionized national virility and into the present moment, the figure of Latin America—present and absent—has become powerfully definitive for U.S. national image.

I have never read an analysis of U.S.-Latin American relations focused specifically on rhetoric. That angle often comes up, but is a side note to something else. Olsen asserts that the construction of U.S. presidential rhetoric stems in large part from they articulations of Latin America.

In this essay, I make a simple assertion that aims to have far reaching consequences for rhetorical studies. The assertion is this: while it may be possible to study the rhetorical histories of the United States without attending to the figure of Latin America, it is entirely inadvisable. Omitting Latin America leaves us with a foreshortened perspective on the theory and practice of American rhetoric. Rhetoricians working in the United States ought not only look southward when we invoke American rhetorical history but also re-examine U.S. domestic rhetorics with an eye toward Latin America. From Manifest Destiny’s westward vision to Audre’s Lorde’s intersectional critiques, Lincoln’s Civil War politicking to Roosevelt’s Arsenal of Democracy, Latin America figures consistently in U.S. public argument yet is obscured, repeatedly elided in the midst of its own prevalence. This essay illuminates one example of that Latin American presence-in-absence, inviting further work to trace it across the whole of U.S. rhetorical practice.

She argues that presidents may not even have been conscious of how Latin America helped form their rhetoric.

This can perhaps be seen as a companion to Brian Loveman's No Higher Law, where he argues how important Latin America is as a training ground for U.S. policies elsewhere. U.S. practices of imperialism, invasion, counterinsurgency, etc. all were formed in large part in Latin America and then used elsewhere in the world as part of U.S. foreign policy.


Wednesday, October 07, 2015

U.S. Leverage With Cuba

I have an op-ed over at Latin America Goes Global on how President Obama's shift in Cuba policy has produced leverage for the first time in many years. This was an idea that had been simmering around for a long time, mostly because pro-embargoists kept claiming the U.S. had leverage when in fact I saw none. My argument is that we didn't before, but we've got at least a little bit now. So go check it out.


Tuesday, October 06, 2015

War in Post-Revolutionary Mexico

Check out Renata Keller's op-ed in Medium on the relevance of the Cold War for understanding Mexico now.

Today, Mexico is engulfed in a drug war, and the nation’s leaders and security services are still engaging in similar questionable activities. In both the Cold War and the Drug War, corruption and subterfuge have obscured the real nature of government activities and undermined public trust in the nation’s leaders. President Enrique Peña Nieto has been accused of corrupt dealings involving his wife and their opulent mansion, but he has so far escaped substantial investigation. The Mexican army has been exposed for committing extra-judicial executions, just as it did during the Cold War. Studentsjournalists, and other members of society are being murdered and disappeared. And just as it did in the past, the Mexico’s justice system is failing to solve these crimes. Given the Mexican government’s past record of atrocities during the Cold War, one has to wonder about official attempts to deflect blame for Mexico’s current problems.

Another potential hypothesis is simply that this characterizes post-revolutionary Mexico. For example, can we also compare the Drug War and Cold War to the Cristero War? There really is no past time when the justice system worked well and the government treated the opposition (whatever it might be at the time) peacefully.


Monday, October 05, 2015

Malvinas Marathon

The Marathon for the Malvinas. This was an actual thing, and not the first one. The Argentine government helped organize a marathon to inspire solidarity for getting the islands back from Great Britain. It's very high-minded. For example:

Los Argentinos corremos por la protección del medio ambiente y la biodiversidad frente al inminente riesgo de explotación remota e irresponsable de nuestros recursos naturales

Quick translation:

We Argentines run for the protection of the environment and biodiversity in the face of the imminent risk of remote and irresponsible exploitation of our natural resources.

A slightly more accurate version would include the fact that the Argentine government really wants to be the one to be leading that exploitation.

At any rate, the government's message is for "dialogue" and "peace," though it's unclear how to achieve those when the self-proclaimed Falkland Islanders are uninterested. As you might guess, the British tabloids were indignant.

Just yet another nineteenth century legacy that remains relevant. This is why I talk so much about history in my Latin American politics and U.S.-Latin American relations classes.


Thursday, October 01, 2015

Panama Looks For Cuban Tourists

We don't hear much about what Latin America thinks of U.S.-Cuban relations normalizing beyond just being relieved that such a ridiculous saga may actually end. Panama, though, is looking closely at it.

Restoring diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba will bring some new tourists and shoppers to Panama, though it won’t be enough to make up for the Brazilians and Colombians staying home, Varela said. He said Copa Airlines has cut flights to Brazil and now has seven daily flights to Havana. 
“How the U.S. handles this relationship is going to impact a lot,” Varela said. “We expect this new private sector that is emerging in Cuba to become an important customer for the free zone in Panama. We expect them to travel to our country.”

Panama is in a bind right now because currency slides in Brazil and Colombia have reduced the number of tourists going to Panama.

Fidel Castro famously would send people to shop in Panama and bring him stuff, but it seems premature to talk about a private sector in Cuba that produces a new middle class ready to travel anytime soon. But the basic point is that Latin American leaders are thinking about how they could potentially benefit.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Stephen Dando-Collins Tycoon's War

Stephen Dando-Collins' book Tycoon's War chronicles William Walker's infamous effort to become president of Nicaragua and to colonize the country in the mid-1850s. What a miserable affair: I mean that effort, not the book, which flows well. We see 19th men in all their vainglory and extreme prejudices. Walker wanted glory over "uncivilized" people, Cornelius Vanderbilt (who helped defeat him) wanted unfettered access for his transit company across Nicaragua, soldiers of fortune wanted violent adventure and spoils, the American public wanted accounts of how superior they were to Central Americans, while Central Americans themselves mostly wanted to be left alone.

There's not much good to be said of anyone in the book. The Central American (and I refer to the region because it united briefly to drive Walker out) leaders themselves stabbed each other in the back constantly. It's telling that the end of the book describes all the executions that took place, including Walker's. It seems most of the protagonists soon ended up against a wall. Meanwhile, the bulk of Walker's soldiers ended up joining the Confederacy. Indeed, Walker had ended the ban on slavery in Nicaragua precisely to gain southern support.

Page after page shows the lives lost, sometimes in horrific ways (such as burning) for no real purpose at all. Filbusters came with bloodlust, taking enormous risks and dying (often of disease) for nothing. There was no way Walker would maintain any sort of government long-term. Even though he was self-proclaimed president, he had no government, no policies, no popular support, and no knowledge of governing. He was emphatically uninterested in Nicaraguans themselves.

In the U.S. we've forgotten the sordid story entirely. In Nicaragua, September 14 is San Jacinto Day and a national holiday because it remembers a key Nicaraguan victory against Walker's forces in 1856. The assault on sovereignty Walker represented means nothing to us, which is unfortunate. And all too common.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Latin America Blog Links

Some Latin America-oriented blog shout outs:


Friday, September 25, 2015

Leopoldo López in the NYT

Leopoldo López published an op-ed in the New York Times. He talks about what Venezuelans must do, but the thrust of the article (given its audience) is the demand for pressure on the government to "lobby for democratic rights" and, perhaps even more crucially, allow election observers.

For the December elections, pressure must be applied on the government to allow electoral observers from the O.A.S. and the European Union, which has not occurred since 2006. Their independence and impartiality are needed now more than ever to ensure that our opportunity for change is not compromised.

Given the context, this is a reasonable request. There were real problems in 2013. Meanwhile, 31 ex-presidents of Latin America (and apparently also Spain for some reason) signed a document calling for international observers. The Venezuelan government has rejected having either the OAS or the EU.

But where will this pressure come from? U.S. pressure will be counterproductive so this needs to come from Latin America, where we're seeing no pressure of any kind.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Latin American Perception of Threat

Thanks to Orlando Pérez for pointing this out to me. The Pew Research Survey looked at what citizens of different countries currently see as threats. It includes a diverse group of Latin American countries, and they are not concerned about the same things as the United States.

Climate change is a big deal to Latin Americans whereas in the U.S. we have a big chunk of the ideological spectrum mocking it (and in fact one member of Congress is boycotting the Pope's speech to Congress today because he doesn't like the Pope emphasizing it). The U.S. is obsessed with Iran and Latin America is not.

Part of this is that Latin American countries do not have strong interests outside the hemisphere and are more focused on their own conditions, which are greatly affected by climate and economic stability. What this also means is that we see a lot of disjuncture between U.S. and Latin American priorities. This is not nearly as bad as it was during the Bush administration (where refusing to support the invasion of Iraq was a major bone of contention) but it's still there.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Labeling Daniel Scioli

A Bush administration official takes a look at the Argentine elections, and the result is illuminating. His goal is to pin an ideological label on Daniel Scioli but his failure to do so makes him frustrated to the point that he blames Scioli for not having a more black and white ideological bent.

Scioli has a hard time choosing who he wants to be and how he wants to be seen.

Wrong. Politicians aren't required to force themselves into boxes. Sometimes they do, but Latin American leaders have been bedeviling U.S. pundits for years. Ollanta Humala in Peru may well be the best case, where media coverage started at "leftist" (even by U.S. leftists!) and soon shifted to "market-friendly ally" (who rang the Wall Street bell).

So let's stop all the labeling. This was a Bush administration obsession and fortunately Obama has done so much less. As I argued earlier this year, Latin American leaders are far more pragmatic than U.S. admit:

The vast majority of what we consider the Latin American left operates under the assumption that policies should be geared to harnessing capitalism, not overthrowing it. As a result, most governments defy easy binary categorization.

This is true of Argentina, perhaps even more so because Peronism is traditionally so amorphous, always eluding easy left and right labels.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Recreating CICIG Outside Guatemala

Mike Allison writes about the role of CICIG (the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala).

CICIG's existence and continuation is jointly agreed upon by the Government of Guatemala and the United Nations. Almost all of CICIG's operations, maybe all of them, are paid for by the international community. In that sense, there's no real sovereignty issue. However, I can understand some frustration that people have with the UN and US pressuring Otto Perez Molina to extend its mandate after Perez Molina made it clear that he no longer wanted CICIG in the country.

A question I've been pondering is what conditions make a government likely to accept CICIG? It requires a president to request it and a legislature to approve it. As I understand it, Oscar Berger pushed for CICIG because of all the criticism about violence in Guatemala (though he too later questioned it). But are there structural conditions that we could potentially see in other countries that would be optimal for a CICIG copy? For example, when would we see a president push so hard, as Berger did?

It's not simple because it requires voluntary delegation of sovereignty. Even ratification in Guatemala was very much in question until three Salvadoran members of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) were murdered, which Berger used to emphasize the need for the legislature to approve CICIG.

CICIG has worked, which makes it scary, which makes it less likely elected officials will want to create one of their own. At what point does a combination of internal and external pressures make it happen?


Monday, September 21, 2015

U.S. Might Abstain on UN Cuba Vote

This is big news. Every year (last year was the 23rd) the United Nations has a vote condemning the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Usually it is ridiculously lopsided, with the U.S. and 2-3 other countries (one is always Israel) voting against it. Now the U.S. may abstain, thus acknowledging the criticisms as valid.

The article suggests this is a message to the UN that if the wording is changed (exactly how is unclear) then the U.S. will hop on board. Here is the basic wording (sorry about the formatting).

Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba The General Assembly, Determined to encourage strict compliance with the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, Reaffirming, among other principles, the sovereign equality of States, non-intervention and non-interference in their internal affairs and freedom of international trade and navigation, which are also enshrined in many international legal instruments, Recalling the statements of the Heads of State or Government at the Ibero-American Summits concerning the need to eliminate the unilateral application of economic and trade measures by one State against another that affect the free flow of international trade, Concerned about the continued promulgation and application by Member States of laws and regulations, such as that promulgated on 12 March 1996 known as “the Helms-Burton Act”, the extraterritorial effects of which affect the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of entities or persons under their jurisdiction and the freedom of trade and navigation, Taking note of declarations and resolutions of different intergovernmental forums, bodies and Governments that express the rejection by the international community and public opinion of the promulgation and application of measures of the kind referred to above, Recalling its resolutions 47/19 of 24 November 1992, 48/16 of 3 November 1993, 49/9 of 26 October 1994, 50/10 of 2 November 1995, 51/17 of 12 November 1996, 52/10 of 5 November 1997, 53/4 of 14 October 1998, 54/21 of 9 November 1999, 55/20 of 9 November 2000, 56/9 of 27 November 2001, 57/11 of 12 November 2002, 58/7 of 4 November 2003, 59/11 of 28 October 2004, 60/12 of 8 November 2005, 61/11 of 8 November 2006, 62/3 of 30 October 2007, 63/7 of A/68/L.6 2/2 13-51021 29 October 2008, 64/6 of 28 October 2009, 65/6 of 26 October 2010, 66/6 of 25 October 2011 and 67/4 of 13 November 2012, Concerned that, since the adoption of its resolutions 47/19, 48/16, 49/9, 50/10, 51/17, 52/10, 53/4, 54/21, 55/20, 56/9, 57/11, 58/7, 59/11, 60/12, 61/11, 62/3, 63/7, 64/6, 65/6, 66/6 and 67/4, further measures of that nature aimed at strengthening and extending the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba continue to be promulgated and applied, and concerned also about the adverse effects of such measures on the Cuban people and on Cuban nationals living in other countries, 
1. Takes note of the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 67/4;1 
2. Reiterates its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the preamble to the present resolution, in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation; 
3. Once again urges States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the necessary steps to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime; 
4. Requests the Secretary-General, in consultation with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations system, to prepare a report on the implementation of the present resolution in the light of the purposes and principles of the Charter and international law and to submit it to the General Assembly at its sixty-ninth session; 
5. Decides to include in the provisional agenda of its sixty-ninth session the item entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”. 

The officials suggest that the revision could be done with the Cubans, which perhaps suggests Cuba must accept something in there as well (on economic freedom or something?).

It is unheard of for a U.N. member state not to oppose resolutions critical of its own laws. 
And by not actively opposing the resolution, the administration would be effectively siding with the world body against Congress, which has refused to repeal the embargo despite calls from President Barack Obama to do so.

You got that right! States don't vote against themselves. There will be quite a howl from Congress and the right more generally. Obama is at the point where not only does he never need to face election again, but he figures there is a chunk of the country that hates him and essentially they can't hate him more so why not go for it?


Friday, September 18, 2015

The Pope and Cuba

There is a lot of attention on the Pope's visit to Cuba. Is this a watershed moment for Cuban dissidents? Is there too little pressure on the regime? What does this mean in the longer term for human rights in Cuba?

In large part, this reflects a need to have a narrative. The Pope's visit must cause something, or not cause something. Unfortunately this narrative means that everyone will be disappointed.

There is change going on in Cuba but it's very slow. There is really nothing the Pope could do to speed it up. He could be frank in his message (which we may well do) and that won't speed things up. He could meet with dissidents (which as I understand he won't) and it wouldn't speed things up, though that would provide at least a symbolic boost to the opposition. Therefore it's extremely unlikely that there will be a concrete result that people are hoping to see.

Meanwhile, the Pope is also expected to criticize the U.S. embargo. Naturally, that will not sit well with many in the United States, and so I expect to read plenty of complaints in that regard.

Likely outcome: the Pope has a message that is mostly religious rather than political. He talks about human rights but downplays direct criticism of the Cuban government. Overall, he has something to say that gets under the skin of just about everyone but not in a way that sparks rapid change.


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