Monday, May 02, 2016

Maduro's Call For Rebellion

Venezuelans are gathering signatures to push for a recall referendum against Nicolás Maduro. In response, Maduro said that if a recall happened, people should rebel and launch a general strike.

Just stop and think about that for a moment.

Chavistas have controlled the state for 17 years, which of course includes all electoral institutions. The opposition can't cheat--there is no way for them to do so. Therefore he is basically saying that opposition may be so overwhelming that his own officials will not be able to stem the tidal wave. In other words, if a recall effort is that incredibly strong, then apparently you should rebel against the obvious strength of democratic processes.


Friday, April 29, 2016

In-State Tuition For Undocumented Students

A student from last semester's Latin American Politics class got an op-ed from that class published at Latin America Goes Global on in-state tuition for undocumented students. It's provocative and I think it's pretty cool. She is in fact undocumented so the stakes for her are high.

Those who are opposed to DACA (and immigration generally) argue that giving DACA students in-state tuition takes jobs away from native-born children and citizens.  This is a competitive country and a competitive market and the U.S. has survived and thrived because it is a meritocracy.

So go check it out. She believes in the American Dream.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Donald Trump Lies Constantly About Immigration

In the past, say, 10 years, on the topic of immigration I've given countless talks, written articles, wrote a book, participated on panels, gone on radio, gone on TV, you name it. Sometimes it feels repetitive. Am I saying something substantively different from 10 years ago? And then I read about Donald Trump and feel like it's necessary to keep talking, even if I'm just repeating myself. From The Los Angeles Times:

 On the campaign trail, Donald Trump consistently portrays illegal immigration as a mounting crisis warranting drastic measures. 
"Just look at the record number of people right now that are pouring across the borders of this country," Trump said to reporters Tuesday night at a party celebrating his victory in five more Republican primary states. 
But Trump's claims of record levels of illegal immigration don't match the facts. 
Multiple studies show rates of illegal immigration are declining. 
And federal statistics show the lowest number of border apprehensions in years.

This isn't about interpretation, or unrealistic policy ideas. It's about lying. Just lying. And when a major presidential candidate repeats a lie over and over, you know many people will believe it. The repetition alone helps that. The lie leads encourages bigotry, bad policy, and fear. So the rest of us also have to keep repeating the facts, in public.


Selling Arkansas Rice to Cuba

John Boozman is a conservative Republican U.S.Senator from Arkansas. He also wants to end the Cuba embargo and wrote an op-ed about it.

The Obama administration has made excellent progress on the path to restoring trade with our Cuban neighbors, but we are now at the point where any further progress is dependent on leaders in Congress. We are lucky to have strong representation in Arkansas, from Gov. Asa Hutchinson to Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Rick Crawford, each of whom has come out in support of expanded trade opportunities for businesses and industries like mine. However, we need additional champions in Congress to continue this momentum to normalize trade so that Cuba can once again become a major U.S. trading partner. 

I find it really interesting that he a) consciously praises President Obama; and b) does not mention human rights or anything about Cuban politics at all. It is a purely capitalist argument, whereby Arkansan farmers are being disadvantaged and as their representative he wants to correct that. Period.

This isn't new in and of itself. Republican governors have led trade delegations to Cuba for years. But Obama's policy shift has made the bipartisan possibility even more apparent. The political sands that serve as the foundation of the Cuba embargo are shifting.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Reginald Hill's An Advancement of Learning

As a break from the craziness of the end of the semester, I read Reginald Hill's An Advancement of Learning, a Dalziel and Pascoe mystery published in 1971. It takes place in a small college in Yorkshire. It's well plotted narrative, but more interesting as an historical piece, for two reasons.

First, 40+ years ago people were already complaining about the corporatization of higher education. As one character says, "Governments started thinking industrially about education, that is in terms of plant efficiency, productivity, quotas, etc." (p. 31). Some things never change. Plus, professors complain about how lazy students can be.

Second, the sexism is pervasive. The core of the story is about a Biology professor who was accused of having an affair with an undergraduate. Multiple people repeated that they did not care about the affair itself. That's just what happens. The problem is that the professor flunked the student, and there was a hearing to determine if--you know, just possibly--that he was biased. They were sure, of course, that he would be impartial because nice men who have sex with undergraduates are trustworthy.


Corruption in Paraguay

The other day I met Allison Braden, a recent college graduate who is interested in Latin America. She just published a piece in War is Boring about corruption in Paraguay. Not surprisingly, it is not an uplifting story.


Venezuela's Got No Electricity or Money

Nicolás Maduro announced that Venezuelan public sector workers will only work on Mondays and Tuesdays. The headline in the national news agency was that public services would be "guaranteed" on the other three days, but it's not clear what or how, especially if there is no electricity. The government is also considering fiddling around more with the time of day, which Hugo Chávez famously did back in 2007.

Meanwhile, inflation is increasing so rapidly that the government cannot print money quickly enough to make up for it.

Last month, De La Rue, the world’s largest currency maker, sent a letter to the central bank complaining that it was owed $71 million and would inform its shareholders if the money were not forthcoming. The letter was leaked to a Venezuelan news website and confirmed by Bloomberg News. 
“It’s an unprecedented case in history that a country with such high inflation cannot get new bills,” said Jose Guerra, an opposition law maker and former director of economic research at the central bank. Late last year, the central bank ordered more than 10 billion bank notes, surpassing the 7.6 billion the U.S. Federal Reserve requested this year for an economy many times the size of Venezuela’s. 

The IMF forecasts inflation in 2016 to exceed 700%. It's an economy held together with duct tape.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bad Analysis of Latin America

Commentary on Latin America has often been bad. Over the past decade I've written all kinds of posts refuting bad arguments. However, I feel like we're in a particular time of badness, based on the electoral defeats of leftist governments and the corruption scandals hitting governments of all political stripes. Note, however, that these stem from all ideological vantage points.
There are more, even way more, but that's enough for one day.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Rousseff Asks UNASUR and Mercosur for Help

Dilma Rousseff wants both Mercosur and UNASUR to keep an eye on the impeachment proceedings, basically to determine if her possible removal should be considered a violation of their democracy clauses. This is based on her argument that this is a coup. I've written before that I agree with those who do not see this as a coup, but there is precedent for suspension based on fishy impeachment.

Paraguay was suspended in 2012 because of Fernando Lugo's removal from office (which, if you remember, allowed Venezuela to finally enter the organization). But once there was a new election, everything went back to "normal." UNASUR made it clear it did not want Paraguay suspended for very long.

There is an extremely strong non-intervention streak in Latin America, and even governments friendly to Rousseff don't want to stick their necks out too far, if for no other reason than to resist having the same spotlight placed on themselves.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Political and Economic Disaster of Venezuela

David Smilde looks at the political and economic disaster of Venezuela. He echoes a common sentiment, which is that even after winning elections the opposition simply cannot get its act together. There is no unified voice, coordination, vision, plan, etc., which means limited ability to mobilize supporters in an effective way. As a result, the economy is falling apart yet the opposition is on its heels.

The opposition seems to be counting on the economic and electricity emergencies leading to a crisis of governance that will bring the Maduro government down. However, Chavismo still has considerable institutional strength and seems intent on making change look impossible by styming opposition initiatives. It is not unlikely that they will try to further reduce the National Assembly’s power in the coming months. 
But the real losers from this stalemate are the Venezuelan people who now more than ever need politicians that represent their interests. When asked, 90% of Venezuelans think the relationship between the opposition and the Maduro government will continue to be one of conflict. But incredibly, when asked what kind of relationship they would like to see, 85% each of: government supporters, government opponents and independents, suggested they would like to see cooperation to resolve Venezuela’s problems. This suggests that what we are seeing more than anything else in Venezuela is a crisis of representation, as two sides struggle for power, instead of collaborating to resolve the problems affecting average citizens. 

The average Venezuelan is losing, and that's the real tragedy.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Brazilian Crisis Isn't A Coup

At The Monkey Cage, Amy Erica Smith asks whether the crisis in Brazil is a coup. The answer is no.

What happened Sunday is analogous to jurors ruling against a defendant based not on the charges, but because they think she is a bad person. This does not constitute a coup, but it is a misuse of democratic procedures.

Concepts and definitions matter. "Terrorist" gets thrown around a lot, as does "genocide," "communist," and "dictator." What often happens is that we take pejorative terms and apply them to people or situations we don't like. By doing so we devalue valid cases and end up with a poorer understanding of what's actually going on and what likely consequences are. Brazil experienced a coup in 1964. What's happening now bears no resemblance to that.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Patricio Aylwin Has Died

Former Chilean President Patricio Aylwin has died. He was 97. He was a major political figure in 20th century Chilean politics. As a leader of the Christian Democratic Party, he played an important role in opposing Salvador Allende's policies, and shed no tears when he was overthrown. However, he came to regret that attitude after seeing, as so many of course did, that the military solution was far worse. As a news article wrote at the time of Aylwin taking office:

A day after the armed forces and police toppled Allende's Communist-backed government after three years of strikes, inflation and conflict, the Christian Democrats said that Allende had brought the coup on himself. They added that "the armed forces didn't seek this, but rather acted out of patriotism, with a sense of responsibility in the face of the historic destiny of Chile." 
That embittered Allende's Socialists and others in Allende's ruling Popular Unity coalition. Aylwin would later acknowledge that while the majority of Chileans agreed at the time, "in a variety of our evaluations, we were mistaken."

He quickly became highly critical of the dictatorship and was elected president in 1989, taking office in 1990. I did my dissertation research (which became this book) in the mid-late 1990s, and although I never interviewed him I talked to many of his associates as well as military officers. With Augusto Pinochet hovering around, he faced difficult trade-offs between stability and military accountability. The Rettig Commission, which investigated deaths but didn't name names, is an example of that trade-off. The 1990s was a time of complicated civil-military incrementalism.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Who is Getting US Security Aid in Central America?

Sarah Kinosian and Adam Isacson at WOLA have a great article on the composition of U.S. aid to Central America. The get down to specific initiatives and organizations that are receiving money, such as Salvadoran Army Intelligence, about which we know almost nothing.

This increase comes as the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are ramping up drug interdiction and border security efforts, and deploying security forces—often trained in military combat tactics—onto the streets to respond to high murder and crime rates. These heavy-handed policies have generated serious concerns and allegations of excessive use-of-force and extrajudicial executions. They raise questions about whether the United States has truly broken with its history of supporting unaccountable security forces in Central America, and whether these strategies can really keep populations safe or prevent drugs from reaching U.S. streets.

Adam has been doing this sort of work for many years, and so when he writes that it's unclear who is receiving money, it's because the information just isn't there. That sort of lack of transparency obviously does not create confidence.

But what they also get at is efficacy. There is a lot of doubt about whether the money is achieving what it is intended to achieve. The problem with massive aid packages is that they funnel large sums to money to lots of different groups, without enough attention to what's working. So you may well end up with a policy that potentially damages democracy without even achieving its stated goals.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Arguing Venezuela

The Washington Post published an editorial yesterday calling for undefined "political intervention" in Venezuela. The WaPo periodically publishes poorly-argued editorials on Latin America, which are basically Cold War conservative.

What I found more interesting was a response in Slate, which adopted a kitchen sink response about why intervention was not necessary, going back to the Guatemalan coup of 1954. I don't understand these responses, which are similar to meandering LASA resolutions. Back in 2013 I wrote about one such resolution, concluding:

I dislike lumping tons of unrelated things together. Get one issue alone and drive it home. Even if this is approved, it is a jumbled mess, with parts of it perhaps written a very long time ago.

I felt the exact same way reading this article. You actually convince fewer people when you jump all around, from Venezuela to presidential approval ratings (why are these relevant?) to the Middle East to Honduras back to Venezuela to Cold War Latin America to Noam Chomsky.

Effectively refuting the WaPo is not hard, and should not include references to anything except the many ways in which "political intervention" (and since the WaPo didn't define it you would have to do that first) will backfire. Otherwise we're just in a loop of people saying lots of non sequiturs to each other.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Calling Honduras A Coup

Boz has a post criticizing Hillary Clinton on the 2009 Honduran coup, and how in fact she says it was not a coup, though at the time President Obama openly did. I also recently read a post by Marie Berry (at Political Violence @ A Glance) about the real implications of naming something "genocide" or not. Naming is a major issue in Latin America for coups. But who is doing the naming, how is the naming being done, and what are the differing impacts of different ways of naming?

For years I've been grappling with this naming of coups. As I wrote several years ago with regard to Egypt, I used to talk about it in my Intro to Comparative Politics course, asserting that it mattered. In large part because of the Honduras case, I am no longer convinced. Oddly enough, the Obama administration seemed to believe it mattered because it danced around the issue for quite a while. Then Obama himself said it was a coup, and not much changed as a result.

But a key here is that the Obama administration did not make a formal ruling that it was a coup. As Hillary Clinton remarks:

If the United States government declares a coup, you immediately have to shut off all aid including humanitarian aid, the Agency for International Development aid, the support that we were providing at that time for a lot of very poor people, and that triggers a legal necessity. There's no way to get around it. So our assessment was, we will just make the situation worse by punishing the Honduran people if we declare a coup and we immediately have to stop all aid for the people, but we should slow walk and try to stop anything that the government could take advantage of without calling it a coup.

Here is Hillary Clinton right after Obama said in June 2009 that there was an illegal coup in Honduras:

Despite Obama's comments, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was not formally designating the ouster as a military coup for now, a step that would force a cut-off of most U.S. aid to Honduras.
Under U.S. law, no aid -- other than for the promotion of democracy -- may be provided to a country whose elected head of government has been toppled in a military coup."We do think that this has evolved into a coup," Clinton told reporters, adding the administration was withholding that determination for now. 
Asked if the United States was currently considering cutting off aid, Clinton shook her head no.

So it's not about just naming, it's about how you name. The president himself said it was a coup, but that's not legally saying it was a coup. Not long ago, he made a statement that Venezuela was a national security threat. That was a formal declaration that triggered sanctions. In Honduras that did not happen.


Venezuela Unhappy With US Desire For Cheap Oil

Nicolás Maduro says that the U.S. is applying pressure to avoid a deal by oil producers to "stabilize prices," by which he means to "make oil prices go up really high again by consolidating a monopoly."

"These are almost war-like pressure on governments, on heads of state," he said, adding that U.S. policy makers have a "fatal obsession" with Russia, OPEC and Venezuela's leftist government.

Actually, no, this has nothing to do with obsession about Venezuela or Russia. If anything, the U.S. would be happy if Venezuela did not completely collapse. However, the Obama administration is obsessed with spurring domestic economic growth through low oil prices. And in an election year, it works much better for the Democratic Party if oil prices do not go up right before a hugely important presidential election. Plus, from a foreign policy perspective the Obama administration is quite happy if low oil prices damage leaders like Putin, Maduro, Correa, etc.

All this boils down to, then, is national self-interest. Except for certain sectors in the United States, like oil boom towns and the workers who flocked to them, low oil prices are 100% positive for the Obama administration. So we should be surprised if it did nothing to maintain that situation.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hezbollah in Latin America Stuff

I've been writing for many years about the steady stream of exaggerated threat scenarios about Middle Eastern terrorists in Latin America (for a decade they've always been on the verge of an attack). In that vein, I saw that my own member of Congress traveled to Latin America to investigate the issue. I was pleased with the response:

“Hezbollah is active in Latin America.  We are concerned other terrorist organizations will follow.  After more than two dozen meetings with elected leaders, top government officials, and U.S. State Department personnel based in the region, I am encouraged the threat has been recognized and our friends are ready to join America in partnerships to intercept terrorism financing,” said Congressman Pittenger.  
“While our partners in South America are in full solidarity and cooperation with our efforts, they lack the technical capabilities and training to be fully effective.  We must work with them through our government agencies and the private sector to enhance support systems to identify and cut off the flow of money used to finance acts of evil.”

Latin America's response to the claims about terrorist threats have consistently been measured and rational. It is more "This is certainly something to keep watch on" rather than "There is a threat that might destroy us at any minute." Also, the focus on financing is good because, despite being an obvious problem, it keeps the threat response more firmly in the hands of civilians. Training for the identification of money laundering is so much better than training Latin American militaries to fight terrorists. I hope the focus stays this way.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Fujimori Ceiling in Peru

The latest results in Peru have Keiko Fujimori at 39.4%, Pedro Pablo Kuczynksi at 24%, and Veronika Mendoza at 16.7%. Turnout was 84%. The runoff is on June 5. The big question is locating what you might call the "Fujimori ceiling." In other words, what is the maximum that Fujimori can expect to gain in a second round?

What gets less attention is the fact that Kenji Fujimori, Keiko's brother, who may well become the next President of the Congress because Fujimoristas will likely have a majority. It looks like he received the highest number of votes of any member of Congress, and the second highest since Keiko won in 2006. The Fujimori ceiling could be pretty high.

Where will the left go? This is now a firmly conservative race. Voters who chose Mendoza will therefore have an unpalatable choice, and so their choice depends on how much they hate the Fujimori name. Otherwise they may be sorely tempted to spoil their ballot in protest. 15% of all presidential ballots were either blank or null, and almost 30% in congressional ballots. On Friday I wrote about the "I Hate You All" votes. The 15% was just about exactly the margin of victory between Fujimori and Kuczynksi. Given the choice between two conservative candidates, will they just spoil their ballot again? We'll have to see how strong the anyone-but-Fujimori vote is.


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