Friday, February 12, 2016

China's Role in Latin America

It's almost as if Americans need to feel some sort of threat in Latin America. Losing the Soviet Union left a void. Iran is a popular choice, of course, but so is China. So we have this from a CNN Money reporter:

China and Latin America fit well together despite their recent economic turmoil. China needs raw materials like iron, oil, soy and all types of food. Latin America has lots of that. 
China also uses its investment in Latin America as a source of jobs for Chinese workers. Many of the infrastructure projects in Latin America that China finances come with a caveat: Chinese workers get the job.
But then you also have this, from Evan Ellis:

China’s relationship with the region is arguably now entering a new phase, marked by diminished expectations and greater pragmatism on both sides. The deceleration of China’s GDP growth to 6.8%, and perhaps less, has contributed to falling international commodity prices, imposing costs felt particularly by those states which have most benefited from exporting petroleum, mining and agriculture products to China. Weakening industrial demand in China may lead its petroleum and mining companies to postpone programmed investments in Latin America, the Caribbean and elsewhere, where the terms of their concessions allow them to do so. 
Falling revenues from exports to China, fewer Chinese petroleum and mining investments, and greater competition from Chinese product exporters and construction companies will increase the degree to which China is seen as a competitor, more than a source of opportunity, in Latin America and the Caribbean.

So we have two very different appraisals of the same phenomenon. On the one hand, you have voracious China trying to elbow the U.S. out and provide employment for Chinese workers. On the other, you have a pragmatic relationship that has hit significant snags of various types.

The first argument inevitably includes discussion of how the U.S. is losing influence, and readers of this blog know that I disagree with that. But alarmist arguments are sexier and get more hits.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Left and the Venezuelan Crisis

On Twitter Patrick Iber pointed out this op-ed about Venezuela by Anthropologist Claudio Lomnitz, which includes a call for the left to reflect on its enthusiasm for Chavismo.

El segundo pendiente, menos urgente, pero aun así relevante, es la necesidad de una reflexión crítica del caso desde la izquierda internacional, que apoyó con tanto entusiasmo a Hugo Chávez, un caudillo al que se le atribuyeron propiedades taumatúrgicas y hasta divinas, pero cuya magia dependió al final de los altísimos precios de petróleo que lo beneficiaron, y de la quiebra moral del sistema de partidos políticos que precedió su ascenso al poder. 

In many ways, though, death has deflected a lot of criticism from Chávez. Lomnitz specifically says that we can't lay blame entirely at the feet of Nicolás Maduro, but anecdotally that's often what I read. The devout can always claim that Chávez would've handled it better. Maduro himself actually reinforces that by continuing to lionize Chávez desperately, blaming "economic war" instead. It's not oil prices, it's hoarding.

The other response is to argue that perhaps Chávez, but especially Maduro, failed to take the country in a firm socialist direction when they should've. In other words, you don't even talk about oil prices but rather the need to cut capitalism off entirely. Both that and the hoarding argument require avoiding the oil question entirely.


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Zika: A Political Demography Conspiracy

A new conspiracy theory coming from Venezuela is that the Zika virus was created to hurt the Global South. And it includes political demography:

En el Sur desde 2010 y hasta 2040 se estará desarrollando el fenómeno social del Bono Demográfico. Es decir, en un crecimiento constante, la población en edad de trabajar y teóricamente saludable, se hará mayor que la pasiva (infantil y tercera edad), adquiriendo el Sur un potencial productivo superior al resto del mundo.

The basic thrust is that the Zika virus is fake and is just a plot to get Latin Americans to have fewer children. That would prevent the region from achieving its "demographic bonus."

I won't bother with the absurdity of the basic charge. I give them credit for at least thinking about political demography, but the logic is problematic. Having a lot of young people is often not correlated with "superior production." In Mexico, for example, it helped prompt emigration. In less developed economies, there is a problem of having too many young people and too few jobs.

In a paper we presented at last year's SECOLAS meeting and are still working on, my dad and I argue that Venezuela's very young population has put a terrible strain on the government's socialist project. It's very hard to redistribute resources to a growing population base.

We've also been writing an op-ed about the potential long-term demographic repercussions of a demographic dent, whereby government warnings prompt shifts that would be felt years later. This isn't about a "bonus" or production, though, and would not necessarily be disastrous if handled well.


Saturday, February 06, 2016

LGBTQ Rights in Latin America

A student (and political science major) from last semester's Latin American Politics class, Mackenzie Hardin, has an op-ed on LGBTQ rights in Latin America Goes Global's student section. It's a very cool part of the site that gives students some voice. I had all my students write an op-ed, and chose a couple that I thought were really worth submitting for consideration.

Equality always comes at a high price. But discrimination reaps a higher cost, like the 250 humans killed in Brazil for no reason other than their sexual orientation or sexuality. Those shocking, raw numbers obscure the daily personal and economic suffering of many others and their family members. The past advances have helped to grant basic rights of marriage, health care, and a security to many in the LGBTQ community of Latin America, but not all. Though long overdue, freedom and equality is on the march, legally, socially and economically… but it will be a long march indeed.

Check it out!


Friday, February 05, 2016

U.S. Security Policy in Latin America

Brian Fonseca and Alex Crowther have an op-ed in Latin America Goes Global on U.S. security policy in Latin America. It argues to shift policy focus away from the narrowly defined issues such as drugs and move instead toward the security of the individual. As they note, people are not feeling more secure in much of Latin America.

It is also time for the U.S. and its partners to formally revisit and update the 2003 Declaration on Security in the Americas. Some progress has been made in the implementation of the Declaration, but according to the Department of State, there are still several member countries lagging behind in implementation. A brief survey of recent activities associated with the Organization of American States (OAS) Committee on Hemispheric Security illustrates a declining operational tempo over the last five years or so. Still, much of the Declaration’s initial charter remains incredibly relevant to the broader human security agenda, and emerging concerns over cyber threats and climate change, for example, warrant a revisit of the converging security challenges facing the region. Convening members states and the appropriate authorities to re-affirm and update the Declaration will serve to re-legitimate hemispheric commitment to the topic and jumpstart cooperation around the issue.

Not a bad idea. I also like the idea of making sure we keep issues like climate change more squarely in our sights in terms of security. That alone can threaten more people than the higher profile problems.


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Sean Penn Killed Hugo Chávez!

Well, no, but that's what conspiracy theories look like in Venezuela. Via Hugo Pérez Hernáiz:

Yesterday journalist Miguel Salazar, author of the popular column Las Verdades de Miguel, proposed a theory which rapidly became viral in social media: Salazar is suspicious of the motives actor Sean Penn and model Naomi Campbell might have had for their contacts with president Chávez. 

Salazar suggests there is a need to look into “the ease with which potential ‘infiltrators’ (infiltrados) could get close to Chávez.” He has no evidence that Penn or Campbell could have poisoned Chavez, but reminds his readers that the actor recently made headlines by “handing over” Mexican drug capo El Chapo to the authorities. Whereas the Campbell becomes a suspect for Salazar because “she is not known to have had any other political public appearances different form her meeting with Chávez in 2007.” Salazar finishes his note with a comparison between Campbell and the WWI famous spy Mata Hari.

This also reminded me of how the electoral losses in Venezuela especially but also Argentina have thrown the left off. There is a lot of finger-pointing going on. Now Sean Penn, who has framed himself as the champion of the Latin American left and is an ardent critic of U.S. policy, is also in the cross-hairs. As soon as we learned for sure that Chávez had cancer, people were blaming the CIA for killing him (not to mention possibly somehow giving Lula and others cancer) which is almost a mainstay of conspiracy theories. Blaming someone who is trying--however badly--to be on your side is new.


Monday, February 01, 2016

Conservative Recommendations to Congress

Ana Quintana at the Heritage Foundation has an op-ed essentially telling Congress to stop being reasonable and bring back a security obsession. Therefore Congress should sabotage Cuba negotiations and also tell Juan Manuel Santos that he needs to change his negotiating strategy. Further, since mano dura policies have worked so well to reduce human rights abuses in Central America, we need to double down on them and get rid of all the social stuff. Oddly enough, the Venezuela recommendations were only to consult more with the OAS, not acknowledging that the Obama administration has already been slapping down sanctions.

This is an extreme view but you see bits of this sort of thing in the U.S. presidential campaign. Given how poorly security-first policies have fared in achieving U.S. policy goals (e.g. regime change in Cuba, reduced narcotics flow, reduced human rights abuses, etc.) it is discouraging to see their persistence.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Kerry On Colombia

John Kerry published on op-ed on the Miami Herald about U.S.-Colombian relations in anticipation of Juan Manuel Santos' visit. The main thrust was that the Obama administration would be unveiling a successor to Plan Colombia.

In my opinion, the many terrible warts of Plan Colombia are already being erased in a positive PR blitz. Maybe I'll write that post some other time. But let me say a few things I like Kerry's article:

1. He mentions the 6+ million displaced. Owning up to that reality is important (though I would argue Plan Colombia sometimes exacerbated it) and it annoys me when "rah-rah" accounts of Colombia pretend it doesn't exist.

2. He publicly mentions the fact that the Colombian government bears responsibility for how innocent people got trapped in the middle, sometimes targeted their own authorities.

3. The United States appears to be ready to have a post-conflict plan, rather than just claiming victory and leaving, which is a hallmark of U.S. policy around the world. That was the Bush Sr./Clinton strategy with Central America. We "won" the Cold War and now we'll just have free trade, which would solve all problems.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

10 Year Blog Anniversary

As of today this blog is ten years old. A decade, and 3,978 posts. When I started on January 30, 2006 I was in my first year as a tenured associate professor and thinking about what kinds of new things to do. Blogging was one such idea. It grew naturally out of reading news and blogs to use as current events discussion in class. Over time I became dissatisfied with only reading and not writing.

Scattered thoughts:

I've written a number of posts on the benefits of blogging so I won't spend much more space on that. Suffice it to say that blogging satisfies a creative urge, has sparked research ideas, helps me disseminate research, supplements my teaching, leads me to meet a lot of interesting people, connects me to the public and the media, and is a really fun hobby. There is no downside.

Steven Taylor used to have a blog (PoliBlog, which seems gone from the interwebs) and as I remember it his subtitle was "a rough draft of my thoughts." I like that idea, and it is exactly how I see my own blog. (And he is one of many people I've met--first online and then in person--only because I was blogging).

Two Weeks Notice: the name doesn't really mean anything. Every so often I've had people ask me about that, I guess expecting a profound answer related to losing your job. The honest answer is that I had been thinking of starting a blog and was focused solely on how to set it up. Once I got it all set, I suddenly realized I didn't have a name. On the spot, I decided to do a play on my last name, and since I wanted to get started I didn't spend much time coming up with it. A year or two later I added "A Latin American Politics Blog" to make it clearer when people were searching.

I've been largely unsuccessful at getting colleagues to blog. Fewer people in general than I thought would start actually did, and I know a lot of people who started and stopped. (One exception is my dad!). I've talked to lots of people who see it as a chore, too hard, too time consuming or just don't understand it. Even as blogging became more widespread, that didn't change. In political science, the Monkey Cage blog has become a great way for scholars to write a single-shot post, but even that is hard for a lot of people. This is an unusual writing form, I guess, and you either take to it or don't.

The most popular post of all time is this one on the images of Che Guevara. It's deceiving, though, because I had used some pictures I found online, and gradually realized people were searching for the images. This bothered me because of course these images belong to other people, so I removed them. That has greatly slowed traffic to that one post, so it's not the real most popular one.

The real most popular post of all time is this 2012 post on Otto Pérez Molina talking about drug legalization. I don't see it as particularly remarkable, so I think it is just so happened that it got mentioned by some more prominent blogger or someone who was heavily followed on Twitter. There is never any way to predict when/why these things happen.

Twitter has been great for blogging. My comments come mostly from there, and my posts get more attention than they would otherwise. I've also routinely linked to tweets, both my own and others', in my blog posts. I feel like it's symbiotic.

I've been on Blogger this entire time, and have not yet seen any reason to change. I've read so many accounts of people getting hacked, going down, getting errors, etc. and I've never had a single problem, and have never paid a dime. That seems worth it to me.

I intend to keep doing this as long as it remains fun, and when it's no longer fun I will stop. For the past ten years I've had a great time.


Friday, January 29, 2016

U.S. Policy Leverage in Latin America

I've been thinking about leverage and write a piece for Latin America Goes Global about it. The basic idea is that if you jump straight to draconian reactions, you make it even harder to achieve your policy goals. You need some creativity.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Unaccompanied Minors Infographic

The Washington Post has an infographic about what happens to unaccompanied child migrants as they come to the United States. It makes it all sound...placid and easy. You take this train, happens to be called La Bestia, and it winds through Mexico. Then there is a series of people who will help you, and you'll be checked up on.

You'll fly in a plane!

It's all good.


Pettiness and U.S.-Latin American Relations

Chris Sabatini has an op-ed in the Miami Herald about how petty vengeance in Congress is getting in the way of U.S. policy toward Latin America.

Raising policy criticisms is a legitimate function of the Senate, but hobbling broader and more weighty U.S foreign policy interests to those narrow policy squabbles — especially with small countries — not only makes us look small-minded and non-strategic, but also undermines our national interests. Superpowers and those who aspire to lead them shouldn’t behave that way, on either side of the aisle.

Read more here:

Hard to argue with that. One point to make is that we can add election-year posturing. Rubio believes such a stance will pick up some votes--which he really needs these days--as he portrays himself as a security hawk. In general, during a presidential campaign foreign policy gets reduced to laughably simplistic bullet points, not much more than "I am tough and I will act tough with tough countries."


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Stopping Pregnancies in South America

Yesterday I wrote about the Salvadoran government telling women not to get pregnant for two years because of the Zika virus. I hadn't known that Colombia and Ecuador had done the same, as did Brazil. I'm still trying to get my head around the long-term implications, assuming the calls are actually heeded (which is open to question). If so, then at a minimum you'll end up with demographic "dents" (for lack of a better word) which will be felt later when the size of the working-age population is smaller.

But this scary stuff:

Nearly 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported in Brazil since October, compared with fewer than 150 cases in the country in all of 2014.

Incidentally, the role of mosquitoes in Latin America would be a great topic for research. Their effect on the development of the Panama Canal is legendary, and in general fighting them has been a highly political activity. This current Zika virus crisis shows how pervasive (and political) they continue to be.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

El Salvador Wants to Stop All Pregnancies

This is astounding.

When in human history has an epidemic become so alarming that a nation feels compelled to urge its people not to have children for two years?
 Grappling with a mosquito-borne virus linked to brain damage in infants, El Salvador is doing just that, advising all women in the country not to get pregnant until 2018 — the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass that, to many here, only illustrates their government’s desperation.

They quote several experts as saying they've never heard of such a thing. The article doesn't even mention that the demographic effects would be significant. Messing with reproduction will have unintended consequences.

But also:

Others are more conspiracy-minded. Veronica Velásquez suggested that the government’s recommendation to avoid having children was really an effort to stem population growth. Already, El Salvador is so densely populated that leaders might want to thin the ranks, Ms. Velásquez argued.

As conspiracy theories go, this is not so unreasonable, and actually popped into my head as I started reading the article. Regardless, this is a huge decision for a government to make.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Holding Off Shock Therapy In Argentina

The Latin American left is lambasting Mauricio Macri for being too conservative, but this Bloomberg article shows how he's holding the crazy free marketers at bay:

“I would fast-forward the whole damned lot and do it all in six to nine months - go for shock therapy,” said Tim Love, investment director for emerging-market equities at Gam UK Ltd. which manages $130 billion in assets. “They’re missing an opportunity and running a bigger risk.”

Thank you, Mr. I Don't Have to Learn From History Because I Don't Give a Crap About Actual Argentine People. Crazy free marketers already had a go at Argentina and it didn't work out terribly well.


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