Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mexican History in Wax

Like last year, I took my kids across the border today into Tijuana for a little excursion. As I wrote last year, Mexico needs tourists and if you're in San Diego, I strongly encourage you to go and even just spend a few hours in Tijuana. This is all especially true now as anti-immigrant and anti-Mexico sentiment is so high and alarming. It is easy to park and walk over. The primary challenge is waiting in line to return (we waited about an hour mid-afternoon). Even walking around with three kids, I felt as safe in Tijuana as in any large U.S. city.

We even checked out the wax museum, which is near the border. It's a blend of history and kitsch. You see ancient history, the revolutionary leaders, some current leaders and artists, but then also some of the stars of the early 1990s when the museum was opened. So there's Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes along with Catinflas. We chatted a little about Mexican history, and my 12 year old daughter actually recognized Vicente Fox (whose pointing finger is inexplicably broken!) because of his viral Trump videos.



Especially with kids, it's good to walk around and just talk about stereotypes of rapists and criminals, and about how tightly connected border cities are. You can literally look at how a global economy works.

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Saturday, July 08, 2017

Blogging Break

I haven't posted and likely won't for a while. My dad was hospitalized and I came to San Diego* to help. It was scary for a while but he is doing much better. I'll come back when I have the time and brainpower.

I don't know what condition Venezuela will be in by then.

* Where I grew up. I mean, how many Padres fans are out there who grew up somewhere else?

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Monday, July 03, 2017

LASA Resolution on Venezuela

There is a new LASA resolution up for a vote:

Whereas: we recognize that different political forces have contributed to the crisis in Venezuela, we are particularly concerned about the recent events and government decisions that undermine democracy in Venezuela; be it Resolved, that the Latin American Studies Association (LASA); 
  • firmly condemns the violation of human rights and the undermining of democracy in Venezuela;
  • urges the Venezuelan government to ensure free and impartial electoral processes, to cease the arrest of activists, to release political prisoners, to halt violence against peaceful protestors, and to respect human rights and civil liberties for all citizens;
  • invokes Venezuela to seek a peaceful resolution of this crisis, within the framework of international law and humanitarian norms.

Disclaimer: This resolution reflects the Executive Council’s belief that the membership of LASA should express their opinion on this issue. Nevertheless, it does not necessarily reflect the unanimous view of the Council. 

This comes a few weeks after the LASA Executive Council refused to issue any resolution, which I noted was an embarrassment. This one doesn't have any nonsense about "historicizing" the conflict or claiming the state and civil society are equally culpable. It is straightforward and clear, just like the Brazil resolution last year. No rambling, ideologically-laden screeds. The Venezuelan government needs to democratize.

I voted yes.

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Sunday, July 02, 2017

Evo Morales Tweetstorm on Chile

Evo Morales is tweeting denunciations of Chile, which is currently doing naval (submarine) exercises with the United States.


In just three tweets, he packs in paranoia, ideology, accusations of imperialism, and even a dose of anti-Semitism. It's pretty odd to think of Chile as a lapdog of the United States, frankly at any time in its entire history, but things always get clouded when a Bolivian president talks about Chile. The Israel reference is also weird and he first made it a week ago in a similarly offbeat reference.

Think about these tweets whenever an OAS discussion about Venezuela returns, because it also shows the grim determination of the Bolivian government to oppose anything the U.S. does.

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Podcast Episode 37: The U.S. Media and Venezuela

In Episode 37 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with Hannah Dreier, who just finished three years as Venezuela correspondent for The Associated Press. She is the recipient of the 2016 James Foley Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism for her coverage of the Venezuelan crisis. In July she’ll join ProPublica and cover immigration. In particular, we talked about the challenges of being a reporter in Venezuela, the difference between being a foreign and local reporter, and in general the nature of the coverage that Americans consume about Venezuela.

In the podcast, she mentions that this is the story that she "liked" (in the sense of how it conveyed something to reader as opposed to enjoying it) the most.



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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Quarantining Venezuela

The New York Times published an op-ed by Enrique Krauze, which calls for "quarantine."


And yet, in solidarity with the courageous Venezuelan people, Europe and the major countries of Latin America could support a quarantine — diplomatic, financial, commercial and political — of the outlaw regime of Mr. Maduro. They might persuade the first Latin American pope to take a stronger stand and together pressure Raúl Castro to accept a democratic solution: a halt to the repression, immediate elections, the re-establishment of civil liberties, respect for democratic institutions and the release of political prisoners.

Good lord, people. This is what we finally figured out didn't work with Cuba. Go ahead, punish the Venezuelan people with an embargo and see whether this magically makes the Maduro government and his military backers go away, or whether it simply deepens repression. Krauze argues the Trump administration should stay out of it, but I don't think that matters. Logic is logic.

And indeed, Krauze argued not long ago that the Obama administration had regained the moral high ground by rejecting quarantine with Cuba. The same logic should apply to other countries as well.

In re-establishing relations with Cuba, the United States renounces its “imperial destiny” and recovers much of the moral legitimacy needed to uphold the democratic values that led to its foundation (and also of the countries of Latin America). Obama’s action is meant for the good of all the Americas, including the United States. And freedom of expression in Cuba is an absolute necessity for its success. No people or country is an island unto itself. The Castro dynasty has kept Cuba as such for 56 years.

Yes, we should take his earlier advice, not his later.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Political Will in Colombia

Nazih Richani has a post at AULA Blog about the prospects for successfully implementing the peace accord in Colombia. Referring to forces trying to block it, he says:

These forces will persist and wield considerable power as long as Colombia is not willing or capable of addressing the countrys need for agrarian reforms and pursuing sustainable economic development based on a more equitable distribution of wealth and income.

I added the emphasis. By coincidence, I just participated yesterday in a State Department roundtable on Colombia and the peace agreement. We discussed all kinds of different issues, but I felt that one overarching point was the question of political will. This is something political scientists don't study much because it's so hard to measure.

In the Colombian case, it's pretty simple: will Colombian politicians--even Santos supporters--tackle the hard questions of land reform, getting the necessary resources to remote areas in both the short and long terms, and in general filling the vast amounts of blank spaces with a state presence? There was lots of shrugging on that question.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Self-Promotion in Academia

Dan Nexon had a long series of tweets about self-promotion, which generated a number of responses. They are all tied nearly here. His main point is that when you publish an article you need to make sure it gets as much attention as possible, which means going to social media consistently. It's not a one-shot deal.

The discussion veered around a bit about how times have changed and what young scholars should be doing now. And that's when I realized that there was no definition of goals. In other words, what's the point of all this? That question will be answered very differently by different people.

Goals include but are not limited to:

  • tenure and promoted to Associate Professor
  • promotion to Full Professor
  • publication
  • citations
  • external grants
  • salary increases
  • visibility in your field
  • visibility to the public
  • engagement with others on a topic you're passionate about
  • fulfilling college/university mission
  • media quotes
  • get invited to give talks
  • become policy relevant (in whatever way)

Some of these overlap, but some don't, and you do different things to achieve them. Self-promotion may or may not be part of that. Plus, some goals are critical to your life and some are not.

Change of vantage point will necessarily shift what choices you make. Take me, for example, and compare me to another white male full professor, even in my own department. Functionally we're the same. I use social media all the time--I love writing, the engagement, etc. The other professor does not, but loves his research and feels great about his work. This doesn't make either of us more or less "successful" in any sense. I won't be paid more because of social media presence, or cited more. If we're both enjoying our careers, then it doesn't matter much.

Or take an assistant professor. Their goal is tenure. Period. For some, social media serves as a way to connect to established scholars and engage with interested people they otherwise wouldn't have met. For others, social media is time consuming, worry-inducing, and draining. I'd tell the second person not to bother. Neither would necessarily be more likely to get tenure.

Of course, if the faculty member is a person of color, a woman, LGBTQ+, and/or any other under-represented minority, the calculation is far different because self-promotion is much more often taken as aggression of some sort and leads to more backlash. As a middle-aged, white, male, tenured full professor I am about as protected as you can get and so my choices are much wider open. Also check out Stephanie Carvin's series of tweets about the work/life balance challenge for women. I also have not addressed non-tenure track faculty, where you add in a whole host of other challenges.

I could go on and on with examples. Self-promotion is good for some, and maybe not for others. It fits some people and not others. I think this is like my many posts about academic writing. There is no single formula.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ex-Latin American Presidents Become Legislators

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced she is running for Senate, soon after creating a new party that may well split the Argentine left in the October elections.

Aside from the Argentine context, it's fascinating to see how it's common for former Latin American presidents to go into the legislature, even when they've been removed through means of dubious constitutionality.

It's not a natural choice. If you want to maintain political influence, then the legislature is a difficult place to do it. You are but vote, one voice amidst a cacophony. It's especially striking in a region with a strong presidential system. On the other hand, as an elected official you cannot be ignored the same way a former president with no official position might be. But does anyone think Alvaro Uribe really needs to a be a senator (which he is) to be influential? His senatorial position is secondary to his reputation.

Some of the answer may just be the personalization of parties. Kirchner created a new party, as did Uribe. Mel Zelaya joined a new party created precisely because of his ouster. If you're in a new party and it is focused on you, then it's harder to gain momentum if you are not deeply involved in the electoral process itself.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

U.S. Influence in the OAS is Low

Mark Weisbrot has a post at Venezuela Dialogue arguing that the OAS is serving as a U.S. puppet as it tries to overthrow the Venezuelan government. He has questions that he clearly believes prove his point if you answer them. One in particular caught my attention:

How about the fact that the US government, led by Donald Trump and his allies filled with hatred for Venezuela, has more control over OAS decision-making at this time that it has had in decades?

The problem with this question is that it comes right as the Trump administration lost an OAS vote for the IACHR and the candidate was highly qualified by any standard. Of course, the U.S. also recently failed on more than one occasion to get enough support for action against the Maduro government.

I would actually amend his question as well, because I don't think Donald Trump hates Venezuela. He doesn't care about Venezuela at all. He will take pictures with people that Marco Rubio shuffles into the Oval Office and periodically continue the Obama targeted sanction policy, but I haven't seen anything beyond that. He does not care enough about Venezuela to do any serious work at the OAS to push U.S. policy.

This is all irrespective of whether you think his specific actions toward Venezuela (mostly confined to continuation of Obama's targeted sanctions) are good or not. My point is that evidence suggests that U.S. influence over the OAS is lower than it's been in some time. I suppose you could argue that the U.S. is telling Luis Almagro what to do, but this is a guy with decades of foreign policy work in the Uruguayan government, including as ambassador to several countries. Claiming he has no agency and no independent thought seems a stretch.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Trump TweetAttacks Mexico

Donald Trump went after Mexico again in a tweet:


Putting Mexico in the same category as long-time war zones is exactly the kind of stereotype I actively try to counteract when teaching (I took my young children to Mexico last year--I would not take them to Syria). Trump's charge comes from a recent report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and it specifically mentions Syria, though it cites only a Mexican government homicide report without any context.

The Mexican government felt obliged to respond, which it did on its website and also tweeted. Sadly ironic about the response was that it a) said we should not finger-point; and b) finger-pointed by specifically mentioning other Latin American countries that had worse homicide rates than Mexico.

This sort of outburst will have the effect of worsening U.S.-Mexican relations, damaging U.S.-Latin American relations, reducing U.S. credibility, and decreasing U.S. influence in the region.

And you know what? President Trump does not care. At a time when he's being hit from all directions with scandal, this is a little shot in the arm to his base. At least it's just on Twitter. Many past U.S. presidents have invaded in large part to pump up nationalist sentiment within their base (No one will mourn Manuel Noriega's recent death, but he found out what happens when a U.S. president rides a nationalist wave against the "other" in Latin America).

As Donald Trump would say, sad.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Baseball and Politics in Venezuela

ESPN has a great story that brings politics and baseball together. Octavio Hernandez taught himself some sabermetric skills in Venezuela, where data wasn't really used at all to analyze baseball. He also marches against the government.

"A couple weeks ago I was on a march, a demonstration, breathing tear gas, because we have a political system that is crumbling the whole state," Hernandez says. "To think about baseball makes me a little guilty at night. 
"But what I remember is, no, baseball is not necessary to humanity, but we can add to the analysis of humankind, to humanity's way of thinking, with the way we analyze baseball. If we analyzed politics here the way we analyze baseball, we maybe wouldn't be like this right now. If we were more focused on facts we could be a greater society."
This might be a stretch--just look at all the data analysis in the U.S. and our political system is in terrible shape--but the basic argument is that politics should be based on facts rather than false assumptions. Hernandez sees data as a foundation:

"We're not an organized country," he says. "Data is a form of organization, of order, and we don't have that here. We don't keep records. In the U.S. you can know, 'Oh, my grandpa was from Scotland.' You have long records. We don't know where our grandfather is from. You guys always have, 'Oh, 70 percent of people eat bananas in the morning.' We don't have that. It's not that we don't find it 'cool.' It's not part of us.

Meanwhile, he has to stop working periodically because of power outages when it rains and he has no way of bringing players to Venezuela because they're understandably afraid.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Trump's Central America Policy

If you read through the "key deliverables" of last week's conference on Central America, what's striking is the continuity. The highlights:


  • Promote private sector growth and a favorable environment for investment
  • Combat organized crime and disrupt illegal networks
  • Improve citizen security
  • Promote information sharing
  • Support the Alliance for Prosperity
  • Acknowledge U.S. demand for illegal drugs


People have expressed concern that Trump would mark a return to a military-led policy. One problem with this argument is that under Obama the U.S. military already played a central role (indeed, at the end of the Obama's term John Kelly was head of Southern Command), and if you read Obama's statements on Central America, they are not all that different from Trump's.

The one important difference, to be sure, is the commitment of resources. Will the Trump administration put its money where its mouth is? The fact that foreign aid across the board is being slashed does not leave much optimism.

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On Academic Writing

Mike Munger was interviewed in the Chronicle of Higher Education about academic writing, and there's a lot to like. I say that as someone who dislikes most of the advice I see about writing. The worst advice focuses on rules, which I hate. Someone even once said you needed to set aside a certain time and even ignore your own bladder until by God that time had passed. The vast majority of writing rules take what should be a creative process and turns it into drudgery. Sometimes creation involve drudgery but we shouldn't heap more on.

In Mike's interview, the key points for me are that you should never let perfection get in the way of submission--send that manuscript out and forget about it for a while. You should also write as you research, not wait until the end. Let your ideas develop, even knowing you'll have to cut stuff later. Finally, and perhaps more important, "reward yourself with affirmation." Sending an article out for review is an accomplishment, so reward yourself. When it's published, reward yourself again. Shoot, if you tell yourself you'll write 500 words today and you do, then reward yourself.

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

NoDa Brew Dash 6K Fail

I ran the NoDa Brewing Company Brew Dash 6K trail race at the Whitewater Center here in Charlotte this morning. I haven't run very many trail races so it's a nice change of pace and the race itself was fun.

It was, however, the Sadly Sober 6K because there was no beer. NoDa is a great brewery but this was 100% false advertising and they should change the name. At many races you get Michelob Ultra, which people apparently buy. I drink it when it's free and I've just finished running. I was looking forward to finishing a race and actually drinking good beer. Instead, there were small Dixie cups of tepid water. If you wanted to wait until 1 pm there was a festival, but when you finish a race before 10 am, waiting three hours in your car or sitting at a picnic table is not terribly appealing.

On the plus side, quite a few strangers were prompted to chat with each other based on their mutual frustration with a beerless beer race.

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