Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Venezuelan Government is Stronger Than Ever

Your best guess right now is that the Venezuelan government is in a stronger position than ever. The Trump administration can impose sanctions, Luis Almagro can complain (and, incidentally, even the Venezuelan opposition is telling him to shut up), and the opposition can get protests going, but the regime won. And it won bigly.

The opposition is entirely in tatters, splintered and angry at itself. Some of the losing candidates talk of how the leadership paid no attention to local electoral realities. Running a relentlessly negative anti-Maduro campaign appeared not to resonate with Venezuelans, who wanted more from gubernatorial candidates. There is no opposition leadership. María Corina Machado talks of creating a new "Soy Venezuela" as if a new slogan will do the trick.

The opposition can protest, but everyone knows you can't keep that up forever and they have had no impact up to this point. It could use violence but that is a losing proposition both in PR and practical terms. There is every reason to believe the army and police are firmly behind the government. Fighting when you've just lost an election won't be a winning strategy. You could engage in dialogue but the government will run you in circles because it knows you don't have a firm constituency behind you. You've got no leverage anywhere. Mostly what you can do now is work on a clear, positive, coherent message that goes beyond insulting Maduro and convinces Venezuelans that you're not a bunch of out of touch elites who just want back in power.

With that, you look to the 2018 presidential election. You don't really have any other choice.

Read more...

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Cuba and Israel

For the first time, a group of Israeli business leaders is making an official trip to Cuba to talk trade, with the approval (but not endorsement) of the Israeli government. I find this fascinating because not only are there no diplomatic ties between the two countries (Fidel Castro cut them) but the Castro regime has been blistering in its condemnation of Israel and glowing in its relations with Palestinians. Apparently President Obama's thaw inspired Israeli business leaders to push for their own.

It is worth nothing that last year at the annual United Nations vote against the Cuba embargo, Israel switched its traditional "no" vote to an abstain, as did the United States. That vote will be coming up again on November 1, and although I expect the U.S. to go back to "no," it may well be that Israel will not.

This also serves as a stark reminder about how President Trump's foreign policy is often out of step with just about everyone. Even Israel, which he was careful to cultivate, is moving away from the Cold War mentality on Cuba.

Read more...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Venezuela's Contentious Elections

Venezuela held gubernatorial elections yesterday. As you might guess, there is plenty of controversy. Here is a good summary from Caracas Chronicles. Some thoughts:

First, the results showed an overwhelming number of wins for the government, which sharply contradicted pre-election polls. Such polls should always be viewed with caution, of course, but all things being equal the results should be regarded with suspicion because a) the election was originally postponed precisely because the government was concerned at how bad it would lose; and b) the country is in tatters and the government is not popular.

Second, new governors will be required to declare allegiance to the Constituent Assembly, which is essentially both legislature and constitution at the same time. I have to wonder how that's going to go because the assembly itself was created to circumvent the opposition-led legitimate legislature.

Third, there was debate in the opposition about whether to vote, but ultimately many people decided it was their right and they should exercise it. Make the government crack down, make it commit fraud, and the international community would respond. Nicaragua, Cuba, and Bolivia all jumped to congratulate the government. TeleSur tries to claim that Honduras did as well, but it's a letter from Mel Zelaya. The smaller OAS states with long ties to Hugo Chávz won't likely budge, so in Latin America it's hard to see this fostering much change.

Read more...

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Losing Jobs to Mexico

Tremendous long-form article in the New York Times profiling a woman in her 40s in Indianapolis who loses her manufacturing job to Mexico. Not metaphorically, but literally--she and her co-workers are asked to train Mexicans. There's a lot here.

--She obviously loved Trump's message about jobs (he mentioned her factory in a tweet) but her support for him was skin deep and she did not bother voting. Clearly existing parties offer her nothing--she felt Democrats talked too much about safety nets instead of jobs. She was nervous when she heard Trump was considering ending the health care program that took care of her disabled granddaughter.

--She is gracious about the training, which is just a barbaric practice. The young Mexican man she trains seems genuinely not to know he is taking her job and that she was losing hers. He seemed stricken when he found out. The human element here is strong. She is not the stereotype of the racist working class and indeed even wants to travel to Mexico. A underlying message here is that workers have a lot in common. No, the article is not Marxist, but it's hard to miss the message about owners and workers.

--The reporter is subtle but blasts the modern business model that reward CEOs with millions as they fire people. It is entirely in the interest of executives to screw people. And they do.

--The broken families and domestic violence are clearly a drag, as they contribute to instability, to lack of education and therefore to fewer opportunities. But health care is front and center--bills eat her up quickly.

--In our consumer society, self-worth is derived from the product you produce and the consumer goods you consume.

--there is still a ray of hope at the end, which is her daughter getting a college scholarship. Higher education gets all kinds of criticism these days but it's still the best way to get and keep a job.

Read more...

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Inflation in Venezuela

The IMF's World Economic Outlook has projections on inflation. See page 252 of the statistical abstract for the specific numbers. For the region as a whole, the 2018 projection is 3.6%, which shows how much inflation has been tamed and how high a priority governments give it regardless of their ideology.


And then, of course, there is Venezuela, which for 2018 may be looking at 2,530%, which is a catastrophe and about double the projected final amount for 2017. In the past, hyperinflation was a scourge in numerous countries, so it's particularly striking to see how badly it hits only one country. And that's why the government stopped releasing inflation data almost two years ago.

Read more...

Mohsin Hamid's Exit West

Mohsin Hamid's Exit West is an intriguing and unusual novel. The two main characters, Nadia and Saeed, are two young people who live in an unnamed but certainly Middle Eastern country. They come together and when militants take over their city, they flee through one of the many magic doors popping up around the world, which take you somewhere else.

Migrants are doing this globally, which sets the stage for exploration of migrant experience, displacement, nativism, development of new nationalisms, and even personal relationships. If borders disappeared, what would happen?

It's beautifully written, a pleasure to read really. There is no plot per se--people are fleeing and trying to find new meaning in new places, but there is no narrative arc and definitely no effort to explain more broadly what new international responses there are and what the outcome is. That would be interesting to contemplate but it's not his point. Instead, he tries to sort out what happens to these two people.

Read more...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Latin Americans Feel Corruption is Worse

Transparency International just released a report on corruption in Latin America. The upshot is that people are reporting more instances of it. The report is based on surveys conducted in conjunction with Latinobarómetro.

62% thought corruption had worsened in the past 12 months. The worst by far (87%) is Venezuela, which should not surprise anyone. But the second worst (80%) is Chile. Even stranger, the best results came largely from Central America (Nicaragua is low!). One bright spot is that Guatemalans feel (or at least felt until the recent crisis) more positive about corruption being combated. It's just another reminder how important transnational efforts like CICIG are.

The worst offenders are police and politicians.



There is a lot of interesting (though sometimes sickening) nuance about where bribes are paid. That varies a lot. The fact that health care is a major area for bribes is particularly egregious. Health care is expensive and difficult enough even without paying bribes to access it.

The conclusions are the same as ever. Latin America needs better institutions. More transparent and impartial judicial system. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Read more...

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Price of DACA

The Trump administration announced what it wants in return for not shutting down DACA.

Before agreeing to provide legal status for 800,000 young immigrants brought here illegally as children, Mr. Trump will insist on the construction of a wall across the southern border, the hiring of 10,000 immigration agents, tougher laws for those seeking asylum and denial of federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” officials said.
 The White House is also demanding the use of the E-Verify program by companies to keep illegal immigrants from getting jobs, an end to people bringing their extended family into the United States, and a hardening of the border against thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America. Such a move would shut down loopholes that encourage parents from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to send their children illegally into the United States, where many of them melt into American communities and become undocumented immigrants.
...
The president’s demands include new rules that say children are not considered “unaccompanied” at the border if they have a parent or guardian in the United States. They also propose treating children from Central America the same way they do children from Mexico, who can be repatriated more quickly, with fewer rights to hearings.
 Mr. Trump is also calling for a surge in resources to pay for 370 additional immigration judges, 1,000 government lawyers and more detention space so that children arriving at the border can be held, processed and quickly returned if they do not qualify to stay longer. 


So if this is meant to be a serious proposal rather than a way to claim Democrats are axing DACA by refusing to negotiate, it's a matter of what Democrats can swallow. Obviously, this is a hardliner wish list. Both from ethical and PR perspectives, trading one group of young people for another doesn't seem too likely. I will also be curious if any Republicans balk at what will be a high price tag--I don't know if anything cares about deficit spending anymore.

Trump is also a moving target so it's unclear what his bottom line might be. He had his dinner with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi on immigration and has mentioned how he feels compassion for DACA recipients, which made his base howl. So he has lurched back the other direction.

So we'll see what happens. The default prediction on passing immigration bills is failure, but in the past there hasn't been the looming deadline for so many people.

Read more...

Saturday, October 07, 2017

U.S. Influence in Honduras

As we all know, in 2009 the U.S. government did not want Manuel Zelaya to return to the presidency after he was overthrown, so effectively stalled until regularly scheduled presidential elections took place later in the year. Porfirio Lobo won those elections. His victory was spun as a boost both to democracy and to fighting corruption. We know the opposite to be true.

Now the New York Times has a long and disgustingly fascinating story about the U.S. government's efforts to combat narcotrafficking in Honduras, which boomed after the 2009 chaos the U.S. helped engender. A major drug lord is now helping and it reaches to the former president.


The evidence, a prosecutor said at a hearing on Sept. 5, showed nothing short of “state-sponsored drug trafficking.”
 Investigators have also gathered evidence that Honduras’s former president, Porfirio Lobo, took bribes to protect traffickers, and that drug money may have helped finance the rise of the country’s current president, Juan Orlando Hernández.


Lobo's son was just sentenced to 24 years in U.S. federal prison on cocaine charges as well.

Back to 2009. The country was in turmoil, activists being killed, democracy crumbling, and in the midst of this the drug traffickers go talk to Porfirio Lobo to seek protection in exchange for large amounts of cash. Even as Lobo talked anti-corruption, he happily took the money.

Concerned about the possibility of extradition to the United States, Mr. Rivera said they paid more than $400,000 in bribes to President Porfirio Lobo, before and after his November 2009 election. At President Lobo’s home in early 2010, Mr. Rivera received the assurance he wanted.

Eventually because of the pressure from the U.S. Treasury Department, the drug lord and his brother portrayed in the article decide to talk. The irony here is palpable. The U.S. has both helped encourage and then fight corruption. This points to the trouble with using the term "U.S. government." Investigators do their job on behalf of the U.S. government but don't have anything to do with policy making. Meanwhile, policy makers may well find it convenient to ignore evidence if it suits them. So we feed all sides of the monster.

Read more...

Friday, October 06, 2017

US-Cuba Relations Get Weirder

About a month ago I wrote about how weird the sonic attack issue was with Cuba. It has become weirder and not in a good way. Examples:


It seems more an excuse for Trump to lash out at Cuba and look tough more than anything else. 

I am stuck with two thoughts. If the Cuban government is not responsible, I don't see how something this important could occur with it knowing who is. On the other hand, the government has nothing to gain and a lot to lose by making such attacks.

Read more...

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Sebastian Bitar's U.S. Military Bases, Quasi-Bases, and Domestic Politics in Latin America

I read Sebatian E. Bitar's US Military Bases, Quasi-Bases, and Domestic Politics in Latin America (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). It's a good read.

The core argument is that Latin American domestic politics is the key variable for understanding why the United States has pursued more quasi-bases that are secret and not well known. In a democratic era in Latin America, domestic opposition can use electoral or institutional means to block the approval of formal bases. If the government is willing, then the U.S. can pursue more informal "quasi-bases" (use of airports or local bases, etc.). This provides less oversight but it's also suboptimal for the U.S. because a change of government can change the entire arrangement whenever it wants. With formal bases newly elected governments must wait until an agreement ends (like in Ecuador).

I don't agree with the idea that George W. Bush neglected Latin America and that Barack Obama's administration was marked by "excessive neglect" (p. 32) but that doesn't detract from the empirical argument. In fact, he points out that Latin American countries were more autonomous than the past but still welcomed military bases. They were rejected (as in the case of Colombia) only after domestic outcry.

In short, democratization gave opposition groups institutional veto power. He pays particular attention to the judiciary, parties, and civil society. Although he looks at the universe of cases, he has chapters on failed agreements in Ecuador and Colombia.

Read more...

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Venezuela Still Hearts Syria

Iran claims Venezuela is working with it and Syria to build a new oil refinery in...Syria. That will unshackle Venezuela from the economic war and allow revolutionaries to work together. Or some such, I imagine.

There is really nothing to do but chuckle. Venezuela lacks the resources to embark on such a venture. But more importantly, it should be rather obvious to everyone that Syria is in the midst of a brutal civil war, which makes any investment doomed. The article does a nice job of showing that the announcement is intended primarily as a public statement that Venezuela is not isolated and has allies in other parts of the world. This thing is not going to be built and it is unlikely that the Venezuelan government believes it will be either.

Read more...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Trump's Response to Puerto Rico

Back in 1998, Lars Schoultz published Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America. The core argument is that policy making has been based on the belief in Latin American inferiority. That should inform how we understand Donald Trump's response to Puerto Rico. It is their fault.




This comes on the heels of his tweets about how Puerto Rico is a disaster to begin with and needs to pay the banks.



In short, Puerto Rican leaders and weak and incompetent. Only the mighty U.S. government can save these poor people, who are incapable of doing it themselves. And, of course, they will need to pay for our beneficence. They also need to be grateful. Even better if they show public gratitude to Donald J. Trump. If not, he'll go on Twitter to show his displeasure.

Read more...

Friday, September 29, 2017

Cuban Doctors Fight Back

From the NYT: Cuban doctors are suing in Brazilian courts to allow them to work independently instead of just having the Cuban government take it all. Two things come to mind:

First, renting Cuban doctors without compensating them is reprehensible. This quote from the Brazilian health minister--in a conservative government!--is reprehensible:

“There is no injustice,” said Brazil’s health minister, Ricardo Barros. “When they signed up they agreed to the terms.”

You mean the Cuban government agreed to the terms and took the cash.

Second, diplomatic normalization under the Obama administration helped encourage this development.

The legal challenges are all the more important because the doctors have lost a common backup plan: going to the United States. The American government, which has long tried to undermine Cuba’s leaders, established a program in 2006 to welcome Cuban doctors, with the aim of exacerbating the island’s brain drain.

Attacking in the courts and publicizing this practice is an unforeseen outcome of normalization.

Read more...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Umberto Eco's Travels in Hyperreality

Umberto Eco's Travels in Hyperreality was an impulsive used bookstore purchase. It consists of only loosely connected essays. The hyperreality one is good--he traveled around the United States to examine how we construct different realities. Sometimes they are copies of European originals and sometimes, like Disneyland and Disney World, we construct fake worlds that are intended to be artificial but actually better than reality. And he can be pretty funny.

Some of it veers into the impenetrable: "But this sport squared (which involves speculation and barter, selling and enforced consumption) generates a sports cubed, the discussion of sport as something seen" (p. 162). I still am not sure what he's getting at there. And he kept using the word "bricolage." Yet he can be funny even with the dated (the essays span from the late 1960s to the 1980s) stuff, like a discussion of jeans (which for him appeared to be a relatively new thing). He had heightened awareness of how they fit: "A garment that squeezes the testicles makes a man think differently" (p. 193). Indeed.

Read more...

El Salvador in 2016

Mike Allison has an article in the recent issue of Revista de Ciencia Política (from Chile) summing up the challenges El Salvador faced in 2016 (the issue has that theme for the region with case studies). The Salvadoran case is not what you'd call positive:


El Salvador continues to struggle with elevated levels of criminal violence perpetrated by street gangs, drug trafficking organizations, members of the security forces, and other criminal groups. The Attorney General’s Office and courts have taken some positive steps towards tackling impunity for current and civil war-era crimes. However, a history of corruption and favoritism within those institutions continues to undermine citizens’ faith in the legitimacy of their actions. Finally, El Salvador confronts a challenging road ahead characterized by uncertainty over the implications of an overturned amnesty law, low rates of economic growth, and a new U.S. president in the White House. 

Corruption, violence, strict abortion laws, stubborn poverty rates, slow economic growth, indifference and unpredictability from the Trump administration you name it. Go take a look but don't expect to feel good afterward.

Read more...

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP