Friday, May 31, 2013

Oppa Maduro Style

Here is a shift from Hugo Chávez to Nicolás Maduro, and not one that benefits the latter. He is going off on Juan Manuel Santos for meeting with Henrique Capriles. Now, being annoyed is understandable, but Chávez understood that keeping Santos on his side was important. In particular, he understood that Santos was moving away from Alvaro Uribe and so in many ways was more friendly with Chávez. Maduro seems not to care.
"Aquí hay bolivarianos, no se les olvide que somos hijos de Bolívar, de Chávez. No se metan con nosotros. Respeten para que se les respete", agregó el Jefe de Estado venezolano en una jornada del gobierno de calle desde el estado Carabobo. 
El 10 de agosto de 2010 en Santa Marta, Colombia, el presidente Hugo Chávez sostuvo una reunión con su homólogo colombiano, Juan Manuel Santos, donde se establecieron unas reglas, que hasta ayer se habían sido respetadas por ambas partes, relató Maduro, quien precisó que una de ellas había sido la no intromisión de los gobiernos en los asuntos internos de ambas naciones. "Una regla de juego básico para la convivencia y respeto".

I suppose he thinks he can get some short-term domestic boost just as Capriles is talking about the illegitimacy of the audit. He repeats Chávez's name over and over. But Santos is an important ally precisely because he is not a leftist. If Maduro is smart then he has already called Santos and told him to forget all the bluster that he put on for public consumption. If.

I tend to think that Santos met with Capriles as a way to blunt domestic criticism that he was too close to Chávez and is too willing to negotiate with the FARC. Plus, he can try to be friendly to both the Venezuelan government and opposition. As far as I know, he has made no recent statement about the situation, but in April he had congratulated Maduro on the win.

Maduro will be making a huge mistake if he lumps Santos and Uribe together, and from his statement he seems to come very close to doing so.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

More Bad Op-Eds

Op-eds these days on U.S.-Latin American relations are worse than they've ever been. the "U.S. is losing influence" theme, but there is also the "U.S. needs to do more" thing. Andres Oppenheimer has been all over this, but it's not restricted to him.

If you read, though, you discover that "doing more" boils down basically to "get some more trade ties." There is rarely anything of more substance than that, and this at a time when trade ties are very strong.

Instead, we get words like "active," "promote," and "improve," without any evidence about. Or the shudder-inducing phrase "grand plan."

If you want to write such an op-ed, be specific. And if you cannot come up with anything beyond platitudes, hit delete. Ditto if you cannot conjure up evidence for claims.

As I've written many times before, the default argument ought to be that "grand plans" don't tend to be good for Latin America, and so we should applaud a hands-off U.S. policy.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Financial Analysts and Latin America

This Bloomberg story helps sum up one difference between financial analysts and academics: the former seem surprised when historic trends don't go away.

Latin America is disappointing investors, economists and businesses with slower-than-forecast growth as waning commodity prices and strong currencies hit nations that failed to diversify and become more competitive.

The fact that Latin American economies are heavily dependent on commodities and have too little diversity is discussed, often in great detail, in every Latin American politics class in the country, and has been for many decades. It has been analyzed to death in too many books to count. It is essentially the starting point for any discussion of Latin American political economy.

So why are people surprised or disappointed?

I assume the people interviewed in the piece are paid very large sums of money to do their jobs. I would like to offer up my services--at a modest sum--to help you never be disappointed again by the strangely utopian views of Latin American economic growth that seem to pop up on a regular basis. A crash course in Latin American economic growth would help all these people tremendously.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Welcome Back, Communists

Michelle Bachelet has moved herself into a stronger position for the November 2013 presidential election by getting the endorsement of the Communist Party. This is some good old fashioned horse trading.

Since the end of the military dictatorship 23 years ago, the Communist Party has refused to be part of the Concertación, choosing a more militant but politically peripheral position. Interestingly, it had been more moderate than the Socialists during the Salvador Allende years, but the latter played an instrumental role in negotiating the transition whereas the Communists rejected it.

In recent years, the party has been central in the school protests. On Twitter J.F. String questioned whether endorsing Bachelet was--as I had suggested--a way to avoid being politically irrelevant. But you could argue that this is striking while the iron is hot. Generating protests is one thing, but getting the policy result you want is another. Doing this now gives the party more leverage to get legislative slots. Indeed:

In return for the Communist backing Bachelet is letting famed student activist Camila Vallejo run for Congress without a challenge from her centre-left bloc. Vallejo, who has expressed caution about backing Bachelet, is part of a push to expand Communist strength in Congress from three to 10 seats.

This matters in the binomial system, as the hope is that Vallejo can get all the Concertación votes rather than have them split. In addition, as John Carey and Peter Siavelis have argued, the Concertación provides appointed posts (if it wins the presidency, of course) to legislative losers. Thus, the Communist Party becomes a player in Bachelet's camp.

The right is already trying to capitalize, immediately mentioning Hugo Chávez (who remains the boogeyman of the day even in death). Will this endorsement make Bachelet voters stay home? That's difficult to imagine given her popularity. Plus, this is 2013, not 1973. Instead, this might give her the sort of margin she needs, especially in runoffs, which have been very tight: the Communist Party accounts for about 5% of the vote.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ernesto Mallo's Needle in a Haystack

Ernesto Mallo's Needle in a Haystack is a wonderful, terrible, tragic book. It is a police procedural--not to be confused with a mystery--and so we know who committed the crime and why, but not how the investigation will go.

The setting for the novel is Dirty War Argentina. Lascano is a police superintendent who becomes involved in a case where a body is dumped along with two others. The two were "subversives" killed by the army, but the third was planted there to make it seem like all three were together. Lascano quickly realizes they weren't, and investigates. This eventually gets him noticed by the army (particularly one Major Giribaldi, who has just adopted a stolen baby). Meanwhile, he is getting involved with a woman who is wanted by the government for her supposedly subversive activities.

It is a depiction of the corruption and impunity of the era. Ford Falcons are everywhere, with authorities doing absolutely anything they want to anyone they want. Lascano wants to follow clues and find out who killed whom--he is almost rigidly apolitical--but the politics of the situation make it very difficult.

Next time I teach Latin American Politics, I am going to give a lot of thought to using it. In a very engaging way, it lays out the fear and loathing of Latin American dictatorships during the Cold War. Right now I use Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden to evoke that period and its aftermath.

Republicans Immigrant Dilemma

This Ann Coulter column comes soon after I blogged about a Latino Republican abandoning the party. The internal conflict in the party is intense.

Her column is full of typical false assertions and racism, with the basic point that she wants more English migrants instead of Mexican because Mexican migrants breed lazy children who go on welfare and become Democrats. That's not new for her.

What's more interesting is the conclusion, which is widely shared in the Republican Party:

The nation’s plutocrats are lined up with the Democratic Party in a short-term bid to get themselves cheap labor (subsidized by the rest of us), which will give the Democratic Party a permanent majority. If Rubio’s amnesty goes through, the Republican Party is finished.

What this suggests is that defeating immigration reform is the only way to save the Republican Party. Yet the opposite is true. The demographic ship has sailed irrespective of immigration policy. It's like my dad and I argued in our book--you cannot expect policy to control demographic realities. The country looks a certain way now. Perhaps you do not like it, but you cannot wish it away. Either you adapt or die.

And this is the crux of the party's dilemma. Part of the party says we need to adapt and attract new members. Another party of the party says we need to stay as white as possible. Both sides say their way is the only one that will save the party. So who will win in the end?

Also, I must admit I missed the memo where "small farmers" were equated with "plutocrats."

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cuba Outside Cuba

Really good story in the Miami Herald about initial impressions Cuban dissidents had of Cuban American in Miami. It confirms what common sense should have told us decades ago--opening up is good for U.S. policy goals and detrimental to Cuba's.

The reason is that a lack of contact made it easy for Fidel Castro to paint Miami as a cesspool of criminals who hated Cubans who remained on the island. Once people actually have the chance to meet and talk with each other, it is harder to maintain an official line.

The embargo, of course, creates high barriers for contact, which ultimately undermines official policy goals. Let people talk to each other, see how the other lives, and let them decide what they prefer.

The article highlights how much demography matters for this as well. Fidel Castro's view was much more accurate in the past. Now there are so many more young Cuban Americans who do not view the situation so much through an ideological lens.

People and places evolve, yet our policy does not.

U.S. Influence in Latin America

We need a moratorium on op-eds proclaiming the end of U.S. influence in Latin America. They're usually terrible. Here is one of the most poorly argued I've read in a while.

The U.S. has lost influence because:

1. It is not shoveling aid at a pace frantic enough to foster dependency.

2. Latin American governments conduct independent foreign policy (he is especially miffed that Mexico dictated some terms of the U.S. role in fighting drugs in that country; the nerve!).

That's pretty much it. Maybe, in fact, it's not poorly argued at all. In fact, it is argued quite clearly. The lesson, though, is to celebrate what the author is lamenting. And indeed this is the underlying message in so many of these op-eds. What they dislike is independence.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Latin American Presidents & Twitter

El Universal reports that Henrique Capriles has more Twitter followers (3.3 million) than any Latin American president, and three times more than Nicolás Maduro (1.1 million). Cristina Kirchner is the most followed president (2 million).

What the article doesn't mention is that Hugo Chávez has 4.2 million followers and Venezuelan leaders routinely add his @chavezcandanga to their tweets (though, thankfully, they do not claim that he tweets from the beyond).

There are a number of potentially interesting questions to raise about social media in this context. At a glance, it would appear that Maduro's failure to get all the chavista votes mirrors the fact that many Chávez followers haven't bothered adding him. This despite the fact that Maduro tweets far more than Chávez ever did. And why is it that Capriles is so much higher?

But all this also should make us ask why some presidents do not bother at all. Mauricio Funes set up an account in 2010 and then let it die. Meanwhile, I can't find one at all for Evo Morales, except for various fake ones. Same with Daniel Ortega. Why does they obviously view it as useless while others do not? In part it could be how poor a country is, which corresponds to the number of people you can even reach, but Chávez had a huge poor constituency (same with Rafael Correa).

And we should also ask why some presidents get no followers. Otto Pérez Molina is quite controversial, reasonably well-known, and tweets frequently, but has a grand total of 82,488 followers. He has fewer than Laura Chinchilla. Size of population is one factor, but somehow we would also need to measure how well known they are beyond their country.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Learning Portuguese

Vincent Bevins links to video statements by John Kerry and Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio Patriotra. His English is incredible.

So here's the problem. The U.S. government talks all the time about how important Brazil is. Huge economy, tons of potential. But almost nobody speaks Portuguese.

Closer to home, we have a problem--one I have heard echoed elsewhere--convincing the university that Portuguese matters. In part I suppose because it doesn't come up in immigration discussions. But people, we need our students to learn Portuguese! This would open up all kinds of opportunities for them, but we struggle to offer more than the bare basics.

At a time when Humanities is getting a bum rap, we should also emphasize the economic development benefits of foreign languages. It's not just reading books, but it is learning a culture you can navigate in a way that others cannot.

And to my students, go find a language to double major in.