1. Panama will host the Summit of the Americas in 2015. It should be a big and important event for hemispheric cooperation. The most important thing we can do is work to set a positive and pro-active agenda for that event.

    From the perspective of United States foreign policy, I want the US president to attend and to engage with the rest of the hemisphere. That means discussions of economic development, poverty reduction, trade, innovation, education, energy, climate change, citizen security, democracy and human rights. I also want President Obama to listen to the agendas of other national leaders and have a conversation about where our priorities meet.

    The Summit provides space for dialogue among the various countries on the sidelines of the event. Even if the entire hemisphere doesn’t agree on a specific issues, those attending can hold bilateral and multilateral meetings to push programs forward and make progress on issues where presidential leadership can make a difference.

    For the US, the Summit is an excellent opportunity to talk with Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and other major hemispheric leaders in a multilateral setting about regional issues rather than bilateral ones. The Panama Summit, like the past two, is also one of the few times that the US president will sit down in a multilateral forum with the leaders of the Caribbean or Central America and hear the concerns of those smaller countries in a multilateral setting where their combined voices carry more weight.

    For all those reasons, the US president should attend the Summit and be an active participant in its events. The Summit of the Americas is a rare opportunity for the US to engage at a high level across the region that shouldn’t be passed up. The outcomes don’t have to be perfect for it to be worth our time.

    Unfortunately, if you’ve read anything about the 2015 Summit, you’ve only read about one issue: Cuba. Will Cuba attend and under what conditions, if any? There are those who favor engagement with Cuba who think this Summit should be an opportunity to fix the US’s broken policy. Those who favor the isolation of Cuba think the US should boycott the event if Raul Castro is in the room. There are even those trying to find a middle path on the issue.

    To anyone who thinks this Summit is or should be about US-Cuba relations, my message to you is that you are wrong.

    The Summit of the Americas is supposed to tackle the biggest and most challenging issues this hemisphere faces. The question of whether the aging leader of a little island dictatorship attends this meeting is ridiculously minimal compared to the other challenges in this region and should not overwhelm and undermine everything else we as a hemisphere do. I care about human rights and democracy in every country, but I refuse to let the debate about human rights in a country with a population smaller than Mexico City derail the important issues that the almost one billion people in this hemisphere must face.

    The US president should not decide to attend or not attend the Summit based on the presence of any single other country. The US president should attend the Summit because the leaders of 33 other countries in the hemisphere will be in the room and this is the best opportunity we have for a regional dialogue. When journalists or pundits or politicians ask about whether the US president will attend, the US government should say President Obama will attend and point at that long list of topics that we need to address as a hemisphere that go beyond our bilateral relations with any single country.

    The Obama administration wants to promote a hemisphere that is secure, middle-class and democratic. That means we need to maintain focus on the big tough challenges including trade, security, poverty reduction and climate change without getting sidetracked by other less-important bilateral disputes. Showing up to the biggest meetings this hemisphere holds is a necessary step to getting any of that agenda accomplished and our attendance shouldn’t even be up for debate.
  2. The US subsidizes cotton farmers. During the 2000's, payments to the domestic cotton industry averaged about $3.5 billion (billion with a b) per year.

    Other nations that produce cotton including Brazil don't think it's fair. US subsidies violate numerous trade rules and undermine economic development in other countries. Brazil took the case to several international courts including the WTO, which ruled in favor of Brazil. Why? Because the US is wrong on the cotton subsidy issue. There really is no other way to put it.

    While Brazil could have placed $800 million in retaliatory tariffs on the US, they instead accepted a temporary agreement for $147 million per year to the Brazilian cotton industry as compensation. Here is a useful CRS background from 2010 on the issue.

    The farm bill passed in February of this year reduced but did not eliminate the US cotton subsidies. Other disputes in Congress shut off the payment to Brazil's cotton farmers. Brazil threatened to reopen the dispute.

    However, there is some mild good news this morning. According to Reuters, the US and Brazil have come to an agreement in which the US will compensate Brazil's cotton growers with a one time $300 million payment.

    It's good news because it shows the US and Brazil holding constructive dialogues to resolve trade disputes. That is a positive development for bilateral relations.

    However, it's far from an ideal solution. The US is still subsidizing US cotton farmers. Then it is making a payment to subsidize Brazilian cotton farmer to make up for US violations of international trade rules. The US is burning money on agricultural subsidies while undermining our own rhetoric on building free trade with modern rules. Meanwhile, various other countries much poorer than Brazil will suffer from continued US agricultural subsidies.

    Trade is a foreign policy area where the US should be leading, but domestic politics related to agricultural subsidies undermine us.
  3. As of 30 September, the first round polling is:
    Datafolha: Rousseff 40, Silva 27, Neves 18
    Ibope: Rousseff 38, Silva 29, Neves 19
    Vox Populi: Rousseff 40, Silva 22, Neves 17

    Hypothetical second round polling:
    Datafolha: Rousseff 47, Silva 43
    Ibope: Rousseff 41, Silva 41
    Vox Populi: Rousseff 46, Silva 39

    Rousseff has regained some support in recent weeks thanks to her criticisms of Silva. Other than a few outlier polls, Rousseff has always had the lead in the first round. While Rousseff's lead in the second is starting to inch outside the margin of error, the second round polling has a high error rate until the first round is done, so take all those numbers with a grain of salt.

    I continue to predict that Rousseff is likely to win in two rounds. One simulation I ran last week (before the Datafolha poll) gave the president about a 65% chance to win reelection.
  4. Bloomberg has a good article on the power, influence and perks that the Venezuelan military has under President Maduro. It includes:
    Since Maduro came to power 17 months ago, the armed forces have created their own television channel, housing program and bank, the only military-owned one outside Iran and Vietnam. A third of Venezuela’s 28 ministers and half the state governors are now active or retired officers, mostly companions of former paratroop commander and late President Hugo Chavez.
    The article also mentions the ridiculous statistic that there is one general for every 34 members of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, a top heavy structure that points to political favoritism and comes with its own problems.

    Many analysts in the article and elsewhere view the perks of the Venezuelan military as an attempt at political stability, as President Maduro attempts to buy off the group that could potentially threaten his hold on power. That is the most likely explanation. Of course, the alternative hypothesis is worse: that the military already runs so much of the country that Maduro really has no ability to control the perks that they obtain.
  5. Leopoldo Lopez, whose status as political prisoner received a mention yesterday from President Obama in a speech on civil society, gave an interview this week in which he defended his actions and talked about former President Chavez's time in prison.

    This made me wonder: How many Latin American presidents have spent time in prison? How many have attempted to push out a government through non-electoral means (as Lopez was arguably calling for with #LaSalida)?

    In 2006, I wrote a few posts on presidential backgrounds trying to classify various leaders. For the lists below, I'm only dealing with current presidents. I'm not making judgements as to whether their actions were right or wrong, just looking at backgrounds.

    Current Presidents who spent significant time (more than a day) in detention or prison:
    Michelle Bachelet, Horacio Cartes, Raul Castro, Evo Morales, Jose Mujica, Daniel Ortega, Dilma Rousseff

    Current Presidents who have military experience or participated as armed fighters in a rebellion:
    Military experience: Ollanta Humala, Evo Morales, Otto Perez Molina, Juan Manuel Santos,
    Armed Rebellion: Raul Castro, Ollanta Humala, Jose Mujica, Daniel Ortega, Salvador Sanchez Ceren

    Current Presidents who actively participated in any non-electoral attempt to oust a government (democratic or not):
    Raul Castro, Juan Orlando Hernandez, Ollanta Humala, Evo Morales, Jose Mujica, Daniel Ortega, Otto Perez Molina, Dilma Rousseff, Salvador Sanchez Ceren

    Doing this sort of list does involve some sort of judgement call (should Dilma be considered an armed fighter if she only supported an armed group?) I may edit these lists in the coming days if readers have good arguments for corrections or additions. 
  6. Two facts out of today's NYT story on Central American migrants:

    • "Last month, 3,141 children traveling without a parent were apprehended at the United States-Mexico border, a 70 percent decrease from June."
    • "...word has gotten back to the region that the journey is getting harder and that migrants might not make it through Mexico. Mexican authorities have deported more than 38,000 Central Americans this year and now regularly send busloads and planes of detainees back to their countries."

    In July I wrote the following:
    US politicians need to understand that the real crisis is not the fact there are suddenly tens of thousands of additional migrants/refugees crossing the border to the United States. The crisis is that there are at least three countries in this hemisphere where tens of thousands of people feel the security and economic conditions are so bad that they need to flee or to send their children alone in the hope they can find a better life. The conditions on our border are only a symptom of that crisis further south.
    The fact that the number of migrant refugees reaching the US border has decreased does not mean that there is no longer a security or refugee crisis continuing in Central America. The fact that the journey from the Guatemalan border to the US border is difficult and dangerous is not a measurement of success for US policy.
  7. The Washington Post and New York Times have similar editorials this Sunday about the situation in Venezuela. After recounting the abuses of the Maduro government including the detention of political prisoners and the sham trial of Leopoldo Lopez, both editorials turn towards the issue of the UN Security Council seat that I wrote about two weeks ago. In that, there is a difference between the editorials.

    Washington Post:
    The Obama administration could help itself and send a message to Mr. Maduro by rounding up the 65 votes needed to keep Venezuela off the Security Council.
    New York Times:
    Colombia, Brazil and other Latin American countries should lead an effort to prevent Caracas from representing the region when it is fast becoming an embarrassment on the continent.
    This is where the NYT has it right and the WP has it wrong. The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, not the United States, are responsible for choosing which country will represent them at the UNSC. Given the abuses of democracy and human rights in Venezuela, as the NYT points out, there are plenty of arguments that the region's biggest players (Brazil, Colombia, Mexico) may wish to prevent Venezuela from embarrassing them on the international stage. There are also reasons that the diplomatic fight over the UN seat may not be worth the region's time.

    However, it's not the US's job in this case to lead the effort to stop Venezuela's nomination. If the region isn't going to lead on this issue, then a US push on it would be counter-productive. Whether Venezuela gets a UNSC seat is not a critical test of US foreign policy and, in spite of some heated rhetoric, is not going to change the global security environment over the next two years.

    I know it's a radical foreign policy position: Let Latin America and the Caribbean make their own decision and face the consequences accordingly. Maybe Venezuela's seat at the UNSC will amount to nothing important and the region will be happy with their choice. Maybe Venezuela will do something ridiculous and the region will regret its decision and learn from it. Either way, if nobody in the region is going to oppose Venezuela's nomination, the US is better off staying out of this one.
  8. Scotland voted no to independence. However, the fact that a longstanding European country came within a few percentage points of breaking apart raises an old question for me: When does Latin America's map change next? Does any geographic territory secede or vote for independence? Or do countries vote to merge in some way?

    The Western Hemisphere's map has changed very little over the past century, but that's not typical for either the hemisphere or the world, where political borders have shifted numerous times over centuries. It's possible that the hemisphere's borders don't move for another hundred years, but it's more probable that something disrupts the border stability and we see the emergence of a new country or federation before 2114, even if no single scenario is likely.
  9. Ten years ago today I wrote my first posts at bloggings by boz. It was a Saturday morning. I was more interested in trying out the technology than finding a platform for my writing. It was an experiment that was supposed to last a few weeks, maybe a few months at most. The idea that I’d be sitting in Mexico City writing this post in 2014 never crossed my mind.

    Writing this blog is a hobby. It’s done in my free time. Nobody pays me to do it. There is no editor or gatekeeper. Ten years later, it’s still an experiment.

    Thanks for reading.
  10. Former mayor Luis Castañeda is the clear favorite for the Lima mayoral election taking place on 5 October. He has 53% of the vote in a recent Ipsos poll, compared to 10% for incumbent mayor Susana Villaran and a bunch of other candidates sitting in single digits. Other polls agree. Datum gives Castañeda 55% and CPI has him at 50%.

    Castañeda remains popular from his time as mayor. His campaign has so far been able to avoid controversy, including an investigation into whether his office participated in drug money laundering during his previous term. His not-so-covert backing of the failed recall referendum against Villaran several years ago doesn't seem to harm his image with a majority of voters. He was also able to convince the electoral board to reinstate his candidacy after it had briefly thrown his name off the ballot for alleged errors on his resume.

    Villaran, on the other hand, only has 16% approval and has not been above 25% approval at any point this year. Those aren't numbers that make reelection easy for the current mayor of Lima. The business community has never been a fan and many on the left are disappointed in Villaran's lack of progress over her term in office.