Monday, December 19, 2005

Evo Morales president

This Sunday, Evo Morales, leader of the leftist Movimiento al Socialismo, won the presidential election in Bolivia. He did it with an astounding 50% of the vote, leaving behind one of Bolivia’s recurring nightmares (that of the so-called ballotage) and more important, giving the new president the hope of a more stable Presidency than Morales’s predecessors. If that is the case, Morales’s presidency will be an immediate paradox as he played a key role in forcing-out of the Presidency both Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Carlos Mesa.

Morales played a key role in the mobilizations that swept Bolivia at the beginning of 2005, and—as such—he can be blamed of pretty much the same misdemeanors or Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president who actively supporter Morales in his quest for the Presidency.

However, to the so-called “pundits” that immediately want to draw inaccurate comparisons between Bolivia and Venezuela it is important to remind them that the similarities that actually exist are more the function of similar institutional designs than the product of similar “cultures”. Both Bolivia and Venezuela were for many years Centralist republics, a feature that made both countries, as others in South America, prone to instability, that on top of the instability that is inherent to presidential regimes.

The fact that both Bolivia and Venezuela have been commodities exporting economies, with little or no ability to industrialize, just compounds the overall weaknesses of the presidential regime institutional design. To make matters worse, as far as the institutional design is concerned, Bolivia’s reliance on the ballotage system, a political pipe-dream cooked and long-time ago dropped by the French, put Bolivia—over and over—in extremely fragile situations since 1982.

One key difference that is necessary to keep in mind has to do with the processes of structural adjustment of the late 1980s are early 1990s. While Bolivia followed a rather brutal path of “neo-liberal” (neo-conservative in the U.S.) adjustment, in Venezuela nothing like that has ever happened, despite the whining and crying of Chávez and his Bolivarian Movement Fifth Republic.

Morales reaches the Presidency of his country facing mounting pressure to address the many problems inherited by the draconian economic policies pursued, with little or no success (besides cooling down the mammoth inflation rate) during the 1980s . His warning about changes in his dealings with the firms that invested in the exploration and exploitation of the vast gas fields in his nation already had a negative effect pushing up the prices of the product in the World markets.

He is already assuming that his presidency will have the kinds of cash flows that have allowed Chávez to become the leading voice of those who criticize the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as the main culprit for what often times is presented as a dark conspiracy, however they should know better. If—as they say—all the suffering is the IMF’s and WB’s fault, then we should see the exact same outcomes in all the countries when structural adjustment policies were pursued; the fact, however, is that there are important differences from country to country, and those differences are closely related to the specific policies pursued by the political leaders.

That is, however something that we will never hear from Morales and much less from Chávez who is the main beneficiary of the Bolivian election. Not only now he has a reliable partner, willing to reproduce and amplify Chavez’s anti U.S., and anti IMF, discourse. Moreales will do it with two features that Chávez neve has had. On the one hand, Morales brings an ethnic base that can resonate with the rest of Latin America that Chávez never had before. Second, unlike Lula in Brazil or Kirchner in Argentina, Morales will command a clear majority in a government that, with the gas revenue, can be rich as Venezuela’s.

For the U.S., Morales represents a challenge like never before. Not only he is close to Chávez, but he is also close to Castro. Cuba will then has a chance to expand its now narrow trade and, as such, will contribute to facilitate Morales’s decision to denounce or breach the contracts with the forms involved in the exploitation of gas, as such firms will be forced to choose between being at odds with the absurd trade embargo imposed on Cuba and those doing business with Cuba, or fighting a legal battle that is doomed in the Bolivian courts.

Morales will not have, despite the gas related income, an easy ride. On the contrary, the “rebel” province of Santa Cruz still seeks its independence from the rest of Bolivia and it is there where the bulk of the gas is, setting the stage for what will be an epic battle. Also, it is important to keep in mind, despite the current buzz about Morales's ethnic origin, that Alejandro Toledo, the Peruvian president, is also a pure Aymara, and that heritage provided little or no advantage to his troubled presidency.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Elections in South America, Truce in Mexico

After six months of involuntary but unavoidable absence, I am writing in this corner of the web. I finished the dissertation, so I am free again to write about Mexico and Latin America.

While in Mexico a truce in the electoral campaigns during the Holiday season (Dec. 12-Jan. 12) was engineered by the Federal Electoral Institute, in Santiago de Chile, socialist presidential hopeful Michelle Bachelet reached the second round of the presidential election.

Bachelet's partial victory allows seeing deep changes among the Chilean voters that, for the first time since the end of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, decided not to give the candidates of the Christian Democrat and Socialist coalition a win in the first round of the presidential contest.
Moreover, the Chilean voters gave the center-to-right and right opposition of President Ricardo Lagos more votes than those gathered by Bachelet, although almost all pollsters assume that Bachelet, a former Health and Defense minister in Lagos's cabinet, will win in the second round to happen on January 2006. If Bachelet wins, the Christian democrat-Socialist coalition will extend their control of Chilean politics for 20 years.

During the last 15 years, the coalition has not affected the institutional design of Pinochet's dictatorship on financial, economic, and trade matters, but it has deepen the logic and the direction of the reforms originally launched by the military government at the beginning of the 1980s. Here it is important to stress that until the arrival of the so-called Chicago boys to the Chilean government, Pinochet's dictatorship was not only as brutal, but also as inefficient as the Argentine Military Junta.

However, what is more relevant to consider at this point is that the willingness of the Socialist government led by Lagos in Chile to preserve Pinochet's institutional design, stands in sharp contrast with the policies pursued by "leftist" governments in other countries of Latin America, and more important in sharper contrast with the propositions made many of the presidential candidates in other countries of the region. This difference is often times overlooked as the recent, rather poor reports of Juan Forero and Larry Rother of The New York Times exemplify.

To think, as an example, that Bachelet is closer to Andrés Manuel López Obrador than to Carlos Salinas de Gortari would imply a naivety the size of the Andes. Not only Bachelet, but Lagos and the representatives and senators elected under the banner of the Chilean Socialist Party have been wise enough to build a healthy and cooperative relation with their colleagues of the Christian Democrat Party, they have been unwilling to relinquish the political leadership of their country as that would favor the parties closer to Pinochet.

They have not done so, unlike the conspiracy theories of López Obrador and the insults of Felipe Calderón. Bachelet, Lagos, Zaldívar and other Chilean politicians of the Christian democrat-Socialist coalition have been able to conduct themselves with a maturity that is unseen in these days in Latin America. The same can be said of any comparison between Bachelet and Ernesto Kirchner, Bachelet and Hugo Chávez, or Bachelet and who appears to be the next president of Bolivia, the former leader of the coca producers Evo Morales.

Now that everything seems to indicate a new defeat of the PRI in the July 2006 elections in Mexico, the concern that I have is how many years would the political watch go back with mister López as President? Would he be willing to risk the last of Mexican oil reserves in a desperate attempt to be more like his chief financial officer, Mr. Hugo Chávez?

These kinds of questions are more pressing when one considers how López has started already a personal war against the Banco de México chairman Guillermo Ortiz Martínez, and has already challenged any reform to the financial system because in his conspiratorial mind any reform is aimed at tying his hands.

In any case, I cannot but express my happiness for the outcome of the Chilean election, and more specifically for the success of the coalition. As far as Mexico is concerned, all I can do is to get ready to swim deep into six years of populism, irresponsibility and paranoia starting on July 2006.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Religion, Politics, and Football

While the football (soccer) national teams of Mexico and Argentina were playing a delightful semifinal of the Confederations Cup at Hanover, Germany, the newspapers of both countries were reporting, among many other things, of a couple of messages released by the Catholic bishops of both countries.

Both messages deal with politics in their countries and, more important, both put forward severe critiques of the performance of the political parties in both Argentina and Mexico.

In Argentina, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, the archbishop-cardinal of Buenos Aires, one of the few Latin American members of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuitas, promoted by John Paul II to become bishops and, even more, to become archbishop and cardinal during his long pontificate, issued a lengthy message (28 pages) in which he criticizes the performance of political leaders in his country stressing the negative role that political struggles have had for the development of democracy in Argentina.

The cardinal stresses the negative role of political struggles within the context of the forthcoming primary elections in Argentina. La Nación, a distant equivalent of The New York Times in Argentine journalism, endorsed Bergoglio’s critique of the politicos’ performance with extensive front page coverage. Moreover, La Nación quotes Bergoglio’s as saying that “political struggles are the great illness of Argentina.”

The second paragraph of La Nación’s note is a full quote of Bergoglio’s message stressing how: “while various interests play their game, afar from the needs of all, it is possible to see in the horizon the shadow of a cloud of social disarray.”

However, and this is relevant to understand the role and the aims of the Church in Latin American countries, Bergoglio’s document displays a broad and sound diagnosis of the situation in contemporary Argentina, the sources of the conflicts, and—more important—it offers a enlightening interpretation of the parable of the good Samaritan as an image to try build a solution for the conundrum of contemporary Argentinean politics.

Interestingly enough, La Nación—a newspaper that can hardly be identified as Catholic—provides a link to download the full message from Cardinal Bergoglio.

As far as Mexico is concerned, Terra, a pan-Latin American web-based service quotes the auxiliary bishop of Mexico City Felipe Tejeda who criticized the primary elections of the presidential candidates saying that the “expenses associated (with such elections) are scandalous and useless.” Here is necessary to stress that the ruling National Action Party (Christian democrat right-to-center) alone has authorized expenses of 350 million pesos (34 million U.S. dollars) for each of its four presidential hopefuls. It is not clear yet how much will the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI, social democrat) will authorize its pre-candidates to spend.

The “leftist” Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) has not set a limit, but one of its most likely candidates, Mexico City’s mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador benefits from the huge budgets of the public relations and media areas of the City’s local government.

Moreover, once the candidates are nominated by the parties, the Electoral Federal Institute (IFE) will allocate federal public monies, plus time in the national, and regional TV and radio networks, plus the monies that the parties will get from the local governments in states (like Nuevo León or the Federal District) where on top of the federal election, local elections happen simultaneously, plus marginal private contributions that the parties and candidates could raise for up to a ten percent of the total public contributions to their campaigns.

These sums will be pre-set by the IFE by September 2005. Then the Secretary of the Treasury (Hacienda) will incorporate such request in the National Budgets that will present some time between the end of September and the end of October 2006, waiting for approval by Mexico’s lower chamber (Cámara de Diputados).

The Church is not the first, and will hardly be the last to criticize how much money the Mexican parties get from the Treasury. In Argentina, the Church’s criticism of the politicos’ behavior is a concern shared by many other political actors in that country. What is relevant, however, is the fact that the Church enjoys in both countries and all over Latin America great levels of trust and public support. However, it is not clear what will the Church make out of such trust when confronting increasingly complex, impoverished, and fractured societies.

Criticizing the expenditure in political struggles is a rather easy task. What is necessary now is to confront the challenge to become an efficient political actor to promote agreements and reforms in countries in great need of them. It could be possible for the Church to perform that important role, although it is clear that it will be necessary to improve its ability to facilitate the dialogue without seeking to push forward its own institutional agenda.

That is easier in Mexico, where the Church does not receive and is not asking for public subsidies. In Argentina, because of the agreements signed during the 1960s (civil governments), ratified by the military rulers of the 1970s and Mr. Menem's democratically elected governments is harder. Mostly, because for the Church there is always the risk of opening a debate that could make them loose more than they could get, especially in the topic of religious education.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Church: Silence and Expectations

A constant in different polls carried all over Latin America is the great level of trust (confianza) that the Catholic Church enjoys. Latinobarómetro, Consulta Mitofsky, and many other pollsters regularly register trust levels for the Catholic Church well into the 70 and even 80 percent.

This perception (which is nothing but that) is the source of great tension and debates inside and outside the Church. Do such measures represent an unrestrained ability of the Church to set the public agenda in the countries of the region, in ways similar to those of Italy? Hardly.

Is the Catholic Church falling in patterns similar to those of Europe? Hardly. Is competition with other Christian (Baptists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals) or non-Christian (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or para-Christian (Mormons) denominations shaping the Latin American landscape in similar ways to those observed since the mid 18th century in what is nowadays the United States? I do not think so.

The evolution of Catholic Church, and religion at large, in the region follows historically situated patterns. There are some similarities with processes going on in different countries of Europe, and some with processes occurring in the United States, but for the most part, Latin America poses a key challenge to the future of Catholicism.

I think that even the Vatican itself is having a hard time figuring out how to address the religious conundrum posed by Latin America. A way to measure the problems that the Vatican is having trying to develop pastoral policies for the region is to observe the silence of the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI. So far, there has been no specific statement on Latin America as a region. The pope expressed his concern with the evolution of the conflict in Bolivia, but that has been it, with the dubius addition of a brief prayer in Spanish before an image of the Virgion of Guadalupe a few days after his election.

However, the clock is ticking and some definitions will come in the coming days. Such possibility is stressed by the fact that it is expected that the pope will attend, as his predecessors did, the General Conference of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM, for its initials in Spanish). It is not clear yet if what will be the Fifth of such conferences will happen either in Argentina or in Chile.

What is clear is that, after a statement of Msgr. Carlos Aguiar Retes, first vice-president of the CELAM, on the possibility of such trip a wave of expectation swept both Argentina and Chile.

Benedict XVI’s silence about Latin America is more compelling when one considers that the region is the global stronghold of Roman Catholicism, and that Brazil, Mexico, and the United States (with a large Hispanic population) are the three countries with the largest Catholic populations worldwide.

The pope, so far, has been trying to smooth the relations with the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. The move makes sense from an European perspective when one considers the challenges that Catholics, Orthodox, and Lutheran churches face there, and the fact that it is far easier to find a solution to the dispute with the Orthodox churches than to find it with the Lutheran or Anglican churches, mostly because of the issue of the female priesthood.

It is clear that if the Catholic and Orthodox churches expect to have a future in Europe they need to learn to coexist. Moreover, they need to learn to share resources and to face together the challenges of the double process of de-Christianization of Europe: on the one hand, the pressure created by the Islam, and on the other hand, the changes brought by the secularization process in Europe (although such process is far from being universal).

However, it would be a huge mistake if the Vatican forgets Latin America. In Latin America, the Church faces equally important challenges that require not only resources, but above all the imagination and compromise of the church’s grassroots organizations, hierarchies, and the laypersons. Moreover, unlike Europe, where it is forced to seek collaboration and support from the Orthodox churches, in Latin America the Church goes by itself.

Friday, June 10, 2005

New President, New Hopes?

Carlos Mesa's presidency in Bolivia finally ended when the Congress decided to accept his resignation. Mesa’s, the most recent “interrupted presidency” in the long lineage of “interrupted presidencies” in the poorest country in South America, was an actor of a process that put the country at the brink of civil war and, eventually, of its disintegration.

The independent movement based in Santa Cruz, the wealthiest province in Bolivia, has achieved an unexpected level of support that has created expectations about a possible quick, easy solution to the longstanding problems or poverty and marginalization that have plagued the country since its very origins.

So far, it is not clear if the recently appointed president, Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé, the former Chief Justice of Bolivia’s Supreme Court, will be able to carry the reforms he has sketched so far. What is necessary to keep in mind is that there is no easy way out to Bolivia’s legacy of poverty and institutional conflict. In addition, at least in the coming days, Rodríguez Veltzé will be forced to perform his duties as president under the same rules and with the same institutional design that damaged Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s and Carlos Mesa’s presidencies.

Moreover, that institutional design has been behind the long chain of “interrupted presidencies,” coups, and political instability that has plagued Bolivia’s history in the twentieth century.

So far, his main proposal implies a significant change in the institutional design: moving the country from a central presidential design, into something similar to a federal presidential system although interestingly enough I have not been able to find specific references to a reform aimed to move Bolivia from its status as a centralist regime into a federalist one.

It is important to stress that he has been appointed for a very short, six-month term, which will give him little or no effective power to carry away the kind of deep reforms that Bolivia needs at this point. The risk, of course is that his presidency could end up becoming some sort of lame duck and that the truce he requested will be actually granted just as a way to set the stage for the new presidential election. And here a painful remainder, such election will be affected (unless an overhaul of the electoral system is achieved before Christmas), once again, by the institutional design flaws (ballotage, as an example) that explain Bolivia’s never ending crisis.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Mexico's Electoral Labyrinth

In July, Mexico's most populated state, the State of Mexico (hehe, we had some problems figuring out new names for the states) will held its gubernatorial election.

Traditionally, since the late 1970s that race has been seen as the key match of the electoral calendar of the year, but mostly it has been seen as a general rehearsal for the general elections that are usually held one year after. This year, however, the situation will not be like that. The numbers in the state race will hardly match the expected numbers in the presidential election.

As far as the state election is concerned, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the old PRI, Enrique Peña Nieto, has a relatively easy advantage on most polls and will be, if nothing changes, the winner of the election, however such win will mean little or nothing for the outcome of the presidential election in 2006.

The “leftist” candidate (and I use such term as loosely as possible) of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) Yeidckol Polevensky Gurvitz has a dark history of name changes (she is not Polish as her name will hint), family conflicts and lies that have been haunting her electoral bid. Fortunately, she is far behind in the race with little or no chances of a come back.

Rubén Mendoza Ayala, the candidate of the National Action Party (PAN) started the race with some advantage, however poor decision-making, and the lack any relevant ideas has put him in an increasingly weak position. During the weekend, he starred one of Mexico’s worst displays of electoral behavior. While heading a rally with sympathizers in a small town, he charged against the owner of a pick-up truck filled with balls marked with propaganda of the PRI’s candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. Moreover, he instigated the crowd to take over the balls and to hit the owner of the truck.

As of yesterday, the candidate had repaid the balls, and did a tour of some of Mexico’s news outlets claiming that was the victim of a conspiracy. Fortunately, someone in the crowd had a video camera on, so his speech instigating the crowd, insulting the PRI’s candidate and charging against the owner of the pick-up were all recorded in vivid colors and displayed by Mexico’s newscasts. In the video, it is possible to see Mendoza Ayala calling himself “ugly as all other Mexicans” and yet, claiming that the electoral race is not a beauty contest. Mendoza’s rant and rave came very close to mutiny.

As usual in contemporary Mexico, Mendoza has been talking of a media conspiracy instead of acknowledging his responsibility in the violent behavior of his sympathizers, while making all sorts of sexual innuendos with references to the balls, his alleged ugliness, and—to fully integrate the picture—with sexual insults that involve the mother of the candidate of the PRI.

What a shame.

In any case, I expect a close call in the election in the state of Mexico, with Enrique Peña Nieto as the winner, but with all sorts of pressure from the “leftist” PRD’s candidate who is running with the support of Mexico City’s mayor and future presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The candidate of the PAN, the party of Vicente Fox, the President of the country, will continue with his allegations of conspiracy and perhaps electoral fraud, which ultimately will be dismissed by his own party.

Perhaps the only good thing that will come out of this is the realization among the PRI leaders that they cannot waste time or effort in more internal conflicts. If so, they will be able to concentrate their efforts in the election of 2006, which will be—by all accounts—the toughest in Mexico’s history, a new and more painful labyrinth for which the old easy recipes of democratization and dismissal of the old authoritarian regime will not work any more.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Bolivia or the eternal crisis

A few hours after Carlos Mesa's new attempt to step down as president of Bolivia (his most recent attempt happened in March of this year), the Congress has been unable to reach an agreement to hold the joint session that will analyze if they accept or not (as it happened in March) the president's decision to resign. Unfortunately, the solution to this conflict will hardly come that easy.

When Mesa first tried to resign, he proposed a series of reforms that included the disolution of the Congress in order to build a new representation of the Congress. A new Congress able to better represent Bolivia. That, as many other propositions, was rejected by the Congress. All his other propositions to push forward a political and a fiscal reform were rejected too.

What is left now is a country sunk in the worst crisis of its history, with little or no hope for a solution. Again, the answer to many of its troubles lie deep in the very configuration of its institutions. It is not out of chance that Bolivia has been one of the most unstable and poor countries of the region. It is because its institutions are designed to perpetuate chaos and instability by over-emphasizing a separation of powers that is so perfect that prevents any collaboration.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Bolivia, Once Again

Tonight, as I was doing my last tour of the day over the Internet, I found the information of Carlos Mesa's resignation as president of Bolivia.

What a shame, and what a waste.

Mesa has been trying to find a solution to Bolivia's catastrophe, to Bolivia's labyrinth since the end of 2004 with little or no success A few weeks ago, he tried to find a solution to this conflict by resigning his post. The congress, immersed as it has been in the kinds of power struggles that are the trademark of presidential regimes and lie at the very core of Bolivia's longstanding history of instability, conflict, and poverty, will have, one more time a chance to try to find some sort of solution to its own riddle.

Unfortunately, I am skeptic about a possible solution in the short run. On the contrary, I think that the contradictions that have affected Bolivia in the last 15 years are for from solved. That is the case of the debate about the nationalization of the oil industry, a measure that will prompt the immediate rejection of the United States, its oil industry, and the I International Monetary Fund.

Again in the Times

This Monday, The New York Times published a brief piece about an angry Condolezza Rice criticizing the major Latin American countries (Mexico, Argentina, Brazil) for being unwilling to support the latest pipe dream of George Bush as far as Latin America is concerned.

Mr. Bush wants the Organization of American States to develop "a process to assess, as appropriate, situations that may affect the development of a member state's democratic political institutional process or the legitimate exercise of power."

Wisely enough, the ambassadors of the aforementioned countries plus Chile, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, let Mrs. Rice know in advance that they were going to oppose the creation of such "process," signaling the death of this veiled intervention sponsored by the White House on the internal affairs of the countries of the region.

The piece published by the Times emphasizes the fact that Venezuela was the undisclosed destinatary of the so-called "process," while stressing also how hard it was for Mrs. Rice to digest this new defeat for the Bush administration and their aim to become the benchmark of democratic practices all over the world.

And of course, hehe, the irony of it all is that when one compares the U.S. democracy, its standards, its abuses, the gerrymandering with other democracies of the world, there is no way to think that mr. Bush could go around lecturing on (and, what is worse, sanctioning) democratic practices.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Bolivia: Back in the Times

Sadly, Bolivia is once again in the pages of The New York Times. Sadly, because unlike what happens with China, Japan, or Europe, Latin American countries reach the pages of The Times only when tragedies have happened or are about to happen. Bolivia is actually a special case among the sea of tragedies that happen on a regular basis in the region. So many, that the very definition of tragedy has gone through an overhaul when one needs to address whatever happens in that country.

With the patronizing tone that erases from his name and skin the sin of being a "Latino ," Juan Forero, the Times correspondent in Santa Fe de Bogota, offers a sketchy account of Bolivia's recent crisis, with little or no context to understand it. In any case, English speaking audiences have now a glimpse to one of South America's sadest stories ever, even if they get it from Colombia, which is as absurd a if I was writing a a journalist from New York about stories happening in Toronto or Montreal, Canada.

They do so, but unfortunately little or no change can be expected as a consequence of the sudden notoriety of that country's crisis. In the short term, little or nothing will change, mostly because the country is deep in a political deadlock hard to break, and whose consequences are even harder to foresee. The fact that Bolivia is the poorest country in South America makes the whole situation even worse, because it will always be possible to keep large sectors of Bolivia's poor mobilized and as radicalized as possible, preventing any solution to the many issues that affect that country.

The Organization of American States has been traditionally unable to address crises like this, and the fact that OAS has now a Chilean general-secretary, former Interior minister Luis Miguel Insulza, will make any intervention of the regional organization harder, since Bolivia and Chile have no diplomatic relations, because of Chile's military aggression that locked out Bolivia in the 19th century.

Bolivian President Carlos Mesa has been trying to reach an agreement with Evo Morales, the leader of the coca growers and the radical voice of the opposition, pretty much since his inauguration, with no success at all. Moreover,the fact that the country is a centralized presidential republic, with a very unfair income distribution, and a very unstable political system, only makes harder to achieve the kinds of agreements that the country needs, mostly because as soon as a new president is inaugurated the cycle comes to life again.

Mesa is offering a broad overhauling of the country's institutional design, mainly he is offering more autonomy to Bolivia's deportments, but so far no word on a possible change from the current presidential regime to a parliamentary one.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Dutch No to Europe

As I was teaching today it came to me. Of course, the happiest guy in the World now that Europe has imploded is George Bush.

The French and Dutch have decided to blow away a great political and economic experiment that would have been the only rational counterweight, the check-and-balance, to the military and market led globalization heralded by the U.S. Now, the only possibiity to overcome George Bush's unipolar pipe dream is China.

The fear of the Polish plumber and the Turkish laborer was more powerful than the hope of a better, more humane form of globlization. So much for the French crap when criticizing the U.S. voters for choosing Bush on the grounds of fear. Both French and Dutch voters decided on similar grounds with the same outcome: giving Bush more power to do whatever he wants worldwide.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The European Constitution: A View From Latin America

The defeat of the European Constitution in its French referendum has many implications for Latin America. One of them is that it means bad news for the processes of globalization and regionalization that are not driven by the market.

One of the beauties of the European Union process was, up until this last weekend of May, that it represented a chance for a politically driven process of globalization and regionalization. It was more relevant because it dwarfed other processes that exist in other regions of the world, mainly in the NAFTA-CAFTA region (Canada, United States, Mexico, Chile, and Central America), and the Mercosur region (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay). It was an exercise of political imagination with no parallel in the history of the world: countries willing to peacefully give up their sovereignty in order to create larger markets paying consideration to social issues.

Not only that, the configuration of the European Union as a single political unit played a key role in shaping, as one of many possible examples, some of the political changes in countries like Mexico. In 1995-6, as an example, the Mexican government was forced to broaden and to institutionalize some of the changes that allowed the final drive to democratize the country in the elections of 1997 and 2000.

Without the "democratic clause" that the European Union required as a requisite of its trade agreement with Mexico, such agreement would have never been possible. Notice that the U.S. or Canada required nothing like that in 1992-3 during the NAFTA talks. Moreover, in recent years the European Union played a key role in promoting socially responsible business practices in Central America.

Furthermore, the effort carried until this weekend by the European Union was a frequent example of a different kind of globalization-regionalization frequently used in Latin American circles as a counterfactual to the kind of insensitive practices that dominate the relation between the "partners" of the NAFTA region, and by those who oppose the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

The worst aspect of the defeat of the European constitution in France is the fact that it was driven by the fear to the "Polish plumber," which is the same fear to the Mexican or Central American immigrant here in the United States. It is a fear based in the unwillingness of the relatively wealthy populations of France, Britain, Holland, and the United States to share some of the privileges that they have had for 100 or 150 years.

Finally, such defeat opens up a series of questions regarding the possible future role of China in Latin America in moments when it is clear that the U.S. economy is unable to assume a leading role in the region. Unfortunately, it is clear for me that the kind of capitalism that China develops is far more aggressive and disrespectful of social, human, and environmental considerations than those practiced by the United States or the, now fragmented, European Union.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Chilean lessons

This year we are living the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the wave of democratization that swept Latin America. It seems to me that is a good moment to see behind, to see around and to try look forward.

These two decades were marked not only but the change in the leadership of the countries in the region. They were marked, above all, by a rather naive desire to bring to life democracy in the region. We have tried to do it so however, without the kind of changes that were required to make democracy not only a desirable goal, which it is but-above all- without the support that would have made our democracies viable.

Of course, the exception to the rule is Chile and, up to a certain extent, Mexico. Both countries used some of the features of their authoritarian regimes to carry away economic reform programs that have provided, up until now, the stability that distinguishes both countries when one compares then with the rest of the region. The fact, however is that Mexico has lost for the most part its stability. All that has been left behind is an empty shell that is about to collapse.

As far as Chile is concerned, the country seems to be on its way to preserve its stability and, above all, on its way to keep growth at rates higher than the rest of the region, but also with the benefit of social and political stability.

Part of Chile's story of success is related to long-standing agreements among the country's elites that go all the way back to the 19th century. Such agreements explain, as an example, their ability to defeat Peru and Bolivia in the wars that they have fought against each other but also in their ability to manipulate in their favor the relation they had in the 19th century with Britain.

Such agreements explain also the stability of the Chilean democracy up until the 1960s and, paradoxically enough, Salvador Allende's presidential bid and the coup d'Etat that defrocked him in 1973. Moreover, such ability to strike deals and to build coalitions was used by Augusto Pinochet himself to gain the support of the Christian Democrats, who later decided to switch their loyalty and to become the head of the coalition that rules Chile since the late 1980s.

Now, when conflict ravages all the region, Chile stands not only as the less “democratic” of all the countries in the region (see the Electoral Democracy Index built by the United Nations Development Programme) but also as the only one that has been able to effectively reduce poverty and to develop a truly progressive tax regime.

At the core of such paradoxical success, it is possible to find political elites willing and able to reach compromises. The most important of such compromises, however, has hot been with other groups or parties, but above all with the country’s conflicting authoritarian legacy. Even the socialist President Ricardo Lagos, a political refugee during Pinochet's regime, has been willing to preserve, untouched, the market reforms carried by Pinochet.

Such ability puts the Chilean politicians well beyond their peers from other countries.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Overhauling Social Change in Contemporary Latin America

Social Change in Contemporary Latin America changes. The website originally designed as a tool to my students at Fordham University changes to become a Website to foster commentary on contemporary Latin America in English and Spanish.

Each week I will try to provide some contextualized commentary on topics relevant for the region. I hope that the Website will foster a more nuanced understanding of contemporary Latin America and, above all, I hope that it will help to address some of the region's more pressing issues.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Presidential and Parliamentary regimes (again!)

I would like to present here an edited version of an e-mail I sent to Christina Domínguez about our discussion on presidential and parliamentary regimes:

My concern with Presidential regimes comes not only out of the readings we have considered in the course. It comes out of my own experience in Mexico, dealing precisely with the effects of presidential regime, out of the consideration of the Argentinean and Venezuelan experiences, but also out of the consideration of other readings dealing with the issue of the negative consequences of presidential regimes, even if we forget about a possible comparison with parliamentary regimes.

It is not that I am obsessed with stability. I am not. I am very much concerned and committed with social change. I cannot stand poverty in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America. I cannot stand corruption. I hate the irresponsible power games in which Mexican, Argentinean, or Bolivian politicians engage themselves paying little or no consideration to the consequences of their behavior.

However, I believe that as long as the market economy exists the way it exists nowadays, the chances to promote social change outside of the extremely tight limits of the market economy are rather slim. Even Cuba has been forced to develop forms of market economy or at least to insert itself into such economy.

In other countries of the region, the pressures are even harder. Mexico, as an example, because of the closeness with the U.S. and because of the existence of a very powerful bourgeoisie, is pretty much unable to attempt any form of social change that goes against it. You can say, well the EZLN is there as an example of the opposite, and I would agree with you. Unfortunately, I do not think that their chances to induce change in the long run are that good.

Therefore, we need to find a way to facilitate social change (for the better, of course) without disrupting the kinds of equilibriums that a market economy requires. That is where the parliamentary regimes come to my mind and the minds of others area specialists as one specific solution to one specific set of problems.

I do not think that the shift from presidential to parliamentary regimes will be enough to address all the problems in many of the countries of the region. I do believe, however, that some of the Latin American countries will benefit themselves from such change. Mostly, because parliamentary regimes deal with social and political conflict in better ways than presidential regimes.

It would be impossible for me to go over the entire literature on parliamentary regimes to explain why they have proved to be better suited to deal with social and political conflict than presidential regimes. What I can say at this point is to suggest you to keep your options for political analysis open.

Betting, as is often done in Latin America and in many Latin American studies centres here in the United States on the possibilities of social mobilization and social movements denies, on the one hand, the ability to consider the negative impacts that cycles of political instability have on Latin American polities and economies. I understand that approach: it is good, it is healthy to get rid of bad politicians, and I agree with it, the problem is that to do so in a presidential regime is much harder than to do it in a parliamentary one.

Why? Mostly because of the time and effort that you need to defrock a president. I am not thinking about creating conflict-free environments or polities. On the contrary, I think we need healthy ways to process conflict, because conflict is unavoidable, more so in contexts of deep inequality as the ones that exist in Latin America. I believe, in this sense, that parliamentary regimes provide a better set up to get rid of bad politicians, and that presidential regimes are not good for that.

Other source of concern about the presidential regimes is connected with the potential they have for widespread conflict and cycles of violence, that getting rid of a bad ruler creates. Think of La Violencia in Colombia. Nobody thought that it was going to turn out the way it did. Because as much as it happens with wars, with cycles of violence is easy to know when they start, but very hard to end them.

A third source of concern about the ways in which presidential regimes get rid of bad rulers, is connected with the negative consequences that instability has for the poor and middle classes in countries that already have very fragile economies. If you are already poor, and you depend on the government for your income or to have access to goods and/or services (publicly or privately run), these cycles of instability are nothing but bad news. Prices soar, distrust in economic exchanges grows, and uncertainty takes over as the key feature of political, social, and economic interactions, and because of that it is increasingly harder to attract investment (national or foreign). Instability provides the perfect foundation for the reproduction and entrenchment of poverty, it is a recipe for disaster.

Not only that, but since you have a long standing tradition of clientelism in the region, there are questions about the nature and origins of social movements aiming to defrock presidents.

Moreover, following other more qualified analysts of Latin American politics (as Juan José Linz) I am mostly concerned with the pervasive effects that these cycles of instability have for the overall performance of the economy and for the possibilities of economic development. Think, as an example, how much a country loses (in terms of time and money but especially in terms of trust) every time you get into a cycle of instability.

Rich people with bank accounts in Miami will not suffer from them; moreover, in some cases they are able to profit from them, because they have the connections and the expertise to do it. However, you can be sure that the poor and the middle classes will suffer from these cycles: they will loose income, they will have problems to access basic public services, schools often times will close, and the roots of inequality will grow deeper.

The discussion goes well beyond the defense of Lucio Gutiérrez or Abdalá Buccaram in Ecuador, or Fernando de la Rúa in Argentina. In other words, is not that I am defending Lucio Gutiérrez. I am sure he made mistakes; the problem is that within the context of presidential polities, it is harder to find a way out of such mistakes. Allegations of corruption, mismanagement, or dereliction of duty are commonplace in the exchanges among politicians (think of Clinton again). You can charge any politician, anywhere in the world with them. The problem is that in the context of the institutions of presidential politics it becomes very hard to prove them and to force a president out of power.

In parliamentary regimes, all you need to do is to present a vote of confidence in the floor and if you win it, then the government is over. Again, Italy is a perfect example of a very conflictive polity that has been able to process the dissolution of governments very easily, thanks to the framework provided by the parliamentary regime.

Finally, as I mentioned in class, the main problem for me is that if defrocking presidents were good for a polity, then Ecuador should be by now, after several “interrupted presidencies” a paradise, the best country in Latin America. Sadly, it is not.

Ultimately, all I am asking, as I said in class, is to keep your options open. To allow for the consideration of a different institutional arrangement to process social differences, because I am certain that presidential regimes make extremely hard for those polities to process such differences, and actually are responsible of increasing many of the problems that the region confronts.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bolivia and the Misadventures of Presidential Regimes

Hi class,

As I go over the Latin American newspaper before our class I was able to find several clips on the ongoing crisis in Bolivia. I could be willing to say that we are fortunate to have this crisis as a prime example of the problems and tensions that presidential regimes face and create due to their institutional design, if I were not haunted immediately by the idea of how costly are these kinds of situations for the region, and more costly for the poorest country of South America.

Part of the reason why presidential regimes are less efficient and more expensive, derives from the fact that in situations like the one Bolivia faced during the weekend and the first days of this week, the country as such enters in a cycle of social mobilization and protest that creates by itself too many problems: investment, production, planning, classes, are just a few examples of the kinds of problems that countries entering a crisis face.

The question, of course is, what could it happened if, facing the exact same type of situation Bolivia were a parliamentary regime? Fortunately, we have enough evidence from Europe during the 1970s and 1980s, to know how parliamentary regimes deal with situations of crisis.

Italy faced endless number of cabinet crises during the 1970s and 1980s. Several governments were created and ceased to exist as a consequence of such crises. However, the economy, the country as such, was able to keep working. Uncertainty was minimal, since the government, meaning the bureaucratic layers of it, was able to keep the show running with little or no interference, because of the provisions in the legal framework.

The problem with the crisis in Bolivia, on the other hand, as well as the crises that Argentina, Ecuador, and many other countries in the region have faced in recent years, is that once deadlock among political elites emerges, there is no way out. Then, the only possible solutions are (1) a clash of political forces, armwrestling to see who is able to put more people out in the streets (Bolivia and Ecuador); (2) the resignation of the President (Argentina, with president Fernando de la Rúa); (3) a coup d'Etat (Mexico in 1913 or Chile in 1973); (4) the president ruling by decree, with or without the support of the Congress (Colombia during the 1970s and 1980s, which creates much more tensions); or (5) an authoritarian regime like the one that existed in Mexico from 1934 to 2000, where deadlock was impossible because of the legal and meta-legal powers of the President.

As I mentioned in class and in my previous postings in this blog, it is impossible to assume that the experience of the United States is somehow replicable in Latin America, so do your best to detach yourselves from the relatively succesful experience of the U.S. and try to understand that Latin American economies are much more fragile, and that any political crisis inflicts severe damages to our economies.

Moreover, if you consider the information published so far about the kind of agreement that Carlos Mesa was able to reach with the Congress, you will be able to see that it has been extremely costly: almost six months in a deadlock, with continuous popular mobilization, deployment of police and army, uncertainty, erosion of an already battered economy.

Here I present you excerpts from Latin American constitutions on the issue of the resignation of the President.


Think also, that the presidents are not elected by the congresses, so the idea of resigning before the Congress is a last resort kind of thing. If you go over the Mexican Constitution, as an example considers the possibility of a resignation only in the case of:

SECTION 86. The office of President of the Republic can be resigned only for grave cause, which shall be passed upon by the Congress of the Union, to which the resignation must be presented.

That is all the instruction contained in the Constitution. There is no specific rule, and no clear definition of what constitutes a "grave cause".


The Constitution of Argentina offers no improvement:

SECTION 88. In case of illness, absence from the Capital City, death, resignation, or removal of the President from office, the Executive Power shall devolve upon the Vice-President of the Nation. In case of removal, death, resignation, or inability of the President and the Vice-President of the Nation, Congress shall determine the public officer who shall exercise the Presidency until the ceasing of the grounds of inability or the election of a new President.


The Bolivian Constitution is even more criptic when it comes to the issue of the resignation of the President. Here I use the Spanish original since there is no available translation (or at least I was unable to find it):

ARTICULO 93º I. En caso de impedimento o ausencia temporal del Presidente de la República, antes o después de su proclamación, lo reemplazará el Vicepresidente y, a falta de éste y en forma sucesiva, el Presidente del Senado, el de la Cámara de Diputados o el de la Corte Suprema de Justicia.

II. El Vicepresidente asumirá la Presidencia de la República si ésa quedare vacante antes o después de la proclamación del Presidente Electo, y la ejercerá hasta la finalización del período constitucional.

III. Cuando la Presidencia y Vicepresidencia de la República queden vacantes, harán sus veces el Presidente del Senado y en su defecto, el Presidente de la Cámara de Diputados y el de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, en estricta prelación. En este caso se convocará de inmediato a nuevas elecciones generales que serán realizadas dentro de los siguientes ciento ochenta días de emitirse la convocatoria.


In Peru the situation does not change significantly:

Artículo 113º La Presidencia de la República vaca por:
1. Muerte del Presidente de la República.
2. Su permanente incapacidad moral o física, declarada por el Congreso.
3. Aceptación de su renuncia por el Congreso.
4. Salir del territorio nacional sin permiso del Congreso o no regresar a él dentro del plazo fijado. Y
5. Destitución, tras haber sido sancionado por alguna de las infracciones mencionadas en el Artículo 117 de la Constitución.

Artículo 114º El ejercicio de la Presidencia de la República se suspende por:
1. Incapacidad temporal del Presidente, declarada por el Congreso, o
2. Hallarse éste sometido a proceso judicial, conforme al Artículo 117 de la Constitución.


On the other hand, the Ecuadoran Constitution includes a more detailed explanation of the process, however, the basic arrangement is the same:

Art. 130.- El Congreso Nacional tendrá los siguientes deberes y atribuciones:
Presionar al Presidente y Vicepresidente de la República proclamados electos por el Tribunal Supremo Electoral.
  1. Conocer sus renuncias, destituirlos, previo enjuiciamento político;
  2. establecer su incapacidad física o mental o abandono del cargo, y declararlos cesantes.
  3. Elegir Presidente de la República en el caso del Art. 168, inciso segundo, y Vicepresidente, de la terna propuesta por el Presidente de la República, en caso de falta definitiva.
Art. 167.- El Presidente de la República cesará en sus funciones y dejará vacante el cargo en los casos siguientes:
  • Por terminación del período para el cual fue elegido.
  • Por muerte.
  • Por renuncia aceptada por el Congreso Nacional.
  • Por incapacidad física o mental que le impida ejercer el cargo, legalmente comprobada y declarada por el Congreso Nacional.
  • Por destitución, previo enjuiciamiento político.
  • Por abandono del cargo, declarado por el Congreso Nacional.
Art. 168.- En caso de falta definitiva del Presidente de la República, le subrogará el Vicepresidente por el tiempo que falte para completar el correspondiente período constitucional.
Si faltaren simultánea y definitivamente el Presidente y el Vicepresidente de la República, el Presidente del Congreso Nacional asumirá temporalmente la Presidencia y convocará al Congreso Nacional para que, dentro del plazo de diez días, elija al Preside nte de la República que permanecerá en sus funciones hasta completar el respectivo período presidencial.

Notice that the Ecuadoran Constitution includes provisions that ultimately put the President at the mercy of the Congress. This comes as a consequence of the impeachement process (enjuiciamiento político), which opens the door for any majority in the Congress able to gather enough votes to defrock the President.

If any of you needs a more precise translation of a any of these constitutional sections, I will be very happy to do it for you. We will continue this dialogue later.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Presidential Regimes and Institutional Designs II

I have found more information that can help us understand a little bit better the negative consequences of presidential regimes in Latin America, and why it is hard--to say the least--to assume that the succesful example of the U.S. can be used as a benchmark for the rest of the countries with that kind of political regime.

First, I would like to suggest a study that is particularly relevant for Rosemary. Their subject is the impact of political institutions on corruption. The authors Daniel Lederman, Norman Loayza, and Rodrigo Reis Soares summarize their article as a study that:
[U]ses a cross-country panel to examine the determinants of corruption, paying particular attention to political institutions that increase political accountability. Previous empirical studies have not analyzed the role of political institutions, even though both political science and economics theoretical literatures have indicated their importance in determining corruption. The main theoretical hypothesis guiding our empirical investigation is that political institutions affect corruption through two channels: political accountability and the structure of provision of public goods. The main results show that political institutions seem to be extremely important in determining the prevalence of corruption. In short, democracies, parliamentary systems, political stability, and freedom of press are all associated with lower corruption. Additionally, we show that common results of the previous empirical literature on the determinants of corruption––related to openness and legal tradition––do not hold once political variables are taken into account.
In their analysis of the data, the authors were able to find that:

... the most consistent results regarding the political variables are related to democracy, presidential systems, time of democratic stability, and freedom of press. The estimated coefficients in columns (4) to (8) imply the following relations between these variables and perceived corruption: democracy reduces corruption by 0.7 points; presidential systems in a democracy, as opposed to parliamentary systems, increase corruption by 0.8 points; each additional 20 years of uninterrupted democracy reduce corruption by 0.5 points; and 50 points more in the freedom of press index (as from the level of Turkey to the level of the United Kingdom) reduces corruption by 0.5 points. These main results are robust to the inclusion of the government wages variable in the right hand side, which typically reduces the sample to less than 200 observations.
Go over the article to get the full analysis. Many of you could benefit from it. You can find it here.

Other relevant reading for our understanding on presidential and parliamentary regimes summarizes why is so hard for other countries than the U.S. to run stable presidential polities. The author, Seymor Martin Lipset is one of the heavyweights of social and political science in the United States, and this particular article ("The social requisites of democracy revisited") is a classic of political analysis.

The article, according to its abstract, deals with:

The factors and processes affecting the prospects for the institutionalization of democracy throughout the world are discussed. Because new democracies have low levels of legitimacy, there is a need for considerable caution about the longtermprospects for their stability.

When explaining the failure in Latin America and its success in the United States, Lipset states:

In considering the relation of government structure to legitimacy it has been suggested that republics with powerful presidents will, all other things being equal, be more unstable than parliamentary ones in which powerless royalty or elected heads of state try to act out the role of a constitutional monarch. In the former, where the executive is chief of state, symbolic authority and effective power are combined in one person, while in the latter they are divided. With a single top office, it is difficult for the public to separate feelings about the regime from those held toward the policy makers.

The difficulties in institutionalizing democracy in the many Latin American presidential regimes over the last century and a half may reflect this problem. The United States presents a special case, in which, despite combining the symbolic authority and power into the Presidency, the Constitution has been so hallowed by ideology and prolonged effectiveness for over 200 years, that it, rather than those who occupy the offices it specifies, has become the accepted ultimate source of authority.

This constitutional (legal-rational) legitimacy took many decades to develop. Strong secessionist efforts occurred a number of times before the Civil War (e.g., by New England states during the War of 1812, by South Carolina in 1832, and by leading abolitionists in the 1840s who rejected a Constitution that upheld slavery). The Civil War and subsequent long-term economic growth legitimated the American constitutional regime.
You can find the article here.

Samuels and Eaton published in 2002 "Presidentialism And, Or, and Versus Parliamentarism: The State of the Literature and an Agenda for Future Research". The authors explore these three hypothesis:

  • H1: institutions promoting unilateral executive power and separation of purpose are more likely under presidentialism;
  • H2: the core institutional differences between regime types are necessary and sufficient causes of differences in political output;
  • H3: similar configurations of non-core institutions have a greater impact under presidentialism, thus generating additional differences in political output.

Particularly, this article is valuable, among many other reasons, because it subscribes the claims made by Lederman, Loayza, and Reis Soares about the consequences that presidential regimes have for corruption (take notice Rosemary), but also about the costs of policy building and policy implementation in presidential regimes as compared to parliamentary ones.

[D]espite variation within both presidential and parliamentary regimes, the unity of survival in parliamentary systems limits how responsive legislators can be to lobbies. In contrast, in all presidential systems, separate survival allows legislators to more aggressively court interest groups without risking the fall of the government and losing their jobs. Even in systems where presidents have high powers, the simple right to review legislation in combination with separate survival can lead legislators to demand substantive modifications in response to interest group and other pressures (Eaton 2002). As suggested in our earlier analysis of “resoluteness,” a greater number of entry points for interest groups in presidentialism suggests that the costs to building legislative support for policy-making may be more costly in presidential systems, under both unified and divided government (however, see Persson and Tabellini 1999).

Using a similar logic, scholars have also suggested that corruption may be greater in presidential systems (see e.g. Gerring and Thacker 2001; Kunicova and Rose-Ackerman 2001; Kunicova 2001). This in turn suggests an unexplored answer to the issue of democratic breakdown: holding everything else constant (including fragmentation and polarization), perhaps the separation of powers increases the costs in terms of side-payments of maintaining support for the incumbent government and thus the existing regime. (pp. 36-7)
In other words, presidential regimes are more expensive and less efficient than parliamentary ones. You can access this article here.

Also, for Rosemary, Christina, and Brianne I suggest this piece about Mexico. It is not an article, but a proposal. However, it has plenty of information about recent changes in Mexico that could be helpful for the development of your papers.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Presidential Regimes and Institutional Designs

One of the main problems that Latin American polities have faced over the years has been the instability of their political regimes. Instability is critical to understand the problems that region confronts for several reasons and forces us to raise questions about its origins. Above all, instability is extremely expensive for the countries suffering it.

Instability has negative consequences for the countries suffering it because:
  • It induces uncertainty in the political processes, in the management of public goods and services,
  • It delays and in some cases cancels the development and implementation of policies,
  • It contributes to inflationary cycles (and we have already consider the nature of inflation as a regressive tax in previous postings),
  • It prevents local and foreign long term investment,
  • It exacerbates radical positions on both extremes of the political spectrum,
  • Even when it comes as a consequence of democratic procedures, puts democracy at risk

Yi Feng, of the School of Politics and Economics of Claremont Graduate University, developed a detailed analysis of the consequences that political instability has for policy uncertainty, political freedoms, the formation of human capital, and economic growth. The title is: "Political Freedom, Political Instability, and Policy Uncertainty: A Study of Political Institutions and Private Investment in Developing Countries". It was published by the International Studies Quarterly (June 2001, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 271-294(24)). You can get access to it through the Ebsco-Host link of the Library's website.

Now, since the only known political regime in the region has been presidential, we can assume that it has at least some consequences for the performance of the governments, and the outcomes that the political systems produce.

If we are unwilling to consider this feature, then the finding a possible answer to the issue of instability needs to go to other features: the so-called "political culture", the Iberian and indigenous legacies, the racial or ethnic features, and the like.

If we assume that this is an issue of "political culture", following the rationale of S. P. Huntington or Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, then we will have to ask if there is a solution to it. From the "clash of civilizations" perspective developed by Huntington, there is no way out. "Culture", and "political culture" in particular cannot be changed, they are the consequence of the "corrupted" legacies that reside at the very core of Latin American identities: Iberian and indigineous for cases like Mexico, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay; Iberian and Gaucho for cases like Argentina, Uruguay, and to a certain extent Brazil, and even worse for countries with a triple "negative" legacy like the Dominican Republic, Panamá, Honduras, Colombia, Venezuela, and regions of Peru: Iberian, indigenous, and African.

From this approach, identities have existed as such since the days of the Protestant Reformation and the colonization of Latin America, and people like myself, mestizo, Catholic, and Latin American are little more than beasts, unable to conduct ourselves according to the needs of a democratic polity. Of course, a new problem arises for this approach when we consider the experiences of Spain and Portugal in the 20th century, but then again, perhaps since they are European and there is less or no trace of indigenous or African legacies there they have been successful when compared with Latin American failures.

As you can imagine, I have several reasons to reject these kinds of explanations. The most important of them is that it leaves more than 500 million persons without any possible redemption.

Then, if you reject the cultural and racial explanations (that ultimately are one and the same), we need to figure out other possible explanations for the current situation, and to avoid similar situations in the future. Again, because of the consequences of instability.

Since presidential regimes are the only known regime in the region and the Presidency as such concentrates so much legal and extra-legal powers, you cannot rule it out as a source of instability.

Moreover, consider beyond the successful experience of the U.S. (which would require and entirely separate explanation) the ammount of scholarship produced on the subject in recent years. Just going over the citations and references of the articles by Arturo Valenzuela and Joe Forewaker, gives you an idea of how relevant it is, how intense is the debate.

Consider also the fact that, even if there is no agreement among the two authors considered about the possibility of inducing a radical change in the political regimes (going from presidential to parliamentary regimes--my own personal Mexican utopy), both agree on the need to introduce major changes in the institutional designs of the region to prevent instability. Moreover, both agree that without those changes Latin American democracies are at great risk.

Forewaker provides a superb account of the kinds of outcomes that the Latin American presidential systems produce. He also provides insights about possible ways to improve the systems' performance and overall outcomes. Valenzuela's identifies for the most part similar sources of instability, but he is more ambitious when proposing possible solutions and more aggressive in the analysis of the Latin American presidencies. Reread pages 14 and 15 of his article, when he compares "minority presidents" (those with less than 45% of the Legislative) with "majority presidents" and how, in Venezuela's case, Carlos Andrés Pérez was unable to control his own party in the Congress.

For those interested in the topic and able to read Spanish, I suggest to read Bruce Ackerman's article "¿Hacia una síntesis latinoamericana?" published as a part of the book Contribuciones para el debate. Contribuciones ... is part of the studies commisioned by the United Nations Programme on Development for the study Democracy in Latin America. We read in session two a summary in English of that study.

When comparing presidential and parliamentary regimes (p. 93 of Contribuciones para el debate) Ackerman says:

I propose to put aside the academic debate about the advantages or disadvantages of presidential regimes for democratic politics, and consider the impact that it has in the functioning of the courts and the bureaucracies of a country.

To enhance our understanding of the problem, I will use Guillermo O'Donnell's distinction between regime and State. As far as the organization of their political regime, Latin Americans refused the possibility of following the European model of parliamentary democracy to pick, instead, the presidential system following the U.S. style. But as far as the State, the Latin Americans were much more eurocentrist to organize their bureaucracies and tribunals, following an ethno-nationalist model. Hence, we are before a typical Latin American synthesis: a regime following the U.S. model within a European like State. Is this peculiar synthesis particularly propitious or particularly disastrous?

I am sorry to spell it out, but my approach is the gloomiest.

Ackerman's argument is extremely useful to understand both the outcomes of presidential regimes, the instability that affects them. I will try to find if he has published a similar piece in English.

Not only Ackerman. Other heavyweights of political analysis in the region discuss this topic and many other topics, so try to read it. You can get it here.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Hypothesis Building in Latin American Contexts

Hi class,

After today's class I went over your hypotheses. Some of them are ready to be the cornerstone of your final paper, some others need some work, but overall I am happy with what we have been able to accomplish so far.

Also, I have been trying to find additional readings for those of you having problems or interested in improving or developing your abilities to conceptualize and develop hypothesis.

I was able to find a reading by Michael Coppedge ("Theory Building and Hypothesis Testing: Large- vs. Small-N Research on Democratization"). He is a professor at Notre Dame University. Moreover, he is an "area specialist" with specific interests in Venezuela and Mexico, so the paper I am suggesting for you to read is mostly concerned with issues and examples from the region.

Moreover, Coppedge discusses hypothesis testing and building for case studies, which is what many of you are trying to do for this course, so it should be helpful for your own research.

Go over it, try to relate with the discussions that we have had in our course, and above all relate it with your own final paper.

Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Decentralization and Federalism

Hi class,

Decentralization is relevant as a process that tries to address hierarchies. Hierarchies are problematic for economists and public and private managers because they create much more problems while managing resources (especially public resources) than markets. This happens, mostly, because of the way they tend to organize themselves.

Broadly speaking, a hierarchy is any structure of power. Churches, especially the Catholic Church, explicitly acknowledge the existence of such structures and they call them hierarchies. In organizational studies, any structure of power is a hierarchy. They are problematic because when they become too large, they tend to impose political, personal, or clientele criteria in the use and distribution of the resources, reducing the overall efficiency of the processes they perform. This is what economists and managers call externalities.

Historically, the move towards decentralization as a concept goes all the way back to the works of Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of Democracy in America.

Tocqueville wrote:

Decentralization has, not only an administrative value, but also a civic dimension, since it increases the opportunities for citizens to take interest in public affairs; it makes them get accustomed to using freedom. And from the accumulation of these local, active, persnickety freedoms, is born the most efficient counterweight against the claims of the central government, even if it were supported by an impersonal, collective will.

More recently, the observation of bureaucracies and the externalities they face prompted a series of changes in the late 1960s in highly centralized countries as France (a unitary, Presidential polity) after the defeat of Gen. Charles de Gaulle in the plebiscite called in 1968. However, it is possible to find examples of this need to decentralize in large U.S. corporations such as General Motors, Ford, General Electric, and the like during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The U.S. government itself acknowledged this problem when, in the early 1970s, forced the partition of "Ol' Mamma Bell" into the Baby Bells. Not only Big Bell had a monopoly over telephone communications, but it was very inefficient in providing that kind of service.

The tendency spread out to other Western countries during the late 1970s, mixed in many cases with the rise of what here and in Britain is called conservatism and in the rest of the world is called neoliberalism, the case of Britain and Margaret Thatcher is paradigmatic of this convergence. That leads some uncritical observers of Latin American reality to mix-and-match neoliberalism with decentralization.

However, it is necessary to acknowledge that way before the emergence of the International Monetary Fund as the factotum of policy in the region, the governments of Latin America were already aware of the need to promote some forms of decentralization or administrative reform.

Decentralization as a theory rejects the assumption that we need some form of hierarchy or structure of power, seeking to raise specific questions about the specific types of hierarchies that are necessary in any given circumstance. It sees hierarchies (for that purpose any form of authority) as arbitrary. After this first question about the need of structures of power, decentralization asks for the specific forms of structures of power that are better for the processes we are addressing or considering.

Decentralization does not reject authority or hierarchies per se, but acknowledges the need to challenge systematically the specific forms of authority or hierarchy to develop at any given moment the best form of authority possible.

From a very abstract perspective, decentralization de-sacralizes power that is why it rejects fixed structures of power and seeks to develop fluent exchanges of information between service providers and clients.

Our Readings

Falleti is mostly concerned with the relations between executive authorities at the three levels of government in the four largest countries in the region. Willis, Garman and Haggard are concerned with the role that political parties have had in these processes.

Their key findings are:

  1. Decentralization is a sequential and path dependent PROCESS. Falleti´s emphasis on the procedural character of decentralization seeks to highlight the fact that we cannot understand these processes as black or white kind of processes. Up until today in Mexico, as an example, there are political actors seeking a broader decentralization, while—of course—there are other actors seeking to expand the role of the Federal Government at the expense of the local and state governments.

  2. Decentralization happens or not regardless of: the type of regime (democratic or authoritarian); the Constitutional structure (federal or unitary); and who is in charge (civil or military). The four cases used by Falleti provide different examples of this. Mexico was formally a Federal republic, but it was in actuality a very centralized polity; Colombia was a extreme case of political centralization, ridden with extreme illegal organizations (the guerrilla and the drug lords) challenging the ability of the State to control territory and to provide for the needs of the population. Argentina was a very stiff military regime, unable to open itself to the kind of progressive reform that happened in Brazil, where the military tried to combine a strong authoritarian leadership at the national level, with democratically elected subnational leaders.

  3. The reason for it, and this is my own take from the Mexican experience, is that it happens because decentralization as well as federalism and other buzzwords of Latin American political jargon, are usually labels behind the “real” policies. In Mexico’s case, a very centralist and authoritarian government, labeled, however as federalist and democratic, started in the late 1970s a decentralization process. It was their way to deal with hierarchies and their externalities (in simple language with bureaucracies and the red tape they crate). Among the problems were: the inefficiency of local political bosses to aggregate political support for the PRI. With the challenge presented by different political actors, some of them legitimate as the Partido Acción Nacional and some others marginal or even illegal as the guerrilla organizations active during the mid 1970s. In addition, with the externalities (problems) created by the hierarchies. Moreover, the Mexican political elites’ response to these challenge was paradoxical, because on the one hand—as Willis et al. nicely explain—it actually decentralized by allocating more resources to the states and municipalities, although—on the other hand—it also centralized power in the figure of the Secretary of Budget and Planning. Interestingly enough, three of the last four presidents of Mexico were before their election heads of that secretary (Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León). That gives you an idea of how powerful that position in the cabinet was. Moreover, it was that secretary the one in charge of the decentralization process in Mexico up until its fusion with the Secretary of the Treasury in 1992.

  4. The different outcomes of the decentralization PROCESS are less a result of particular or individual policies, and more the product of the EVOLUTION of such reforms and the type of actors empowered along the way. The path dependent nature of the PROCESS is clear when one considers how their decentralization programme developed within the context of the Argentine military regime and how it has evolved over time. Conversely, the Colombian process reflects the willingness of the national government at the beginning of the PROCESS to introduce deep changes in the structure of the polity. One could argue, considering the evidence provided by Willis et al., that the failure of Venezuelan democracy is correlated, at least partially, with the externalities that a unitary, centralist, presidential government creates in terms of the hierarchies running the show. Is not a surprise that the main problem with Partidocracia (Party-cracy) was precisely in terms of corruption (el cogollo).

  5. Willis, Garman, and Haggard’s piece is valuable because it introduces the issue of the role of the national political parties as a key aspect of the decentralization process. It is not a surprise that polities where the parties were under severe constraints (Argentina during the military dictatorship banned the Peronista party, as an example) had poor outcomes. The same can be said of Federalist polities where the President does not enjoy a legislative majority (hence Mr. Fox problems in Mexico nowadays with the fiscal reform). Divided governments (like the situation that Bill Clinton faced here in the States during much of his term) produce (as contemporary Mexico confirms) deadlock.

  6. Although decentralization can have positive impacts on poverty and other key topics, we cannot be too optimistic about the outcomes of decentralization processes. The best example of it comes from Colombia. But, of course, as Leah wisely pointed out, the main problem there is that the old centralist, unitary, and presidential system confronted the additional challenges brought by the guerrilla and the drug lords. Here you can get a brief newsletter analyzing some of the negative and positive processes of decentralization worldwide.

We could analyze these processes also by using Foucault’s approach on governmentality. The national governments display their technologies of power, which are confronted by the subnational governments’ technologies of self and their own technologies of power, and out of the interplay of these two forms of technologies, of specialized knowledge expected and unexpected consequences emerge.

I believe, as I already mentioned in class, that when analyzing processes like decentralization or federalization it is necessary to pay attention to the specific policies and path dependent and non-path dependent processes. Moreover, whether as policymakers or as social entrepreneurs or as social scientists or even as simple citizens here in the US, in Latin America or in Europe, we need to pay attention to this interplay of technologies of self and technologies of power and be ready for unexpected consequences.

One way to avoid some of the unexpected consequences brought by large scale planning (the six-year National Development Plan that Mexican presidents must submit to the Congress during the first year of their term could be a good example) is by considering as much voices as possible in the processes: think, as an example of the kinds of audiences that the MTA or many other agencies hold here in NYC everytime they need to raise fares or when they decide to expand a line or to renew or close a station.

If you want to get some more information on the topic, go to the Website of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

I also mentioned in class the existence of these new forms of organizations called heterarchies, something in between a market and a hierarchy. A heterarchy can be defined as "horizontal self-organization among mutually interdependent actors." If you are interested in that topic read this brief paper (12 pages).

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Latin American Cities and Capitalist Development

Hi class,

Today’s readings offered a good summary of most of the research and most of the policies carried in Latin America in the last 40 years.

Portes’s reading is relevant not only because of the literature review he offers, but also because of the way in which he connects the (mis)adventures of Capitalist development with the attempts to plan and regulate the growth of Latin American cities.

Angotti’s piece is relevant because it connects at one level with Portes’s in stressing the role that capitalist development has in shaping the city as a privileged space for the exercise of different forms of power, but also because of the consideration of the kinds of constraints that such type of development puts on the city.

Rosie’s question regarding the ability of the governments to plan or not the development or the growth of the city it is relevant at many different levels. On the one hand, it can be answered by saying yes, there is planning, plenty of it. The budgets of Latin American cities are filled with studies and analysis seeking ways to improve the quality of life, the goods provided, and so on. However, of course, the problem is that almost all those plans require money to be carried and money is not easy to find, especially if you are under severe fiscal constraints.

Moreover, it could be argued that Latin American cities (as any cities in the world) provide good examples of the kinds of contradictions, tensions, and unexpected consequences that capitalist development generates. Back in the 1970s, French philosopher Michel Foulcault (I can see Matthew scared and running away from this one) came up with the concept of Governmentality as a key tool to try to address the complexities that attempts to regulate the use of physical space have all over the world.
Of course, the unexpected consequences are most evident in cities in fragile fiscal shape for obvious reasons, but the problems exist regardless.

Foucault coined the notion of governmentality as an attempt to encompass in one single concept the uses, tensions, intentions, contradictions, unexpected consequences, and strategies to challenge and to resist power.

I know is big as a bomb. However, one way we can breakdown such concept is by thinking of governmentality as 1) a research strategy, and 2) a conception of governing. As research strategy governmentality «seeks to explore power relations, particularly in the domain of what constitutes conduct» (Lechte, John Key Contemporary Concepts. Sage, 2003, p. 98). As a conception of governing, it is connected with the concept of government, but is not reduced to it. That is to say, not only the government has strategies of governmentality: firms, small and large; churches; sports organizations, and so forth and so on. Any organization that has some goal or aim needs to display some form of governmentality at some point.
It is important to stress that, unlike Marxist thinking and some other radical approaches to power; Foucault’s radical-ity when dealing with power resides in the fact that for him power is not «a limit to freedom … governmentality must be understood as a set of actions or practices enacted over free individuals, actions realized only to the extent that individuals are free» (Lechte 99).

Moreover, Foucault’s governmentality «points to a domain which covers more than the legitimate forms of politics and government; it is imbricated in all the actions of people; for this is what the art of government entails. In itself it is neither good nor bad, desirable nor undesirable. Rather is the very field of contestation itself, should there be contestation, as it is the very field of acquiescence, should there be acquiescence» (Lechte 99).

I do not think that is necessary to elaborate too much on how the policies and plans to regulate the development and growth of the city (Mexico City, New York, London, or Beijing) fit nicely for analyses based on this approach. Mostly, because it is there in the endless battles to shape the form and the function of areas of the city that is possible to see contestation and acquiescence.

Now, when we analyze processes like those considered by Portes and Angotti, using governmentality it is necessary to identify within each interaction between individuals and the power three different sub-processes:

a. Technologies of domination
b. Technologies of self
c. Both unexpected and expected consequences coming out of the interaction between both technologies

(In this section, I will be using and adapting extensively Jennifer Smith-Maguire’s article “Michel Foucault: Sport, Power, Technologies and Governmentality” in Theory, Sport and Society. All the portions in quotation come from this article.)

a. Technologies of domination

The technologies of domination seek to «optimize the use of resources» of all type, from the resources of the body to the resources of polity. To achieve such optimization one follows what Weber would have called a rationally oriented (social) action: one tries to find the optimal means to achieve the stated goals or aims. The operations required to select such means involve «systematic, specialized forms of classification and categorization of human life» (censuses and the like) reflecting relations of power. Such relations of power will never generate zero-sum outcomes and are positive exercises of power, at least theoretically, technologies of domination seek to «constrain choices, such that individuals more often than not are productive and active in ways that more often than not, reproduce the social order. As the range of choice narrows, the degree of domination rises.»

Technologies of domination (or power) «fall within two broad modes, reflecting the ongoing tension between, on the one hand, the state indirectly relying upon individuals to maintain social order» (the market), and on the other «the state directly governing the productivity of the population as a whole» (the law). That is, «technologies of domination work in both individualizing and totalizing modes, producing different, interrelated bodies of knowledge that work through the same rationality of optimization through normalization» (plans to regulate urban growth or development).

b. Technologies of self

Technologies of power or domination aim at shaping individual and collective choices among those targeted by such technologies. According to Foucault technologies of self: «permit individuals to effect, by their own means or with the help of others, a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, immortality» Michel Foucault (1988) “Technologies of Self” in Technologies of Self: a Seminar with Michel Foucault. Amherst UMA Press.

Technologies of self are useful, as one of many possible examples, to explain the decision of many Latin Americans to leave their towns of origin heading to Mexico City, Buenos Aires or Río de Janeiro, and in some cases, from there to Los Angeles, Madrid, or Lisbon. They are useful to explain also autopoietic initiatives that seek to articulate groups or organizations in trying to improve their lives even if it is only at the level of survival strategies. Often times, technologies of self involve doses of conscious and deliberate resistance and rejection of the technologies of domination or power.

Moreover, technologies of power (think of many laws here in the US or elsewhere) have what Smith-Maguire calls «contradictory or ambivalent effects … lying at the heart of opportunities for resistance» (p. 304). That is the case of laws or planning and development programmes that aimed, with the best imaginable intentions, at solving or at least taming specific problems or issues, but that in the end create «new and different problems. »

c. Unexpected and expected consequences coming out of the interaction between both technologies

Here is where governmentality becomes problematic and critical to understand the successes of some policies (beautification of urban spaces or gentrification, as an example) and the failure of others (annihilation of local traditions and knowledge, social conflict, and the like).

Both Angotti and Portes provide good solid examples of technologies of power, of technologies of self, and of governmentality as this random interaction between technologies of self and domination.

If any of you are interested in exploring more the concept of governmentality let me know, I will point you in the direction of some interesting articles.