As Donald Trump assumes office as the 45th president of the United States, widespread pessimism about the impact of his presidency abounds. The Donald has not backed off from (what appeared at the time) to be his most extravagant campaign promises. He has ramped up his rhetoric against China and Mexico as at the root of the decline of American manufacturing. He has announced that he will re-negotiate NAFTA and, if America does not get what it wants, will abandon it. The U.S. will not enter the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. The era of pursing free trade agreements with the rest of the world is gone, at least for now. Instead, we can expect his administration to slap tariffs on products manufactured abroad by U.S. companies and re-exported to the U.S., particularly in those sectors where it appears that companies have changed production location for the sake of reducing the cost of labor. Many commentators recalling the prelude to the Great Depression of the early 1930s, have raised fears about a decent into the protectionist policies of the past, a sharp deterioration of economic growth, and the onset of a severe recession. Others have opined that companies will simply seek other ways of reducing costs (and maintaining profits) such as through the use of robot technology. In general, most political observers place a great deal of blame on Trump himself for stirring up anti-trade public sentiments. Others focus on the racist/anti-immigrant and misogynist predispositions of Trump supporters, arguing that he has fostered these attitudes and rendered them legitimate.
The election of Donald Trump introduced border security and illegal Mexican immigration as crucial national issues. The Republican candidate garnered substantial political support for his promises to build a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border, deport Mexicans in the U.S. on a massive scale, and slap tariffs on cheap imported manufactured goods believed responsible for the loss of American jobs. Most critics focus on the xenophobic, illiberal, nature of these policy pronouncements. However, Trump’s critics have said little about the role of the U.S., including powerful U.S. economic interests, in contributing to the very immigration problem that the incoming Trump claims it will solve. Blowback, often used to refer to the impact of various U.S. misadventures in foreign policy, refers to the unwanted/negative result of an action or series of actions. The massive Mexican immigration to the U.S. with its attendant political consequences, is a troubling case of blowback—in large part the consequence of past U.S. actions.
U.S. president-elect Donald Trump has targeted Mexico as one of the main sources of job losses in the U.S., leaving many people with the mistaken impression that countries such as Mexico have been the winners in the global competitive game. However, today’s liberal trade and investment order, as I suggested in an earlier blog post, has not, on balance, benefitted Mexico. From 1996 to 2015, the Mexican economy has grown at the average annual growth rate of only 1.2 percent. With such lacklustre growth, the country’s poverty rate increased by 2.9 percent between 2008 and 2014. Inequality has also risen. While the top 10 percent saw their incomes rise, the bottom 50% of the population either failed to see their situation improve, or saw it deteriorate. In 2012, the total household income of the bottom 10 percent of the population was substantially lower than it was in 2008, despite some slight improvement in 2010.
The election of Donald Trump and the British vote to leave the European Union have coincided with a growing chorus of concern about “fake news.” It is tempting to lay much of the blame on social media in general and on the entrepreneurial enthusiasm of teenagers in a small Macedonian town, who churned out pro Trump “news” to make money by increasing traffic to their sites. However, politicians and their supporters, particularly of the right centre populist variety, have also gotten into the act. One Donald Trump supporter, for example, claimed that Clinton and her senior staff were involved in underage sex rings while Trump himself made many false statements during his election campaign. He declared that global warming was a “hoax invented by the Chinese,” said that Barak Obama was not born in the U.S. and then lied again, by denying that he had made such a claim. Fake news, some believe, played a role in the American election and in the Brexit vote. There is also a growing consensus that this type of phenomenon is dangerous to liberal democratic institutions and it is on the rise.
Reactions to Fidel Castro’s demise have been strongly polarized. Denunciations from the Cuban American community have been particularly harsh. The first Cuban-American elected to Congress, said Castro was a “tyrant and thug” and hailed his death as an opportunity to “work for a Cuba that is free, democratic, and prosperous”. In Miami, Castro’s death sparked celebrations on the part of the Cuban American community. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement praising Castro has been widely criticized for its failure to mention the repressive nature of the regime and its human right violations. While the tributes of Latin American left leaders were generally effusive, leaders of the centre and centre right, did not focus on the negative aspects of Castro’s legacy. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto praised Castro for being “a friend of Mexico” and for “promoting bilateral relations based on respect, dialogue and solidarity”. Chile’s President, Michelle Bachelet, whose democratic credentials are impeccable who was herself imprisoned and tortured by another dictator said: “Fidel Castro fought for the ideals of dignity for his people and social justice, indelibly marking the history of America”. Brazilian’s new right wing President Michel Temer called Fidel Castro a "leader of convictions," who "marked the second half of the 20th century with the firm defense of the ideas in which he believed". Despite the recent failures of the regime, including severe restrictions on political freedoms and deprivations such as food shortages, many in Cuba, did mourn his death. Recent televised reports showed long lines of mourners in Havana, many tearful, paying their respects.
On Monday of last week, President-elect Donald Trump, outlining plans for his first 100 days in office, declared that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and replace it with “fair” bilateral agreements. As the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, one of the 12 signatories to the deal, declared, the TPP “without the U.S, is meaningless.” The agreement aimed to lower barriers on trade and investment among twelve countries (bordering the Pacific Ocean: US, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru), accounting for approximately 60 percent of the world economy and 40 percent of the world’s population.
There has been a fundamental change in U.S. politics. It emerged with the primaries and came to fruition with last night’s election of Donald Trump to the presidency. The basis of support for the country’s two traditional parties has changed in fundamental ways, with the Democratic Party becoming the party of big business and foreign policy hawks, while the working class (at least the white working class) has moved to the Republicans. The nastiness of the campaign was without precedent. Trump called Clinton a liar and demanded that she be jailed. His rhetoric has been particularly vitriolic—misogynist, racist, and widely regarded as irresponsible in its lack of respect for the institutional process.
Regardless of who wins the U.S. election, a new era in the U.S. approach to international trade agreements is about to emerge. Donald Trump has railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as the worst trade agreement ever signed by the U.S. and promised to withdraw support for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) if elected. Although not as strident, Clinton, in a reversal of her past pro free trade position, now says that she would renegotiate NAFTA and has come out in opposition to the TPP. Of course, rising opposition to economic globalization and trade integration is not confined to the U.S. as Brexit amply illustrates. We now face a critical moment in the history of global capitalism.
It is now apparent that neither democracy nor the neoliberal prescription of dismantling the state has been successful in mitigating widespread corruption in Latin America. In Brazil, Eduardo Cunha, the powerful politician and former leader of the lower house, who orchestrated the ouster of former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, has recently been arrested on corruption charges. Many more high-level Brazilian politicians and businessmen are currently under investigation, including the current president of Brazil, Michel Temer. Former President Lula has also been charged with corruption. Investigations of corruption in Argentina have reached top-level politicians and the businessmen closely allied with the Kirchner administrations. The Argentine federal prosecutor has indicted former Argentine president Cristina Kirchner, who amassed a fortune during her tenure in office, on corruption charges. These charges have included, among other transgressions, intervention in a currency trade involving Argentina’s Central Bank that may have cost the country billions of dollars. Distressing for many observers, is the fact that these governments had come to power through the electoral process and were part of the “pink tide,” left leaning regimes that promised social justice in the wake of the persistence of poverty and high levels of inequality. The mainstream media (optimistically) characterized the widespread protests in Brazil against the Rousseff administration as indicating growing public anger against the mismanagement and greed of politicians who had promised improved distributive outcomes. Hence, there is the expectation that the next stage will involve important changes in policy and institutional arrangements that will finally put an end to, or at least mitigate, corrupt practices. This thinking will be convincing only to those with short memories.
On October 2, Colombians voted by a narrow margin (50.2 to 49.8 percent) to reject the peace agreement negotiated by the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos. This war has raged for 52 years, caused an estimated 220,000 deaths, and displaced millions. While the population is clearly polarized over the agreement, it is also widely believed that many who voted for the agreement, voted for it more out of war weariness than enthusiastic endorsement. Most recent analyses of the “no” victory point to public (mainly urban) concern about the aspects of the agreement that appear to provide overly generous provisions for the rebels, such as the guarantee that FARC members would be able to avoid long prison terms for brutal human rights violations. The agreement would also provide the FARC with a guaranteed 10 seats in Congress.
Mexico’s political and economic leaders are clearly terrified about the prospects of a Trump election victory. However, they should probably not be too sanguine about a Clinton victory either—although Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has rejected the idea of a wall along the Mexican/U.S. border, she has gone on record as supporting “a barrier to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in” (1). She, like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, also supports the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). To many observers it appears that Mexico has much to lose should the US abandon its enthusiasm for free trade agreements. It has, but the agreement has already been very costly for Mexico.
With the election of Hugo Chavez to the presidency of Venezuela in 1998, the country became the darling of the intellectual left. Chavez pledged to confront the country’s reactionary oligarchy and redistribute the bounty from the country’s petroleum wealth to eradicate poverty, and deprivation. Until recently, supported by buoyant international petroleum prices, the “socialist” experiment seemed to work fairly well, although with intermittent and growing political tensions and increasing political polarization. Between 1999 and 2011, poverty and infant mortality rates declined. Today, however, the country faces a severe economic and humanitarian crisis involving inflation of over 700 percent, rising poverty, severe shortages in food and medical supplies, and burgeoning crime rates. Venezuela is now one of the world’s most violent countries.
More people in Latin America die as a result of criminal violence than in anywhere else in the world. While 8 percent of the world’s population lives in Latin America and the Caribbean, the region accounts for roughly one-third of the world’s homicide cases. Latin America's per capita homicide rate is 23.4 per 100,000 people, nearly double the rate in Africa, a region sometimes mistakenly believed to be the most violent continent.
As is widely known, organized crime, particularly crime involving drug trafficking, is one of the most important sources of the violence in the region, with serious implications for physical security and general human well-being, particularly for those living in poor communities. Some recent research has noted the worrying sign of close links between political elites and organized crime—a situation that does not bode well for either the quality of democracy or for substantial improvement over the long-term—despite some recent improvements in specific cases.
Latinos in the U.S. enthusiastically support Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Unlike her opponent Donald Trump, she does not speak ill of immigrants or of the national character of those south of the U.S. border. Latin Americans also would prefer to see Clinton elected over Trump. Clinton has not promised to build a wall along the Mexican/American border; nor does she evince the same sort of strong opposition to international trade deals as Trump does. All of this suggests that Latin Americans would be much better off with a Clinton win. However, there are reasons to be skeptical about just how good a Clinton presidency would be for Latin America. Two events last week alert us to what the nature of U. S. foreign policy could be like should Clinton become President: U.S. support for regimes that are harmful to democracy and inclusive development.
As a variety of commentators have noted, the U.S., faced with rising inequality and a growing perception that only the wealthy have benefitted from economic growth, has begun to witness the demagoguery and populist appeals believed characteristic of nations south of the border. This blog entry considers another similarity: the obstacles faced by women politicians advocating “within system” change aimed to benefit the disadvantaged; it considers the difficult political obstacles presented by powerful economic and political interests that manipulate misogynistic sentiments to block change.
Britain’s exit from the European Union and Donald Trump’s candidacy for the U.S. presidency have dominated the media for some time now, with much of the coverage focusing on domestic and European Union impacts. While Brexit is a certainty, the popularity of Donald Trump, even should he not be elected president, may well usher in an era of greater U.S. isolation—Hillary Clinton has recently backed off from her earlier unconditional support for the TPP trade agreement. Only a handful of reports have explored the economic implications of these events for Latin America. Even fewer have explored the potential political fallout.
The rise of the Trump phenomenon in the U.S. and the victory of the leave vote in Great Britain have given rise to growing concern about the rise of xenophobia among apparently large swaths of the public in both countries. There has also been considerable fear that such uncharitable attitudes may usher in a new age of inward protectionist policies that will hurt trade and general social welfare. While there is no doubt that anti-immigrant/anti-foreign sentiment is a reality in both cases, it is important to understand the conditions under which opposition politicians have been able to cultivate such sentiments.
As the U.S. political scene has become increasingly polarized, there have been a number of commentaries (including my own, in an earlier blog) suggesting that with the rise of Trump’s demagogic appeals, U.S. politics was beginning to look more like what has gone on south of the border (1). Latin America has certainly had its share of populist charismatic leaders who have garnered considerable support by offering unsophisticated solutions to complex problems. While there are certainly some similarities between Donald Trump’s appeals and Latin America’s populist politics, more recent developments, including the machinations that have occurred in the wake of the Orlando massacre, suggest some important and (for the U.S.) sinister distinctions.
This blog entry was inspired by recent events in Brazil—the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Rio de Janeiro. It also owes a debt to one of my graduate students (a Mexican), who took my Gender, Globalization, and Development course this past winter. His remarks, particularly when the discussion turned to the Mexican case, emphasized the importance of achieving a better grasp of exactly what men think and why they behave the way they do. He observed that the literature on globalization, gender, and development, while accurately pointing out all of the ways in which women are exploited, subjected and repressed, does not really illuminate the ways in which male identity contributes to the problem. True, everyone agrees that patriarchy is at the root of female oppression, and that it involves power. However, we need to know why patriarchy has been so enormously resilient. This question is especially puzzling since patriarchy, particularly in its extreme forms, is arguably counterproductive to everyone’s welfare.
After twenty hours of debate, the Brazilian Senate voted this week to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff stepped down from the presidency on Thursday and was replaced by her vice-president, Michel Temer. Given the strong sentiment in favor of initiating the impeachment process (55 votes in favour out of 81) Rousseff is not likely to return to power.
There are at least three important questions arising from these events.