By Christian Bracho*
Members of Mexico’s Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de Educación (CNTE) at a mass mobilization in 2013. / Eneas De Troya / Flickr / Creative Commons
Teachers in Oaxaca and other Mexican states are increasingly fearful and resentful of both their union and the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Since the 1970s, Mexico’s Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de Educación (CNTE) has operated as a formalized dissident caucus within the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Educación (SNTE), the national union that has been an essential part of state machinery since the 1940s and strongly aligned with the PRI. CNTE rallied for many causes, such as union democratization, regional autonomy, and economic justice, and enjoyed the most popular support in the 1980s. As they accumulated power in the 1990s in states like Oaxaca, CNTE leaders turned to neo-corporatist strategies to incentivize teachers’ participation in union mobilizations. An extensive point system, for example, rewarded teachers for going to marches, camping out during strike periods, and attending rallies in Mexico City; teachers who failed to participate in a minimum amount of activities lost union privileges and benefits. By 2005, Oaxaca’s union had split over its focus on politics rather than pedagogy. Over the last ten years, dissident teachers have increasingly faced government pressure and violence.
- In 2006, military police broke up a rebellion led by striking teachers in Oaxaca state, in which dozens of activists were killed. In 2013, the massive teacher strike against President Peña Nieto’s constitutional reforms – which would require states to implement national education policies – ended with the violent eviction of teachers from Mexico City’s zócalo. In 2014, 43 student teachers in Guerrero state were massacred, and last year over a dozen protesters were killed in Nochixtlán, outside of Oaxaca’s capital city.
Although these incidents provide teachers’ unions considerable cause for continued mobilization, my research indicates that teachers in states like Oaxaca are less convinced that their ongoing struggles represent authentic political resistance. Many say they are fulfilling syndical obligations – less a reflection of personal convictions – because attendance is recorded and assures payment. Teachers tell me that they trust neither the government nor the union; they see government as an entrenched century-old political machine that has resurged with more impunity than ever, and the union – both nationally and regionally –as driven by special interests and cronyism. Maestros feel they have little recourse but to fend for themselves and families. They fear the violence that the government may visit upon them, but they also fear the public shaming they face if they criticize the union’s political tactics or support government reforms.
Education reform in Mexico is vital to improve the overall quality of teaching and learning – and to address the social and economic inequalities across the country. Government action is essential to such efforts, but endemic corruption has stained the public’s image of national and state leaders, cultivating distrust of top-down policies. The union is also essential to protecting teachers’ interests and challenging the hegemony of the national government, but its neo-corporatist strategies such as the point system delegitimize the activist banner waved by leaders in states like Oaxaca. Especially with increasing symbolic and physical violence, teachers are in an impossible position, stuck between two forces they don’t trust and facing dire consequences if they challenge the authority of either the government or union. Though dissident teachers are important to putting a check on government impunity and corruption, the union’s sustained mobilizations have negatively impacted their profession and student achievement. While “the teacher fighting is also teaching” – a common refrain in Mexico – teachers must also be free to step away from the march and into the classroom.
March 16, 2017
* Christian Bracho teaches in the International Training and Education Program at American University’s School of Education.
Posted by clalsstaff on March 16, 2017
By Eric Hershberg, Dennis Stinchcomb, and Fulton Armstrong
An agent from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)./ Department of Homeland Security / Wikimedia / Creative Commons
The immigrant deportation policy that the Trump Administration announced last week is among the most aggressive in U.S. history and promises to create tensions between Washington and Latin America and disrupt communities across the United States. Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly has told agencies under his aegis to “use all authorities to the greatest extent practicable” to remove undocumented immigrants from the country. President Trump called his new initiative a “military operation” – which an embarrassed Kelly denied during meetings in Mexico City intended to control damage from other Trump statements. The White House said the measures will “take the shackles off” the enforcers, and U.S. media reported enforcement officers’ celebratory comments that they “can finally do their job.” The Administration will also ask Congress to authorize a large expansion – another 15,000 – of enforcement positions.
- The rationale repeatedly refers to deporting “criminals” – whom Trump calls “bad hombres” and “bad dudes” – but the new policy will exempt no classes or categories of “removal aliens,” including non-criminals. U.S. press already report roundups of individuals with no criminal records who are being expelled from the country within 72 hours. Fear among immigrants is pervasive, and there are many reports (such as here and here) of families hunkering down in their homes, withdrawing children from school, and setting up contingency plans for protecting U.S. citizen kids should their undocumented parents be grabbed by the authorities and sent abroad.
- The policy weakens protections from “expedited removal” that the Obama Administration put in place, which allowed immigrants caught after they had been in the country for 14 days or more to be released pending proceedings to determine their eligibility to remain in the United States. (Details remain murky but supposedly will be announced soon.) Individuals facing expedited removal are not entitled to appear before a judge.
- It increases efforts to press local police to help federal agencies find and deport undocumented immigrants, blurring the line between local and federal forces. Legal experts say this commingling of forces violates the Constitution, and many local police chiefs lament that it reduces the willingness of immigrant communities to help them fight crime.
- It removes privacy protections for people who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents, putting their personal information in the hands of vigilantes, blackmailers, and others who have no need to know it. Trump previously threatened to withhold federal assistance from “sanctuary cities” in the United States, which he accuses of causing “immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic” because they are reluctant to implement his deportation policies.
Two new measures suggest a long political campaign against undocumented immigrants. DHS will create an office – with the acronym VOICE – to collect information from victims of alleged crimes. It will be funded with “any and all resources that are currently used to advocate on behalf of illegal aliens” (most of whom have never committed a crime). The Administration will also “identify and quantify all sources of direct and indirect” assistance to Mexico, obviously to evaluate U.S. leverage against the Mexican Government if the Administration is not pleased with compliance with Washington’s wishes.
Deporting all 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be in the United States will be impossible, but the new measures will push unprecedented numbers of Mexicans and Central Americans back into societies that have no jobs and no security for them. That burden and the loss of immigrants’ remittances will cause those countries incalculable harm. The Administration’s rhetoric hammering on “criminal immigrants” is deceptive: DHS admitted in 2014 that most of the “criminals” it deported were guilty only of their undocumented presence (31.3 percent) and traffic violations (15 percent), and it would be foolish to expect that the Trump government will be more judicious. The insinuation that immigrants commit more crimes than do native-born citizens, moreover, has been debunked; they are incarcerated at a rate half that of native-born. These polices may enjoy the support of Trump’s political base, but the attacks on the defenseless; subversion of traditional values such as the right to legal counsel and the right to privacy; coercion of local police and civilian authorities; and the deportation of countless friends and neighbors whose everyday contributions enrich community life in the United States will have a profound impact extending far beyond its immediate victims.
February 27, 2017
Posted by clalsstaff on February 27, 2017
By Robert A. Blecker*
Two maquiladoras in Tijuana, Mexico. The low percentage of Mexican value-added in Mexico’s exports is a key reason why the country has not gotten nearly as much employment growth as it hoped for when it joined NAFTA. / Anthony Albright / Flickr / Creative Commons
Officials in the Trump administration are proposing a new way of measuring the U.S.-Mexican trade deficit that, by making the deficit look larger than it currently appears, will likely be spun to support efforts to impose high tariffs or dismantle NAFTA. According to press reports, the President’s senior advisors, including the head of his new trade council, Peter Navarro, are proposing to include only “domestic exports” (exports of U.S.-produced goods) in calculating bilateral trade balances with Mexico and other countries. This would exclude “re-exports” – goods that are imported into the United States from other countries (such as Canada or China) and transshipped into Mexico – which are currently counted in total U.S. exports.
- In spite of its political motivation, the proposed new accounting would render a more accurate measure of U.S. exports. In fact, it would make the U.S. deficit with Mexico look closer to what Mexico reports as its surplus with the U.S. For 2016, the U.S. reports a deficit of $63.2 billion with Mexico, while Mexico reports almost twice as big a surplus of $123.1 billion with the U.S. If the U.S. excluded re-exports, its trade deficit with Mexico for 2016 would be $115.4 billion, which is much closer to the Mexican number.
Nonetheless, this recalculation fails to correct for another bias, which makes the U.S. deficit with Mexico look artificially large. Imports are measured by the total value of the goods when they enter the country, from the immediate country of origin. But in today’s global supply chains only part of the value-added in imported goods comes from any one country. A television, for example, can be assembled in Mexico with components imported from Korea and other East Asian nations. As a result, the reported U.S. imports from Mexico (especially of manufactured goods) greatly exaggerate the Mexican content of those goods. Although data limitations do not permit an exact calculation of the Mexican content of U.S. imports from Mexico, it is likely relatively low. (My own estimates suggest it is on the order of about 30-40 percent for manufactured goods). Indeed, the low percentage of Mexican value-added in Mexico’s exports is a key reason why the country has not gotten nearly as much employment growth as it hoped for when it joined NAFTA.
The Trump Administration’s aggressive rhetoric and action on other issues related to Mexico, including immigration and the wall, suggest a political motivation for the proposal to adopt a new measure of exports, regardless of its merits. But the real problem is not the “correct” number for the U.S.-Mexican trade deficit; it is why NAFTA has not lived up to its promise of supporting high-value added exports and high-wage job creation in both countries. This promise was based on the idea that the United States would export capital and intermediate goods to Mexico for assembly into consumer goods, which would then be exported back to the United States. But especially since China joined the WTO in 2001, Mexico has increasingly become a platform for assembling mostly Asian inputs into goods for export to the United States (and secondarily Canada). Even if “re-exports” are excluded, Mexico remains the second largest export market for the United States (after Canada) – and U.S. exports to Mexico are 65 percent greater than U.S. exports to China. Focusing too much on measuring the U.S.-Mexico trade imbalance only distracts attention from the need to reform NAFTA so as to encourage more of the “links” in global supply chains to be produced in North America generally. If the Trump administration is serious about making the U.S. more competitive vis-à-vis China, it should think about viewing Mexico as a partner instead of as an enemy. In the larger context of Trump’s many objectionable policies on migration and in other areas, a long-overdue correction of U.S. export statistics is not worth getting upset over. The real issue is whether Trump’s trade policies – with Mexico and beyond – will bring the promised gains to U.S. workers, or will further enrich corporate billionaires and Wall Street tycoons.
February 23, 2017
* Robert A. Blecker is a Professor of Economics at American University.
Posted by clalsstaff on February 23, 2017
By Carlos Díaz Barriga*
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto welcomed deported citizens at Mexico City’s airport two weeks ago, a first for the president. / Gobierno de México / Creative Commons
President Donald Trump’s decision to put Mexican immigrants at the top of his enemies list has prompted Mexico to become more active – and more creative – in reaching out to compatriots in the United States to help them remain there or to cushion the shock of deportation. Largely because unauthorized Mexican immigration had been in decline for many years, it rarely made front-page news in Mexico, but since Trump’s rhetoric during last year’s campaign and since winning the presidency there has been no topic more popular in Mexico. The 5.8 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in the United States, according to Pew Research Center estimates, have their home country worried about the economic impact their deportation could cause. As Washington’s threat to deport millions looms ever larger, the Mexican government and other institutions are preparing for such a scenario. Their game plan includes both helping Mexicans fight deportation and easing their transition if deported.
- Mexican consulates in the United States are actively offering legal advice to any migrant facing deportation. President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the country would send $50 million to hire lawyers and set up outreach programs. The consulates also set up a 24-hour hotline for immediate help and are actively sharing infographics on social media indicating how undocumented immigrants should react if they are detained.
- Two weeks ago, President Peña Nieto personally received 135 deported Mexicans at Mexico City’s airport – the first time ever. Throughout the encounter he shared an upbeat and welcoming message. He described Mexico as a “land of opportunities” and said, “The doors are always open.” Dressed casually in a shirt without a tie, it was an image reminiscent of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s warm welcome of refugees.
- Mexican political leaders have launched Operación Monarca, a multi-party movement to form alliances that benefit deported immigrants. A group of Mexican senators involved in the initiative participated in a forum last week in Phoenix, Arizona, entitled “Agenda Migrante,”at which dozens of undocumented immigrants shared anecdotes of their current situation, expressed their worries, and demanded Mexican officials and advocacy groups fight U.S. policy harder.
- Universities in the country are also embracing the returning Mexicans. Universidad Iberoamericana, a private institution with various campuses around the country, offered 1,500 full-ride scholarships to incoming deported youths. The public Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions, also announced it’s starting to work with some U.S. colleges to assure that their students who are deported can continue their studies in Mexico.
- Since Trump threatened to overhaul the tech-favored H1B visa work program, cities like Guadalajara have declared interest in becoming a technology hub. Mexicans hold a little more than one percent of the approximately 300,000 H1B visas (India has more than half), but the number of returning workers with technical qualifications could be significant.
President Trump’s border wall and its cost remain major irritants in the relationship, and there is great uncertainty over how the “renegotiation” of NAFTA will proceed, but Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and President Peña Nieto continue to say Mexico is willing to cooperate with the United States wherever they can. They are hopeful to keep a strong relationship, while staying firm in their conviction that Mexico will not pay for the wall. Their shift on the undocumented in the United States reflects that commitment. No longer are unauthorized immigrants considered a long-term and one-sided issue in U.S.-Mexico relations, but rather an immediate and mutual problem. Mexico’s welcoming and warm message is probably small comfort to those being deported, and it is unclear if any of these actions could mitigate the economic and social impact for them, but the Peña Nieto government appears to be giving priority to avoiding a major train wreck with Trump over immigrants for now, and leaving the details for the future.
February 20, 2017
* Carlos Diaz Barriga is a CLALS Graduate Fellow.
Posted by clalsstaff on February 20, 2017
By Max Paul Friedman*
Uncle Sam stakes his claim in the Western Hemisphere in a political cartoon outlining the basic tenants of the Monroe Doctrine (1912). / Wikimedia / Creative Commons
A vigorous resuscitation of the Monroe Doctrine may well be at hand under U.S. President Donald Trump, even though history shows us that it will contradict another favored policy – “America First” – which signals a desire to return to the most notorious isolationist organization in U.S. history. The Monroe Doctrine, first articulated in 1823 as a means of blocking external interference in the Western Hemisphere, was the central pillar of U.S. policy toward Latin America until Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, told a roomful of Latin American diplomats in 2013 that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” The statement was part of an effort to rehabilitate the U.S. image in a region long accustomed to seeing the United States as seeking to control it through persuasion when possible, and force when necessary. In a policy paper published last December, Craig Deare, a dean at the U.S. National Defense University and now Trump’s top Latin America advisor on the National Security Council staff, denounced Kerry’s statement “as a clear invitation to those extra-regional actors looking for opportunities to increase their influence.” He specifically mentioned China.
A revitalized Monroe Doctrine, however, contradicts the Administration’s other strong impulse, present in its statements far beyond Latin America, toward isolationism. Trump is promising to build a literal wall between Latin America and the United States, but the Monroe Doctrine was decisively unilateral and interventionist. It stated that the United States would not intervene in European affairs if European powers did not intervene in the Americas, but Monroe carefully did not state that the United States would not intervene in the region. Indeed, Presidents James Monroe (1817-1825) and John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) and other U.S. leaders desired and expected the future annexation of parts of what was then Spanish or Latin American territory in Cuba, northern Mexico (later Texas), and beyond. Later, even in the “isolationist” early decades of the 20th century, the United States was vigorously engaged in military intervention and outright occupation of several countries in Latin America. The Marines were in Nicaragua (1912-33), Haiti (1915-34), and the Dominican Republic (1916-24).
- Latin American resistance prompted Franklin Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy,” which supplanted the Monroe Doctrine’s unilateralism with respect for national sovereignty, but during World War II, FDR threatened Latin American governments with economic embargoes and other measures if they didn’t round up and intern thousands of Germans, Italians, and Japanese. After the tide in the war turned in 1943, the Latin American deportation and internment program was continued by U.S. officials seeking to turn the program to economic advantage by crushing commercial rivals.
Even Obama had difficulty reversing the United States’ longstanding desire to guide political and economic developments in Latin America – continuing, for example, Washington’s “democracy promotion” efforts in Cuba and elsewhere – but steps toward normalization of relations with Cuba and other initiatives made important strides toward assuaging Latin American irritation with U.S. imperiousness. Obama went further than any president since FDR in restoring good relations, and ended the Cold War in Latin America. Donald Trump’s competing impulses – the interventionism of Monroe and the isolationism of “America First” – will keep U.S.-Latin America relations on edge. His unilateralist style has already hit its first victim, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, and is likely to claim more soon. If Trump revives the Monroe Doctrine’s unilateralism more broadly in response to a perceived threat from China throughout the region, he is likely to succeed only in making Latin America irate again.
February 2, 2017
* Max Paul Friedman is a Professor in the History Department at American University and author of Rethinking Anti-Americanism: The History of an Exceptional Concept in American Foreign Relations.
Posted by clalsstaff on February 2, 2017
By Eric Hershberg and Fulton Armstrong
The U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana and San Diego. / Tomas Castelazo / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons
U.S. President Donald Trump’s unilateral actions on Mexico last week have precipitated the most serious crisis in bilateral relations in decades and threaten to further undermine U.S. image and interests throughout Latin America. During last year’s campaign, in the face of Trump’s characterization of Mexicans as rapists and drug-traffickers and repeated pledges that he’d make Mexico “pay for the Great Wall,” President Enrique Peña Nieto adopted a strategy of patience and positive engagement. He paid dearly in political terms for meeting with Trump in August – a misjudgment that worsened his already declining popular approval – but he continued to try to stay on the high road after the election.
- Peña Nieto resurrected former Finance Minister Luis Videgaray, the architect of the Trump meeting last August, as Foreign Minister, and he replaced his ambassador in Washington with one having deep experience with NAFTA and a reputation for calm negotiation, in response to Trump’s repeated demand for a renegotiation of the 1994 accord. As opponents across the political spectrum egged him on to reciprocate Trump’s belligerent tone and strident U.S. nationalism, Peña Nieto – like all Mexican presidents for the past 25 years – tried hard to suppress the anti-Americanism that has lingered beneath the surface of Mexican politics even while the two neighbors have become increasingly integrated economically, demographically, and in governance. Even after Trump’s first barbs following inauguration on January 20, Peña Nieto emphasized his preference for calm dialogue – “neither confrontation, nor submission.” He declared that Mexico doesn’t want walls but bridges, and accepted the American’s demand to renegotiate NAFTA, although with a “constructive vision” that enables both sides to “win,” with “creativity and new, pragmatic solutions.”
Preparations for the summit meeting, scheduled for this week, crashed when Trump – without coordinating with his Mexican counterpart or the appropriate U.S. government agencies – issued executive orders putatively aimed at tightening control of the border. One directed an immediate increase in efforts to deport undocumented Mexicans, and the other launched the “immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border.” Trump initially abided by an informal agreement with the Mexicans not to repeat his harangue that he was going to make Mexico pay for the wall, but on January 26 he tweeted that “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.” His press spokesman followed up with a suggestion that Washington could impose a 20 percent tariff on imports from Mexico to cover the costs of construction, after which Peña Nieto, facing a firestorm at home, postponed the meeting. The two presidents talked on the phone for an hour the following day and reportedly agreed to let things calm down, although the two sides presented different versions of the chat.
The speed of the trainwreck – in Trump’s first week in office – and the depth of the damage his unilateralism has done to bilateral relations have alarmed many in Mexico and the United States, including Republicans who worked hard to build the relationship. (Only the Administration’s stunning decrees regarding immigration from other parts of the world have overshadowed the mess.) Mexico is, of course, not without leverage and, as Trump stirs up long-repressed Mexican nationalism, Peña Nieto – whose popular support was recently in the garbage bin – is going to have to talk tough (at least) and could have to retaliate. He could impose tariffs on the billions of dollars of Mexican exports that Americans have grown accustomed to having at low prices. Mexico could also opt to diminish cooperation in counternarcotics and other law enforcement efforts, or to cease blocking Central American migrants seeking to reach the U.S. border – interests that the impulsive Trump policy team doesn’t seem to have considered.
Coming on the heels of Trump’s executive order totally withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the new president is presenting the image of a U.S. leader whose harsh policies and arrogant style serve neither the United States nor Latin America’s interests. Having appointed as White House National Security Council Senior Director for Latin America a political scientist whose writings draw bizarrely on analytic approaches that have been rejected in the discipline for more than 30 years, and whose recent articles lament the Obama administration’s abandonment of the Monroe Doctrine, the region’s leaders will rightly conclude that Washington is voluntarily abdicating any plausible case for leading multilateral cooperation around common interests. The United States and Latin America are inextricably linked, however, and a policy based on stale assumptions of big power unilateralism ultimately will run into insurmountable obstacles: however ignorant Trump and his team are proving themselves to be, we live in the real world of the 21st century, in which imperialist, mercantilist fantasy will be treated with the disdain that it deserves.
January 31, 2017
Posted by clalsstaff on January 31, 2017
By Carlos Malamud*
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet with the leaders of her coalition, Nueva Mayoría. The Chilean presidential election of 2017 will determine the legacy of the Nueva Mayoría. / Gobierno de Chile / Flickr / Creative Commons
The new year will be an intense one for Latin American elections. Although perhaps not as important as those taking place in 2018, this year’s elections will have a significant impact on the countries holding them and, in some cases, the region as a whole.
- In Ecuador’s presidential and legislative elections on February 19, the PAIS Alliance will run a slate of nominees for the first time without Rafael Correa heading its slate. The President said he’s stepping down for family reasons, but Ecuador’s economic problems, aggravated by the decline in oil prices, apparently convinced him to seal his legacy on a high note now rather than end his time in office in defeat. The party’s presidential candidate, former Vice President Lenin Moreno, has a 10-point lead in polls over his closest competitor and has the advantage of facing an opposition divided among seven candidates, but his leadership remains uncertain.
- In Mexico, the state governors of México, Nayarit, and Coahuila and mayor of Veracruz are up for election on June 4. The race in México state will measure the popular backing of the four parties in contention – PRI, PAN, PRD, and López Obrador’s new Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (Morena) – in the 2018 presidential election. The older parties will begin to weed out the weaker pre-candidates.
- Elections for half of the Argentine Congress and a third of its Senate in October will define the second half of President Mauricio Macri’s presidency. The government is confident that economic recovery will strengthen its election prospects. A weak showing will strengthen the Peronista opposition and complicate Macri’s agenda. The Peronistas are currently divided into three big factions – that of Sergio Massa; the “orthodox” wing headed by some provincial governors, and corruption-plagued Kircherismo grouping headed by former President Cristina Fernández. Open, simultaneous, and obligatory primaries (known by the Spanish acronym PASO) in August will be an important test for all.
- Chile will elect a successor to President Michelle Bachelet on November 19. Primaries in July will reveal whether the country’s two big coalitions – the center-left (including the President’s Nueva Mayoría) and the center-right – are holding, as well as the presidential candidates’ identity. The names of former Presidents Sebastián Piñera and Ricardo Lagos are in the air, but it’s too early to know how things will play out in the environment of growing popular disaffection with politics and politicians.
- Honduras will hold elections on November 26. Due to a Supreme Court decision permitting reelection, incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández could face a challenge from ex-President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, who was removed from office by the Army in June 2009, running as head of the Libertad y Refundación (Libre) Party.
- Also in November, Bolivia will elect members of various high courts, including the Constitutional, Supreme, and Agro-Environmental Tribunals and the Magistracy Council. These elections will reveal the support President Evo Morales will have as he tries to reform the Constitution to allow himself to run for yet another term in office.
These elections in 2017 have a heavy national component but will shed light on the region’s future direction. The success or failure of the populist projects in Ecuador and Honduras, or of President Bachelet’s Nueva Mayoría in Chile, will tell us where we are and, above all, help us discern where we’re headed.
January 17, 2017
*Carlos Malamud is Senior Analyst for Latin America at the Elcano Royal Institute, and Professor of Latin American History at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), Madrid. This article was originally published in Infolatam.
Posted by clalsstaff on January 17, 2017
By Malcolm Fairbrother*
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and the flag of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). / Flickr and Wikimedia / Creative Commons / Modified
Despite his campaign rhetoric repeatedly attacking the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump probably won’t touch it, except in superficial ways. He has called NAFTA the “worst trade deal ever,” and promised to pull the U.S. out unless Mexico and Canada agree to renegotiate it. Last week, he suggested renegotiation of NAFTA will include provisions for Mexico to repay the U.S. government for the wall he wants to build along the border.
Dismantling or even significantly rewriting the accord is unlikely for a couple reasons:
- First, the billionaires, chief executives, and friends he is choosing for his cabinet are hardly people inclined to dismantle an agreement whose contents largely reflect what American business wanted from the U.S.-Mexico relationship when NAFTA was being negotiated in the early 1990s. Corporate preferences weighed heavily against any big deviation from the status quo after the last political transition in Washington, in 2008. Barack Obama too said that “NAFTA was a mistake,” though his criticisms were a little different. He railed against lobbyists’ disproportionate influence over trade policy, and promised big changes to international trade agreements, including better protections for workers and the environment. Even so, he didn’t touch NAFTA, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) he negotiated included – like NAFTA – shady provisions for investor-state dispute settlement.
- It would be near-impossible, or least massively expensive, to get what Trump seems to want most: a big drop in imports from Mexico. In his eyes this would make NAFTA a better deal for America, though of course serious economists disagree. Realistically, reopening the agreement would be very messy, and if he tried to throw up massive new trade barriers business leaders would strongly object. NAFTA could include some additional measures to make it easier for goods and/or people to get around among the NAFTA countries, but that’s not what Trump has promised.
His economic nationalism makes the Republican Party establishment squirm, but it’s clear it also helped Trump win several Midwestern states, tipping the electoral college in his favor. Insofar as agreements like NAFTA entrench rules friendly to business, and generate market efficiencies and economies whose benefits accumulate in the hands of the few, voter hostility is no mystery. But economics is only part of the reason. The bigger issue is what the backlash against globalization – embodied also by Brexit and the rise of neo-nationalist parties in Europe – means more broadly. The average Democratic voter has a lower income than the average Republican voter, but Democrats are more supportive of trade agreements because they are more internationalist, more open to other cultures, younger, more educated, and more urban. Throughout his presidency, Trump will therefore be squeezed between his working class rhetoric – appealing to the distrustful – and his business class milieu. He is an extreme case of the politicians’ mercantilist thinking on trade, wherein exports are good and imports are bad, and “trade deals” like NAFTA are somehow like deals in the business world, where it’s possible to out-negotiate someone. The reality is that this thinking – which flies in the face of basic economics – doesn’t point to any clear course of action. This is why Trump won’t actually do much about NAFTA.
January 10, 2017
* Malcolm Fairbrother is social science researcher and teacher/mentor in the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol (UK). This article is adapted from a recent blog post for the American Sociological Association.
Posted by clalsstaff on January 10, 2017
By Eric Hershberg and Fulton Armstrong
Brazilian President Michel Temer surrounded by members of his party in mid-2016. His government will continue to face questions of legitimacy in 2017. / Valter Campanato / Agência Brasil / Wikimedia / Creative Commons
The year 2016 laid down a series of challenges for Latin America in the new year – not the least of which will be adapting to a radically different administration in Washington. Last year saw some important achievements, including an elusive peace agreement in Colombia ending the region’s oldest insurgency. Several countries shifted politically, eroding the “pink tide” that affected much of the region over the past decade or so, but the durability and legitimacy of the ensuing administrations will hinge on their capacity to achieve policy successes that improve the well-being of the citizenry. The legitimacy of Brazil’s change of government remains highly contested. Except in Venezuela, where President Maduro clung to power by an ever-fraying thread, the left-leaning ALBA countries remained largely stable, but the hollowing out of democratic institutions in those settings is a cause for legitimate concern. Across Latin America and the Caribbean, internal challenges, uncertainties in the world economy, and potentially large shifts in U.S. policy make straight-line predictions for 2017 risky.
- Latin America’s two largest countries are in a tailspin. The full impact of Brazil’s political and economic crises has yet to be fully felt in and outside the country. President Dilma’s impeachment and continuing revelations of corruption among the new ruling party and its allies have left the continent’s biggest country badly damaged, with profound implications that extend well beyond its borders. Mexican President Peña Nieto saw his authority steadily diminish throughout the course of the past year, unable to deal with (and by some accounts complicit in) the most fundamental issues of violence, such as the disappearance of 43 students in 2014. The reform agenda he promised has fizzled, and looking ahead he faces a long period as a lame duck – elections are not scheduled until mid-2018.
- The “Northern Triangle” of Central America lurches from crisis to crisis. As violence and crime tears his country apart, Honduran President Hernández has devoted his energies to legalizing his efforts to gain a second term as president. Guatemala’s successful experiment channeling international expertise into strengthening its judicial system’s ability to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials is threatened by a weakening of political resolve to make it work, as elites push back while civil society has lost the momentum that enabled it to bring down the government of President Pérez Molina in 2015. El Salvador, which has witnessed modest strides forward in dealing with its profound corruption problems, remains wracked with violence, plagued by economic stagnation, and bereft of decisive leadership.
- Venezuela stands alone in the depth of its regime-threatening crisis, from which the path back to stability and prosperity is neither apparent nor likely. The election of right-leaning governments in Argentina (in late 2015) and Peru (in mid-2016) – with Presidents Macri and Kuczynski – has given rise to expectations of reforms and prosperity, but it’s unclear whether their policies will deliver the sort of change people sought. Bolivian President Morales, Ecuadoran President Correa, and Nicaraguan President Ortega have satisfied some important popular needs, but they have arrayed the levers of power to thwart opposition challenges and weakened democratic institutional mechanisms.
- As Cuban President Raúl Castro begins his final year in office next month, the credibility of his government and his successors – who still remain largely in the shadows – will depend in part on whether the party’s hesitant, partial economic reforms manage to overcome persistent stagnation and dissuade the country’s most promising professionals from leaving the island. Haiti’s President-elect Jovenel Moise will take office on February 7 after winning a convincing 55 percent of the vote, but there’s no indication he will be any different from his ineffective predecessors.
However voluble the region’s internal challenges – and how uncertain external demand for Latin American commodities and the interest rates applied to Latin American debt – the policies of incoming U.S. President Donald Trump introduce the greatest unknown variables into any scenarios for 2017. In the last couple years, President Obama began fulfilling his promise at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago to “be there as a friend and partner” and seek “engagement … that is based on mutual respect and equality.” His opening to Cuba was an eloquent expression of the U.S. disposition to update its policies toward the whole region, even while it was not always reflected in its approach to political dynamics in specific Latin American countries.
Trump’s rhetoric, in contrast, has already undermined efforts to rebuild the image of the United States and convince Latin Americans of the sincerity of Washington’s desire for partnership. His rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership – more categorical than losing candidate Hillary Clinton’s cautious words of skepticism about the accord – has already closed one possible path toward deepened ties with some of the region’s leading, market-oriented economies. His threat to deport millions of undocumented migrants back to Mexico and Central America, where there is undoubtedly no capacity to handle a large number of returnees, has struck fear in the hearts of vulnerable communities and governments. The region has survived previous periods of U.S. neglect and aggression in the past, and its strengthened ties with Asia and Europe will help cushion any impacts of shifts in U.S. engagement. But the now-threatened vision of cooperation has arguably helped drive change of benefit to all. Insofar as Washington changes gears and Latin Americans throw up their hands in dismay, the region will be thrust into the dilemma of trying to adjust yet again or to set off on its own course as ALBA and others have long espoused.
January 4, 2017
Posted by clalsstaff on January 4, 2017
By Raymundo Miguel Campos Vázquez, Luis-Felipe López-Calva, and Nora Lustig*
A student walks around Preparatoria Vasconcelos Tecate. / Gabriel Flores Romero / Flickr / Creative Commons
Mexico’s experience with free trade has challenged one of the tenets of faith economists know well from reading early in their careers David Ricardo’s Principles of Political Economy and Taxation: that “the pursuit of individual advantage is admirably connected with the universal good of the whole” and that “[trade] distributes labor most effectively and most economically.” Under this principle, “wine shall be made in France and Portugal; corn shall be grown in America and Poland; and hardware and other goods shall be manufactured in England.” Mexico reminds us that while these benefits exist in the abstract, there are trade-offs to be faced—that there are, potentially, social and individual costs induced by trade liberalization.
In a recently published paper entitled “Endogenous Skill Acquisition and Export Manufacturing in Mexico,” MIT economics professor David Atkin shows the ways in which individual people experience trade and how it affects their decision-making – sometimes in ways that may not necessarily be socially desirable. It analyzes a time period (1986-2000) during which Mexico underwent major economic transformations, including a rapid process of trade liberalization after 1989 and the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Analyzing data for more than 2,300 municipalities in the country, the paper tells us that young Mexicans at the time faced a very basic decision: to stay in school and continue studying or to drop out and look for a job (among the many being created in the export-oriented manufacturing sector), most of which did not require more than a high school education. Atkin found that, on average, for every 25 new jobs created in the manufacturing sector, one student would drop out after 9th grade. (The World Development Report 2008 on Agriculture for Development had raised the question about “missing” individuals in this age group, but in relation to migration.)
- While trade brought positive effects including a higher demand for low skilled workers and an eventual increase in their wages – consistent with David Ricardo’s basic notion – Atkin concluded that in Mexico it had the socially undesirable effect of preventing, or slowing down, the accumulation of human capital. The reduction in human capital investment is a trade-off which can have negative effects on the economy as a whole.
- Factors other than free trade might explain this effect. First, young students may drop out if the returns to schooling are not high enough to compensate for the additional investment. Second, a lack of access to credit and insurance for relatively poorer households might make it impossible for aspiring students to finance their investment and obtain higher returns by continuing to tertiary education or to cope with shocks and avoid abandoning school. Finally, the result could be driven by a lack of availability of information about actual returns to investment in education, which could lead to myopic decision-making.
The movement of capital toward locations with lower labor costs is an expected, and intended, result of an agreement such as NAFTA, pursuing higher export competitiveness at the regional level. David Ricardo would have said that TVs and automobiles shall be made in Mexico, while software shall be made in Silicon Valley. What completes the story, however, is that because of distortions like the ones mentioned above – low educational quality, under-developed credit markets, or weak information that skews decision-making – free trade might lead to socially undesirable consequences. And it did in the case of Mexico, as Atkin convincingly shows in his paper. It seems that when Ricardo gets to the tropics, the world gets more complex.
November 7, 2016
* Raymundo Miguel Campos Vázquez teaches at the Centro de Estudios Económicos at el Colegio de México, and is currently conducting research at the University of California, Berkeley. Luis-Felipe López-Calva is Lead Economist and Co-Director of the World Development Report 2017 on Governance and the Law. Nora Lustig is Professor of Latin American Economics at Tulane University.
Posted by clalsstaff on November 7, 2016