Friday, October 28, 2011

Republican Candidates' Wilful Disregard for the Latino Vote


An op-ed in the Washington Post looks at the two front-runners for the Republican nomination, and their “repellent” positions on migration policy.

The newspaper has strong criticism for Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, who seem to be competing to outdo each other in hardline positions on the issue. As the Post sets out, Perry has attacked healthcare for undocumented immigrants, while Romney has attacked education benefits for their children.

For columnist Michael Gerson, these positions are not only immoral but counterproductive. As he asks:

How does it benefit the United States to purposely limit the educational and life prospects of a whole category of students? Isn’t it more costly to provide health care in emergency rooms — where universal access is federally mandated — than to permit treatment in public programs?
Gerson notes that both men have held more progressive positions on migration in the past. The candidates have seemingly been pushed into adopting hardline approaches by the Republican voters’ resentment of migrants, but, the author argues, this does not justify them; “It is the responsibility of political leaders to address this issue without inflaming it.”

As well as the broader implications for U.S. migration policy, and the lives of many thousands of undocumented people in the country, these policies are bad news for the Republican chances of winning the presidency. Gerson points out that “Hispanic political influence is not only increasing but concentrated in competitive states — a key to electoral success in states such as Nevada, Colorado and Arizona.” President Barack Obama has failed to take concrete action on the issue, despite promises, leaving it as an easy target for Republicans looking to score points.

The Council on Foreign Relations blog also picks up on this issue, asking if the GOP “can connect with the growing number of American citizens with links back to Latin America.” It puts the number of these citizens as 50.5 million, or one in six of the population. The CFR also points out the Republicans’ growing rhetoric against undocumented immigrants, highlighting the policies of Herman Cain, the boombastic businessman and sometime gospel singer now running for the nomination;

Herman Cain ratcheted up the rhetoric to an all time high, suggesting electrifying the border fence and killing anyone who tried to cross into the United States from Mexico.
For the CFR as for the Washington Post, this hardline approach simply does not appear to be in the interests of the party, quite aside from concerns about whether it even makes sense. The CFR points out that Republicans could connect with Latino voters on a number of issues, including faith-based positions and pro-business policies. It names Rick Santorum as the only candidate seems to want to avoid alienating the Latino vote, and, for the think tank:

If Rick Santorum is the only Republican hopeful that understands the importance of reaching out to Latinos, then the party is in trouble.

News Briefs

  • The latest edition of The Economist publishes the findings of the Latinobarometro poll, which surveys public opinion in 18 Latin American countries. The main trend the newspaper picks out is a decline in support for democracy since 2010, especially in countries which have seen high rates of violence - namely Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. It also notes increasing dissatisfaction with governments, which The Economist ties to the rise of a more aspirational, and thus more difficult to please, middle class. Crime is also a stand-out issue, with 28 percent of all respondents saying this is their biggest concern. This proportion jumps to 61 percent in Venezuela, the article notes; not surprising given the sharp increase in murder rates in recent years.
  • Also in The Economist is a piece about ongoing clashes over education reform in Chile, which it calls “the most serious political conflict for two decades in Latin America’s most successful country.” The newspaper argues that the students have some justification for their demands, as private households make up a bigger percentage of education spending that in any other OECD country. However, it judges that the government is correct to oppose an entirely state-funded system, which the president has said would be a subsidy to the rich. 
  • The New York Times reports on indigenous protesters’ occupation of the construction site of a proposed hydroelectric dam in the Brazilian Amazon state of Para, which is predicted to displace some 16,000 people. The protest lasted from morning until evening on Thursday, with estimates of the numbers of occupiers ranging from 300 to 600. There were no clashes with security guards, according to reports. The Brazilian government remains committed to the plan, despite a legal ruling last month that suspended construction work on the dam, set to be the the third biggest in the world. 
  • A group of Mexican businesspeople addressed both houses of the country’s Congress to argue in favor of drug legalization as a solution to the organized crime-related violence sweeping the country. The group, headed by Santiago Roel of the campaign organization Di Si al Debate (Say Yes to Debate), come from the violence-hit northern state of Nuevo Leon. They called for a debate on the issue to be, “rational and scientific, not religious or moral,” arguing that violence in the country is driven by a confusion of the fight against organized crime and the fight against the drug market. Roel said that the real driver of violence in Mexico is not the drug export business but drug retailing within the country, pointing to violence in cities like Monterrey and Torreon, which he said are not closely tied to drug exports.
  • Atlantic magazine profiles Enrique Peña Nieto, widely considered as the favorite to win Mexico’s presidency on behalf of the PRI party in the July 2012 elections. The PRI ruled Mexico for some 70 years until 2000, and now, says Atlantic, “Peña Nieto’s momentum—like the return of the PRI to power—already seems unstoppable.”
  • Mexico’s Navy announced the capture of a man suspected to be a leader of the Zetas drug gang in the Gulf city of Veracruz. Carlos "El Bam Bam" Pitalua was arrested along with five other alleged Zetas, in what looks like a sign that the government’s decision to send federal troops into the port city is having an impact. The city and state of Veracruz have become a focal point of the drug war in recent months, with high-profile incidents like the dumping of 35 dead bodies on a city street in September. This has been attributed to a clash between the Zetas, who have long held the state, and rival groups seeking to dislodge the unpopular and highly violent gang.
  • In more on Mexico’s drug war, the Washington Post looks at the long search for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Sinaloa Cartel strongman who has evaded capture since skipping prison in 2001. The Post argues that Mexico’s most-wanted man is living comfortably, “though he is in hiding, he is not on the run.” The Calderon government is increasingly keen to catch Guzman, as the president’s six year term comes to an end. According to the Post’s sources, “Mexico now operates at least three full-time capture-kill units solely dedicated to ending the reign of Guzman.” This does not seem to fit with the relaxed attitude apparently shown by the authorities when Chapo’s wife reportedly traveled to the U.S. to give birth. When the New York Times asked Calderonwhy she had not been stopped and questioned, he turned the question back round on U.S. border officials. This kind of response does not help assuage suspicions that elements in the Mexican government have some degree of complicity with Guzman.
  • The Miami Herald reports on Cuba’s army, which has been leaderless since the death of Castro loyalist General Julio Casas on September 3. The newspaper looks at various potential candidates for the role, pointing out that the decision is a crucial one for Raul Castro, as the chosen successor will “instantly become the second most powerful leader on the island … Whoever Raul ultimately selects could easily be the man who will lead post-Castro Cuba in to a new era.” 
  • Also in the Miami Herald is an article on Brazil and Uruguay’s efforts to punish crimes committed while the countries were under dictatorships. As noted in earlier posts, this week Uruguay’s Senate overturned an amnesty for crimes of state officials during the 1973-1985 military dictatorship, while Argentine courts sentenced 12 former military and police officers including “Angel of Death” Alfredo Astiz, to long jail terms. For the Miami Herald, this signifies that the two countries are “catching up” to their neighbors, Argentina and Paraguay, which have convicted many former officials for their actions under repressive regimes.
  • On Cristina Kirchner’s re-election victory, the Washington Post asks whether the Argentine ruler will “use her new mandate to crush opponents or to adopt a more tolerant course.” The newspaper leans towards the former, pointing out that the Kirchner government has done its best to destroy the country’s two most important newspapers, and persecuted economists who contradict the official line.