2014: Is This Latin America's Big Year?

The Buzz

The 1980s were unkind to Latin America. Surging drug violence, economic turmoil, and a staggering debt crisis all led to our southern neighbors’ “lost decade”. Yet since the 2000s, things have been looking—and going—up. In fact, thanks to its strong economic growth and growing international influence, 2014 has the potential to be Latin America’s best year yet.

Latin America’s economic growth will only increase in its upward trajectory in 2014, driven by countries such as Brazil, Chile and particularly Mexico. According to the U.N., “Based on promising signs of private consumption and manufacturing, the region will see [expected] growth rates of 3.6 in 2014 and 4.1 percent in 2015, according to World Economic Situation and Prospects 2014, a report that launches in January.” The U.N. Economic Commission on Latin America forecasts that Latin-American Economic development will be the highest of all global regions for 2014. Brazil is slowing down compared to its explosive performance in recent years, but still very strong. Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega said in December that foreign direct investment continues to be robust and, according to the Wall Street Journal, “pointed to $8.3 billion in foreign direct investment posted in November as a strong signal investors continued to favor the country. In October, the figure was $5.4 billion.”

At a time when America is struggling, it is actually the reason for huge growth and profits in Mexico, with nearly 80 percent of Mexican goods currently exported to the United States. Mexico is slated to surpass most of its Latin American neighbors and grow nearly 4 percent next year. Forbes declared that for Mexicans “Christmas arrive[d] early” in mid December, when the Mexican Senate approved a legislative measure that reforms the country’s energy sector and for the first time in seventy years allows foreign investment and production-sharing agreements in Mexican oil. According to cnbc, “the Mexico Department of Energy estimates that foreign direct investment in the sector will rise by 50 percent by 2018, to $10 billion, and that 500,000 jobs will be created in the process.” This is a major reform and will only help Mexico achieve its full economic potential in 2014.

Not to be outdone, Chile is also making significant and important economic strides that will boost Latin America in 2014. The Heritage Foundation recently hailed Chilean economic advances, “Making it onto the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom’s list of top 10 freest countries in the world for the second year in a row, Chile was also ranked No. 1 on Forbes India’s list of 7 Hottest Emerging Markets.” Chile grew faster than predicted this year (5.5 percent) and has managed their mining exports so spectacularly that S&P upgraded Chile’s bond rating to AA in early 2013, putting it on par with Japan and China.

All of these countries are making a significant impact on the global economy and the strength of investment and growth in Latin America is reaping great dividends, including a better quality of life and a lessening income gap between the rich and poor.

Yet this growth alone is not the only dealmaker for 2014 being a great one for LatAm. Our neighbors to the South are enjoying something of a spotlight moment in their global influence more generally. Their hosting of prominent sporting events, increased tourism and media coverage, and popular public figures are all contributing to making 2014 a banner year.

On the sporting front, Brazil is hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Both of these events are expected to draw hundreds of thousands of overseas tourists with their dollars, yuan and euros in tow. Any economic benefits, which are not always certain, aside, both international sporting events command worldwide media attention, which will help Brazil, and Latin America more broadly, brand itself on the global stage as vibrant and culturally rich a place as any in Europe or the United States. If those financial benefits do materialize, at least for the World Cup, it’s certainly no small thing. According to the Brazilian Ministry of Sports, Brazil’s economy is forecasted to grow by over $70 billion as a result of hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and Brazil is projected to be the world’s fifth largest economy by the time they host the Olympics in just two short years.

With regards to tourism, Brazil doesn’t have the market cornered. Four of CNN’s eleven top places to travel in 2014 are in Latin America: Panama (100th anniversary of the canal), Brazil, Ecuador and Costa Rica all shine. The World Travel awards have also recognized Peru for the second year in a row for being the top pick for global gastronauts in search of excellent eats.

Latin America’s growing influence is evident in the media as well; just a few days ago the Economist announced that it is starting a weekly Latin America column, and readers are already suggesting column names in line with the magazine’s bent. A prominent Latin American who has been getting some important media coverage all year is Argentine Pope Francis, recently named Time’s person of the year. Assuming the papacy at a pretty low time for Catholicism, Pope Francis has managed to make his religion more accessible and popular with the masses than any time in the last one hundred years and raised the profile of Latin America in doing so. It doesn’t hurt that the popular Pope has unseated Hugo Chavez as the most prominent Latin American, following the latter’s death this year. All in all, things are looking up for Latin America next year, and as they’ve shown in multiple avenues, the sky’s the limit.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons.

TopicsSociety RegionsCentral AmericaSouth America

Benghazi and the Sources of Anti-American Violence

Paul Pillar

David Kirkpatrick's investigative piece in the New York Times about last year's lethal attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi is well worth reading, though not because its conclusions ought to have been surprising to any disinterested observer of what was going on in Libya at the time. Once dust from the confusion in the very first hours after the incident settled, the conditions that gave rise to the incident were fairly clear. One was widespread popular outrage, exhibited not only in Libya but also beyond its borders, from a scurrilous video that many Muslims found insulting to the founder of their faith. Another was lawlessness that has prevailed in Libya ever since the overthrow of Muammar Gadhafi—and continues to prevail there—and that is characterized by a mélange of militias and other armed groups with a variety of interests and grievances, some of them antipathetic to the United States.

That this has not been broadly understood is due mainly to the unrelenting effort of some in the opposition party in the United States to exploit the death of four U.S. citizens in the incident to try to discredit the Obama administration and its secretary of state at the time (who is seen as a likely contender in the next presidential election). The line propounded in this effort is, first, that the incident can have only one of two possible explanations: either the attack was a completely spontaneous and unorganized popular response to the video, or it was a terrorist attack that had nothing to do with emotions surrounding the video and instead was a premeditated operation by a particular terrorist group, Al Qaeda. The propounded line further holds that the administration offered the first of these two explanations, that this explanation was a deliberate lie, and that the second explanation is the truth.

The Times investigation demolishes all that. As for the spontaneous aspects of the attack, Kirkpatrick reports:

Anger at the video motivated the initial attack. Dozens of people joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters. Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack, according to more than a dozen Libyan witnesses as well as many American officials who have viewed the footage from security cameras.

As for a role by Al Qaeda, the Times investigators concluded that the group “was having its own problems penetrating the Libyan chaos.” The only ways in which Al Qaeda members seem to figure into the story are in expressing surprise about the attack and in having difficulty establishing any foothold in Libya. There is no evidence that what happened in Benghazi was an Al Qaeda operation.

The ceaseless efforts at political exploitation are only part of the reason that American misunderstanding about anti-American violence persists. The themes in the exploitation resonate with certain unfortunate tendencies in how Americans look at such violence and especially at terrorism. One such tendency involves the fallacy of monocausality: to talk in terms of the reason for terrorism or for a particular terrorist attack, and to think that if a purposeful group is involved than nothing else must be. But whatever enrages a larger population, whether it is a sacrilegious video or an offensive U.S. policy, establishes the climate in which a terrorist group can operate, motivates recruits to join it, and determines the sympathy or support it will have for its acts.

Another misleading tendency is loose, careless application of the label Al Qaeda to a broad and variegated swath of Sunni Islamist extremism that does not reflect any organizational reality. This tendency misleads Americans into believing that the danger of anti-American violence in general or terrorism in particular comes from the actual Al Qaeda, the group that did 9/11, when in fact more of it comes these days from other sources—including some of those armed groups in Libya.

The political exploitation of the Benghazi incident has already gone on so long and so hard that it has helped to cement some of these misconceptions into the American public's mind—even if the exploitation were to stop now, which it won't.

Image: Creative Commons/The White House.

TopicsDomestic PoliticsPublic OpinionTerrorism RegionsLibyaUnited States

Japan and the Rebirth of Nationalism

Jacob Heilbrunn

The surprising thing is not that Japan is trying to revive patriotism. It is that it did not happen sooner. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni shrine last Thursday, a place of worship that also pays respect to World War II war criminals, or at least those dubbed criminals once the war ended. For nationalists in Japan have never really conceded that Tokyo did anything wrong before or during the war. 

Quite the contrary. Visit Hiroshima or just about any Japanese museum and you will be hard-pressed to find much, if any, mention of Japan's wartime alliance with Nazi Germany. The nationalists, a number of whom are professors, cannot bring themselves to admit that their intellectual ancestors embarked upon a ruinous path in the attempt to create a Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere. Instead, Japan emerges as a power that was simply trying to defend its own interests. The atomic bombs, it seems, were dropped out of nowhere on a defenseless Japan. The one thing both the Japanese left and right can agree upon is that the use of nuclear weapons against Japan was a bad thing. 

But the nationalists also bridle at the moral guilt that outsiders have tried to affix to Japan, whether it is the 1937 invasion of Nanking, which they argue has been falsely turned into a genocidal act, or the use of so-called "comfort women" in Korea. Japan, they suggest, was acting like any ordinary power. There was nothing unusuall about its behavior, whatever victor's justice might suggest. And even if untoward things did occur, was Japan really so different from any other world power in the midst of battle?

In the Sunday New York Times Martin Fackler notes that nationalism seems to be on the upsurge in Japan. He reports that a government-appointed committee suggested "putting mayors in charge of their local school districts, a move that opponents say would increase political interference in textbook screening. And just days ago, an advisory committee to the Education Ministry suggested hardening the proposed new standards by requiring that textbooks that do not nurture patriotism be rejected."

The contrast with Germany, as has often been noted, is striking. There genuine contrition and repentance have been absorbed into the DNA of German democracy. Japan is different.

But the difference is not solely attributable to the presence of retrograde nationalists who do not want to acknowledge that their country did shameful things in the past. It is also the case that Japan's geographic situation is different from Germany's. The borders in Europe are settled. Not so in Asia. China is flexing its nascent naval muscles. Japan is figuring out how to respond. North Korea remains a bellicose foe, both for Japan and South Korea. 

The rise of a patriotism would actually be in America's interest if it prompted Japan to take a more assertive role in trying to balance Chinese military power. But the route that nationalists in Japan are following is a losing one. To remain in denial over Japanese crimes is not likely to induce Japan's neighbors to cooperate with it in confronting China. Rather, Japan simply continues to antagonize South Korea. And its neighbors have become expert at using Japan's periodic, half-hearted apologies to portray it in the worst light possible. After all, China, which murdered tens of millions of its own citizens, while leaping forward under Mao, does not exactly have great moral standing, either.

To what degree Japan's flirtation with nationalism is also simply an act of romantic vanity is another question. Can anyone seriously expect a society of pensioners, which is what Japan is rapidly becoming, to embark upon a new quest for Weltmacht, or world power? Tokyo would do better to focus on how it can counter China's growing might. Indulging in nationalism is a frivolous luxury that will not accomplish that goal.


Leaks and an Irresponsible Press

Paul Pillar

One end-of-year retrospective assessment that ought to appear in the press, but probably won't, concerns how the press itself has handled stories involving compromise of classified information. One reason we seldom see this particular type of self-evaluation by the media is the rarely acknowledged pro-leak bias on the part of the media. Leaks are red meat for the press. They provide material for the writing of nifty stories and the selling of newspapers.

The very media on which the public relies for information and analysis about the legitimate and important issue of balancing national security and civil liberties thus present a strongly biased treatment of this issue—and not just in pro-leak commentary on editorial pages. The bias has been readily apparent in coverage of the biggest story of 2013 about compromise of classified information: the wholesale disclosure of such information by the defector and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The attention the press has paid to the damage caused by Snowden's actions has been tiny compared to the prominence it has given to the issues of privacy on behalf of which Snowden claimed to be acting.

Biased coverage is only part of the problem in how the press has behaved in this matter. Just as important has been the media's own role in facilitating the compromise of classified information. The press has eaten out of the hands of Snowden and his leak-dispensing collaborator, Glenn Greenwald. The press has willingly implemented the leakers' strategy of beginning with stories that could be said to be related to the privacy rights of American citizens, and as such helped to establish an image of Snowden as a “whistleblower,” before moving to many other disclosures that have little or nothing to do with such rights but rather just divulge many details about NSA's legitimate intelligence collection activities overseas. The press—and specifically the outlets that Snowden and Greenwald have favored as channels for fencing their stolen secrets, and thus are outlets that can claim scoops—have printed this stuff week after week. It makes for nifty stories and it sells newspapers, but little or no public purpose could plausibly be claimed to be served by most of this. With most of this stuff the effect is nearly all damage. The cumulative direct damage, both to U.S. intelligence collection and to U.S. foreign relations, has been severe.

The damage does not end there. Another dimension one seldom sees mentioned in press coverage, but that David V. Gioe lucidly explains in an article in the January-February 2014 issue of The National Interest, is how the leaking deters would-be foreign interlocutors with information to offer. These include people who would otherwise be valuable intelligence sources, as well as foreign officials who would otherwise have useful information to convey to U.S. diplomats. Both types are understandably dissuaded from talking to Americans when they are given reason to fear that either their contacts with the United States or the content of their conversations will be divulged publicly in leaks.

An irony about this concerns how often one hears reference to the “chilling effect” that some activity by NSA supposedly will have on discourse among Americans. A much more likely, and probably more damaging, chilling effect is the one that discourages foreigners from talking to Americans. Some such chilling effect has almost certainly already been felt as a result of Bradley Manning's wholesale disclosure of U.S. diplomatic cables and the multitude of press stories made out of them.

The damage does not end there, either. One also has to consider the effect the press's treatment of a leaker may have on other would-be future leakers who might consider causing still more damage with still more leaks. In other circumstances the press seems to be conscious of the danger of such demonstration effects. There has been considerable media introspection lately, for example, about whether the press should strive to limit the publicity given to suicidal gunmen who conduct shooting sprees in schools or other public places.

A vivid example of the apparent lack of consideration editors give to the same sort of demonstration effect involving damaging leakers is the front page of this past Tuesday's Washington Post. Pasted across the top in conspicuously large type is the headline, “Edward Snowden: 'I already won' ” Underneath the headline—and taking up most of the above-the-fold space on the front page—is a color picture of an apparently relaxed and smug Snowden, sitting cross-legged with his laptop in his lap and his arm casually atop the armrest of a sofa, and a gold-framed painting on the wall behind him. A high-priced publicist hired by Snowden and Greenwald could not have laid out the page any more to their liking. And it is hard to imagine a more glorifying encouragement to anyone else thinking of inflicting damage on the United States by stealing and revealing its secrets.

Even in some instances involving classified information, the press has shown its ability to act responsibly. A recent example concerns how journalists evidently sat for several years on the story of how Robert Levinson, the former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran, had a connection to a CIA officer running an unauthorized operation. They sat on the story for the very good reason of not further endangering Levinson. In this and similar instances, most journalists and their editors seem willing not to run with a secret-divulging story if there is a very specific and imminent harm to be avoided, such as a particular individual being in mortal danger. They seem less willing not to jump into print if the harm of publishing a story—although at least as great—is not as specific and imminent. Given this pattern, one suspects that the main concern of the journalists and editors is not so much to avoid harm to the national interest as it is to avoid being blamed for a specific and easily identifiable tragic result. And that attitude is irresponsible.

Image: Flickr/Thierry Ehrmann. CC BY 2.0.

TopicsMediaIntelligence RegionsUnited States

Five Big Historical Events on Christmas

The Buzz

Whether you view Christmas as a religious celebration or just a good excuse to indulge in eggnog, the holiday provides an excellent opportunity for historical reflection. TNI throws its hat into the end of year’s “best of” lists with our top five foreign-policy events that happened on Christmas day.

5. 1914: Christmas Truce, WWI

Perhaps the most well-known, but least historically impactful of this top five is the well-documented “Christmas Truce” of 1914, in which German and British troops on the dreaded Western front held a temporary ceasefire during WWI on Christmas day. The sides exchanged “gifts” aka cigarettes and food, sang carols, and played soccer (it is rumored that the Germans won 3-2). Canonized as a shining episode of sanity in the WWI bloodbath, the idea is likely more sunny than the reality, but it bears mentioning for its embrace of the Christmas spirit in otherwise grim times.

4. 1991: Mikhail Gorbachev Resigns as President of USSR

With Russia in a state of almost total collapse in 1991, the final blow dealt to Mr. Gorbachev and the USSR was a Ukrainian referendum for independence, which sealed the fate of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev resigned the following day, on Christmas, and the union was dissolved two days later, effectively ending the Cold War that had existed between the Soviet Union and the United States for over forty years.

3. 800: Charlemagne is Crowned Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III

It was Father Christmas’s day that the so-called pater Europae or Father of Europe was crowned as Roman Emperor. Among his many accomplishments, Charles the Great united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire, revived learning and education, stabilized currency, and essentially ensured the survival of Christianity in the West for years to come through his fanatical support for the Church. No small list of achievements. It is somewhat lesser known that he is the catalyst behind Carolingian miniscule, a standardized script that allowed the Latin alphabet to be easily understood and communicated across Europe.

2. 1776: Washington Crosses the Delaware, Defeating 1,400 Hessians

After a series of defeats in New York and with faith in the American dream of independence dwindling, George Washington, in the dead of night on Christmas 1776, crossed the Delaware River and marched his troops to Trenton, New Jersey. There, they went wild, defeating a large number of Hessian troops and living to fight on another day in pursuit of American independence. This surprise attack later became known as the Ten Crucial Days, laying the groundwork for Washington’s subsequent victories at Princeton and the Second Battle of Trenton, before he ultimately won the war.

1. 1990: First Successful Trial Run of What Would Become the World Wide Web

In a Christmas gift that would undoubtedly keep giving for years to come, an early version of what later was known as simply the “web”—encompassing an early version of a web server, the first web pages and a web browser—was successfully run for the first time on Christmas of 1990. The way we all connect to one another on a daily basis went public only seven months later, changing our lives forever and making this article as you read it now a possibility. Less than a quarter century later, there are over 600 million webpages on every subject in the world and nearly 150 billion email users. The web changed not only the way we communicate about dinner plans, but also revolutions.

Images: Gorbachev: Wikimedia Commons/SpreeTom. CC BY-SA 3.0.