Category Archives: Academia

The failure to restore legal status to these individuals will have devastating consequences for recipients and their families and for El Salvador.

I have some thoughts on TPS and El Salvador in today's Inter-American Dialogue Latin American Advisor.
While the U.S. will ultimately be able to absorb the costs of its decision, El Salvador will have a much more difficult time. The Salvadoran government must simultaneously lobby the U.S. to reverse its decision while at the same time building out its institutions to support the reintegration of its people. 
You can read my comments as well as those from a few others here.

Bring on the spring semester

We have a 3 1/2 week winter intersession here at Scranton. I'm keeping busy teaching an online American Government class and an independent study on September 11, 2001 and Beyond. 

In addition, I am catching up on some chair work: revising our major, minor, and cognate requirements; investigating the possible addition of majors in Public Policy and Public Administration and Nonprofit Studies; developing a newsletter; scheduling some spring activities, including an alumni panel and a trip to Harrisburg; and encouraging and preparing students to present at a political science conference. 

I am also scheduling spring programming for The Ellacuria Initiative, including our April teach-in on Catholic Social Teaching and Northeastern Pennsylvania. 

I am organizing the next Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network (JUHAN) conference for June 2019 to be held at Scranton.

I am working on two asylum cases involving individuals from El Salvador. 

Finally, I am still doing some committee work that doesn't stop when classes stop (Middle States, Examen, and Calendar committees).

I'm not finding much time for research this month, so instead I am reviewing some journal submissions and reading articles. I honestly have no idea how people have time to read books. I'm lucky to get through three or four books each year, in addition to whatever I am reading for class. 

Things never calm down when classes aren't in session but I can't complain. 

"Root out corruption in the Central American ruling class, and the gangs and crooks will go down with it."

Jose Miguel Cruz rightfully criticizes the Trump administration's infatuation with MS-13 and other street gangs in the US and Central America. The administration is really taking us back a decade or more to a time when mano dura policing and the criminalization of low-income youth caused a spike in violence throughout Central America. While we should not take our eyes off the havoc caused by street gangs, they should not distract from efforts to support political reform in Central America.
The whole idea that the U.S. government can make America safer by getting tough on crime in Central America is questionable. But if the Trump administration wants to try, it should at least start at the top.
Political institutions in the grip of organized crime use their power to erode the democratic rule of law in the region. They shield criminal organizations in exchange for economic support and political backing in gang-controlled barrios.
Root out corruption in the Central American ruling class, and the gangs and crooks will go down with it.
Revelations that both the ARENA and FMLN parties negotiated with street gangs during the 2014 presidential contest have not led to serious investigations by the attorney general's office of any political officials. Revelations of the relationships between drug traffickers and Honduran political and economic elites have just scratched the surface. Far from paradise, Guatemala's attorney general and CICIG are models for the region. The US must continue its support for strong, independent attorneys general (Paz y Paz and Aldana) and collaborative initiatives (CICIG).

US policy towards gangs and corruption in Central America does not seem to have changed dramatically since Trump assumed office. That's a positive. However, we should worry that how AG Sessions and President Trump speak about gang violence in the US will enter into US policy towards the region. We and our Northern Triangle partners have been there and done that. And it wasn't pretty.

Opioid legislation and PA Congressman Tom Marino

State Senator Gene Yaw, a Republican from Williamsport, who has been a leader in the Legislature on opioid issues, said the strong Republican lean of Mr. Marino’s 10th District might not be enough to ensure his re-election if he seeks a fifth term next year.
“The drug problem is nonpartisan,” Mr. Yaw said. “There’s no question the pharmaceutical companies have contributed to it.’’ He said the controversy over Mr. Marino’s withdrawal from consideration to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy was “not a plus” for his political future. (NYT)
Given President Trump's reputation for rewarding loyalty, even for those who come under tremendous, well-deserved, scrutiny, Congressman Tom Marino’s withdrawal from consideration for the country's top drug post speaks volumes about the controversy surrounding his leadership on legislation that weakened the federal government’s ability to hold drug manufacturers accountable for their role in encouraging the opioid epidemic in Northeastern Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Tom Marino is my congressman in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Trip Gabriel of the New York Times asked my thoughts on how the revelations are likely to affect Marino and Pennsylvania politics. I answered that Congressman Marino’s political and electoral support is obviously likely to suffer as a result of the explosive allegations. Like much of the country, Northeastern Pennsylvania has been hit hard by opioid abuse. At least 231 residents of Lackawanna County, many of whom are Marino's constituents, died of overdoses between 2014 and 2017. The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, which whom I have collaborated, reported on the crisis last year. 

It was only last month that attorneys for Lackawanna County filed a civil lawsuit against 14 drug companies for their responsibility in "spawning the opioid epidemic." Marino spearheaded legislation in Congress that has made it more difficult for the Drug Enforcement Agency to hold pharmaceutical agencies accountable.
Overdose project in front of Scranton courthouse October 19, 2017 
It is quite possible that Marino's electoral support will also erode because of the country's low approval of President Trump. Congressman Marino was one of his earliest and most outspoken proponents during the campaign. You can see how the opioid controversy and his close relationship with President Trump are likely going to make Marino's reelection more difficult.

However, the congressman has comfortably controlled his seat in Pennsylvania’s 10th congressional district for nearly one decade. He won his seat in 2010 even though he had been under investigation by the Department of Justice. Therefore, he has successfully overcome scandal previously (obviously that could go both ways).

His ability to continue in office will depend upon voters’ willingness to hold him personally responsible for legislation that passed with bipartisan support, even if legislators and the Obama administration were not entirely aware of what changes they were endorsing, and the quality of his challenger.

It is really too early to understand the electoral implications of these allegations given that we are only days removed from their publication. They are likely to hurt his electoral prospects but perhaps not enough to cause him to withdraw from re-election or to lose. At a minimum, it might cause him to reconsider running for the governor's office.

You can read the story in Harsh Words Back Home for Tom Marino, Congressman Tied to Opioid Law.

The US relationship with Guatemala’s "Killer President." No, not that one.

Frank Ortiz was the US Ambassador to Guatemala at a time when the Carter Administration (and Democrats in Congress) sought to reorient US foreign policy towards one that emphasized human rights. Michael Cangemi recounts Ambassador Ortiz's difficulties in promoting a human rights-focused policy at a time of escalating government repression in Guatemala and the region. Guatemalan President Fernando Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982) was not interested in what the US was selling, no matter the cost.
Guatemala offers a useful case study for understanding the limits of the Carter administration’s diplomatic influence, especially in Central America. Fundamental differences in how governments in Central America and the United States, as well as different bureaus within the State Department, defined human rights facilitated Central American governments’ suspicion of a human rights-based foreign policy as a form of U.S. interventionism.
This was particularly apparent in Guatemala, owing in part to the United States’ history of direct and indirect intervention in the country’s domestic affairs. Further, Guatemala was able to counterbalance the Carter administration’s arms and economic sanctions more successfully than other Central American states. Successive Guatemalan governments were able to mitigate the absence of U.S. military assistance by purchasing more arms and munitions from other states, as well as from private U.S. manufacturers. Similarly, Guatemala was able to secure large development loans from multinational banks in the late 1970s despite the United States’ criticisms of the Guatemalan government’s human rights record.
These developments ultimately weakened the Carter administration’s diplomatic influence in Guatemala and across Central America, and contributed to its inability to address the region’s political and human rights crises in an effective manner. They also suggest that Ortiz’s recall was part of much larger bureaucratic and diplomatic problems within the Carter administration. Specifically, by the late 1970s the diplomatic apparatus that the U.S. government had utilized throughout the Cold War era was administratively and ideologically unprepared to fully incorporate human rights and smaller states’ emerging diplomatic, economic, and political agency into foreign policy formation and implementation.
Read "Ambassador Frank Ortiz and Guatemala’s “Killer President,” 1976–1980" in Diplomatic History.I wrote related blog posts four years ago - Just what does US-backed dictator mean?,  International involvement in Guatemala's civil war, and NY Times continues debating US role in Guatemala (in particular).