Dr Ana Margheritis on the National Elections in Argentina

DipticBy Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


PAIR’s Dr Ana Margheritis has been busy in the national and international media over the past week, offering reflection and analysis on the current national elections in Argentina. Ana has contributed to discussion programmes for Radio FM4 in Austria and for the BBC World Service, and featured in an article in the Daily Express.

You can listen to/view each of Ana’s contributions by following the links above.

Upcoming Conference on Global Migration

This year the Institute for Latin American Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, have situated global issues (including migration) at the top of their agenda for debate. They invited Dr. Ana Margheritis to co-organize an interdisciplinary conference with broad aims. Please find more details in the call for papers and link to webpage below.

Managing Global Migration: New Perspectives from Latin America and Europe

November 12, 2015

Institute of Latin American Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London

This one-day ILAS conference at the University of London will present and debate new research on the multiple ways and means of addressing and managing global migration flows between Latin America and Europe. The conference will move beyond area studies by focusing on two world regions historically linked by human mobility and cultural exchange but now grappling with significant demographic changes and new migration trends. These changes and trends include the reversal of flows, the greater heterogeneity of migrant groups, the pull of women leaders in family migration projects, the concentration of newcomers in non-traditional destinations, the intensification of dual or multiple engagements in the country of origin and residence, and the development of new forms of citizenship beyond borders. The aim of the conference is to assess how and to what extent state and non-state actors in both Latin America and Europe are coping with and capitalizing upon the complex and creative implications of these new trends.

We aim to critically address the need to reconcile the political regulation of new trends in human mobility with democratic and multicultural demands for respect of rights and difference. We welcome papers that address this broad scope and aim from a variety of disciplinary, methodological, experiential, and comparative perspectives. ILAS aims to publish a selection of previously unpublished papers. Limited funding is available for travel expenses of participants. Please submit an abstract of 250 words with short bio and contact information by SEPTEMBER 15 to the conference co-organizers:

Dr. Ana Margheritis, University of Southampton
A.Margheritis@southampton.ac.uk

Dr. Mark Thurner, ILAS, University of London
mark.thurner@sas.ac.uk

Obama and the Latino Vote: Falling in Love Again?

DipticBy Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


A bold attempt to regain initiative capacity is shaping the last years of Obama’s second term in office. In late 2014 he announced the launching of two executive actions of great impact in domestic and foreign policy: a relief program to stop the deportation of millions of undocumented migrants (mostly from Latin America) and the initiation of conversations to reestablish relations with Cuba. These two decisions affect directly sectors of the electorate of Hispanic origin that have been crucial in his electoral victories. It is plausible then to expect that these measures will have some repercussions in the next electoral cycle. David Ayón and I addressed the roots and (still uncertain) fate of these initiatives in our publication entitled “Obama’s Latin Turn: A Strategy of Structural Change?” forthcoming next month in Foreign Affairs Latinoamérica.

We argue that the content and timing of this policy shift cannot be understood without taking into account the evolving demographic and political profile of the highly diverse but increasingly integrated Latin American immigrant groups in the US, and in particular their role in domestic politics. We trace the careful crafting of a special relationship between the president since he was presidential candidate and the community of Hispanic origin, the use of specific tools and policies, the arduous negotiations to cope with obstacles to immigration reform, the launching of executive actions to overcome the stalemate, and the subtle mechanisms that allowed Obama to rely on the Latino vote to win elections since 2008. The historical and statistical account in our article leads us to questions of relevance for political scientists and practitioners alike: Is the next presidential election the opportunity for Democrats to forge a new structural and sustainable re-alignment in the party’s electoral coalition? Would this finally be “the time of change” as Obama announced it in his first campaign?

Far from predicting an outcome, we point out to the potential impact of the presidential leadership on the articulation of electoral and governing coalitions in the long term. We place this variable in historical context and in a broader domestic politics dynamic. Here are some of our points.

First, we note that it would be problematic to generalize about a proper “latin” community. Immigrants of Hispanic descent in the US are a highly diverse group. Their potential capacity to mobilize politically is proved and, therefore, they have to be included in candidates’ political calculus. But the formation of a coherent and independent front is still a matter of controversy. In addition, their voting turnout is still very low.

Second, we build upon other studies to show that Latinos’ electoral behavior is likely to be shaped by a number of factors, not just the fate of immigration reform. As Matt Barreto and Gary Segura explain in detail in Latino America: How America’s Most Dynamic Population is Poised to Transform the Politics of the Nation, the latino vote has been influenced by several factors lately: immigration matters to (mostly first generation) immigrants but they also care about questions of equality, religion, security, economics, and candidates’ ties with the community. Thus, the overall impact of recent presidential actions on the entire Latino community may be limited. And it would be misleading to assume that Latinos might act as a captive constituency for any party.

Third, we note that electoral times often polarized political views on controversial issues. Over the years, Obama managed to maintain hope and positive expectations alive among Latinos, despite generalized disappointment with lack of effective changes. The Hispanic community took note of outreaching moves such as the appointment of high-rank officials of Hispanic descent, the push to the Dream Act, and presidential opposition to a very controversial immigration law in Arizona. It also took note of the latest bold initiatives above. According to a Gallup’s survey, immediately after the announcement of such measures Obama’s popularity among Hispanic-Americans increased by 12 points, rewarding him with a 64% of performance approval. Would it possible to maintain that rate of approval if the Executive cannot unlock institutional vetoes? This is an open question since the presidential decisions are facing opposition not only in Congress but also from federal courts (see details in the recent analysis of the Migration Policy Institute: http://migrationpolicy.org/article/all-eyes-us-federal-courts-deferred-action-programs-halted).

Fourth, from a historical perspective, we learned not to overestimate the president’s capacity to have an impact on the performance of its party, especially in the case of a president in his last term, without any chance to be re-elected. Bruce Caswell reminds us in “The Presidency, The Vote and The Formation of New Coalitions” (Polity 41, 2009) that only Ronald Reagan managed to pass the presidency along to his successor from his party and only for one term. He also points out that Obama increased evenly the support of Hispanics and other minorities in past elections but he did not bring new groups to the traditional electoral coalition of Democrats. Thus, the next presidential elections will be crucial to assess if Latinos (especially, the younger generation) have really become incorporated in the Democrats’ electoral coalition on more integrated and permanent basis than in the past.

Thus far, re-gaining initiative capacity and projecting a positive message focused on economic recovery as Obama did in his last speech to Congress in January 2015, attest of the president’s strategic shift and might increase the electoral chances of his party. It is not clear yet how presidential bold moves articulate with a broader economic and political dynamic and to what extent institutional vetoes may be overcome. For most migrants of Hispanic origin, the trip “to the North” is embedded in deeply-rooted expectations of a better standard of life and improvement for individuals, families, and communities. But the conditions that may allow them to “reclaim the American dream” –as Obama called it in his book The Audicity of Hope—are largely beyond the control of the president.

In sum, we note that forging a governing coalition that might advance a “Latin agenda” as well as other innovative policies is a crucial challenge today –and probably the most uncertain aspect of Obama’s departure. The imprint that Obama is giving to his last term will probably raise his profile and mark his legacy. It might also have just a short-term effect and limited scope if other political actors do not endorse or negotiate his initiatives within a broad political agreement supportive of structural changes.

Reexamining the 2001 Argentine crisis and its aftermath

DipticBy Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


Ten days ago, the launching of a recently published book entitled Argentina Since the 2001 Crisis: Recovering the Past, Reclaiming the Future at the Institute of the Americas (University College of London) was a good opportunity to revisit the vicissitudes of contemporary politics in Argentina. The volume, edited by Cara Levey, Daniel Ozarow, and Christopher Wylde, gathers the contributions of a multidisciplinary international group of scholars to the analysis of the legacies of the 2001 crisis. In particular, the book explores the responses to the crisis in various dimensions: economic processes, domestic politics, social mobilization, and cultural practices. As invited discussant, I noted several contributions this book is making to our understanding of the implications of such dramatic events. Among other things, I highlighted the following points and encouraged further discussion and investigation.

Ana_IMG_3274I welcomed the introduction of the concept of “crisis intermezzo.” It might be a very helpful analytical concept in the Argentine case and probably other cases too. While transition is defined as “a process during which the previous act is terminated and replaced by a different one, (…) intermezzo is a bracketed act between two acts of the same piece” (p. 144). This conceptual contrast may broaden our historical perspective of what happened in Argentina. In the light of recent developments, it is evident that Argentines have started to anticipate, once again, a new crisis as if they have developed, through recurrent crises, a particular ability to do so and the aftermath of the crisis was just an intermezzo to catch their breath.

A number of things happened during the intermezzo, though. Several chapters in this volume give us tools to analyze both rebellion from below and reconstruction from above. The contributors ably illustrate how citizens mobilized driven by anger and hope, and how the state de-mobilize them and used the opportunity to give the Kirchners’ model its identity, narrative, and historical projection. I note that integrating the two process seems to be a pending task. Doing so might require exploring how crises and intermezzos have become naturalised throughout their cyclical recurrence and how Argentine politics (and Peronist politics in particular) have become the art of managing crisis or using intermezzos to re-invent the (now) dominant party.

With respect to the top-down part of that process, I note that there is an underlying theme in the book: the recasting of state power as post-neoliberalism promised to bring the state back in and mend the damage made by neoliberal policies. In my view, the return of the state seems to be an unfinished, inconsistent, and uneven process across geographies of the national territory and across policy areas; it has also been closely intertwined with the government’s significant efforts to re-write a narrative of the past, present and future of the country (and the role of the Kirchner family in it). This recurrent theme made me think that an emphasis on responses to the crisis might be insufficient. Most chapters, indeed, identify contradictions and tensions between national popular discourses and the policies and politics of dispossession. This suggests the need to elaborate not only on the responses but also on the non-responses, the issues that have been silenced, the mobilization that was de-mobilized, the dissent that was diluted or simply postponed. Doing so might help make sense of the paradox that the protesters’ slogan “que se vayan todos!” (they all must go!) faded in front of politicians’ resilience and resistance to leave and to implement necessary political reforms. Old and new factions continue struggling today as the time of election approaches, while popular discontent persists and focuses on recurrent problems (e.g., corruption, insecurity, inflation) and the component of hope contained in the 2001 protests has not been fulfilled yet.

Uruguay: Tiny Country, Big Population Problems

By Dr. Ana Margheritis, Politics & International Relations

The international press has focused on Uruguay lately and praised a number of factors that make the country attractive and relatively atypical in the Latin American context today: a small, gorgeous area of fertile land; political and economic stability; a friendly and laid-back style of life; progressive tax, social welfare and other policies (e.g., legalisation of abortion, marijuana consumption, and gay marriage); records of foreign investment; improvement in reducing poverty, unemployment, underemployment, and inequality, and a humble president whose simple, frugal habits and standard of living has not changed after coming to office.

Demographers argue that Uruguay is an atypical case in other respect, too: it did not go through peaks of population growth and an early decline in mortality and birth rates gave it a demographic profile more similar to the advanced countries than to its developing neighbours, though still sharing with the latter the same struggle to overcome economic under-development. Such demographic evolution contributed to a generalized perception of a lack of population problems and, consequently, to the absence of specific policies. Problems existed, though, compounded today by a low fertility rate, concentration of population in a small coastal area and few cities (half of the total population lives in Montevideo, the capital city), low immigration inflows, and continuous population ageing and emigration. Internal migration from the countryside to the coast has historically been the first step in a long journey that extends beyond the country’s borders as a significant part of the total population (between 15% and 18% in the mid-2000s) moved subsequently abroad. Thus, in terms of migration flows Uruguay passed from being a receiving country up to the 1950s to a sending country since then and depopulation became a structural problem.

However, it is not until the mid-2000s that the magnitude of the emigration problem was acknowledged and both population and migration issues entered the governmental agenda and political discourse. The immediate factor that prompted this policy shift was the mobilization of Uruguayans abroad around the time of the 2004 elections and its role in the Frente Amplio’s victory. This was compounded by the last two presidents’ leadership role, the profile of the emigrant group (i.e., young, highly educated), and the nature of the Frente’s political project, namely a development strategy in which the state has a prominent role and a progressive social agenda that brings human rights considerations to the forefront. A new set of innovative migration-related measures and institutional changes gained momentum in the last decade, though their scope and sustainability are still subject to controversies.

Uruguayan governments have, indeed, made significant efforts to reach out to citizens living abroad. Following global trends, several initiatives were launched: a new discourse to re-name the diaspora and its role in the nation; legislation update to institutionalize migrant rights; new bureaucratic units in charge of migrant affairs; a number of linkage programs to engage migrants with homeland, and the promise of inclusion and increasing political participation through extra-territorial voting rights. The emphasis on linkages and absentee voting rights promised not only to reinforce nationhood bonds but also to make effective a notion of citizenship that goes beyond territorial borders and redefines the idea of nation. Nevertheless, this initiative could not overcome political and social opposition. Most likely, it will be revived this year as national elections approach.

Among other lessons, Uruguay shows that sending state emigration policies require the political commitment of specific actors to prosper. It is not the state as a unitary apparatus or political parties but specific individuals and offices (i.e., the president, foreign minister, especial migration units) which push transnational initiatives politically. Emigration policy also requires an articulation between symbolic and rhetoric initiatives and concrete measures to entitle and engage emigrants. The label patria peregrine (peregrine nation), intended to emphasize that emigrants are still part of the nation, was too vague, did not resonate with the dual engagements of Uruguayans abroad and failed to give them an identity, thus jeopardizing the chances of constructing them as subjects and interlocutors. The use of this terminology also cast doubts on the conceptualization of the problem and policy intentions because it involves a redefinition of borders when, in fact, political and social ideas about the nation still remain strongly tied to territory in Uruguay. As the debate on extra-territorial voting rights illustrates, two views persist: the official political discourse emphasizes notions of national identity and unity, collective commitment with nation-building, and sense of responsibility towards the country’s fate even if at a long distance; in contrast, other political and social actors argue that physical presence in the territory at the moment of suffrage ultimately contributes to reinforce the nationhood bond, questioning that those who are physically absent decide on the lives of those who will actually endure the consequences of decisions.

Bureaucratic practices are a major obstacle to policy consistency and sustainability, as well as society’s low capacity to exert strong pressure or push for its agenda. Several of the initiatives above have been subject to constant vaivenes (the word I most often heard during field research, meaning ups and downs, comings and goings) and faced implementation problems.Thus, the sustainability of emigration policy in the long run is contingent not only on state’s capacity to reform itself but also on society’s ability to acquire a greater voice and more organizational capacity as well as to engage broader sectors with the re-construction of national membership along pluralistic and non-territorial lines.

In sum, Uruguay is a critical case to study emigration policies because, in contrast to other cases, discursive mechanisms have included but not targeted elites exclusively, new re-conceptualizations of the citizens abroad failed to re-incorporate them into the nation, state strategies have not prioritized financial flows but political issues and, rather than capitalizing on migrant transnational networks overseas, the state implemented a top-down, state-led model on diverse migrant organizations that largely backfired. Moreover, I argue that full extra-territorial citizenship has not materialized yet not because of governments’ reluctance but because the political elites’ and society’s strong attachment to territorial notions of entitlements have re-territorialized the debate.

Do you want to know more? See my forthcoming article in International Migration Review: “Redrawing the Contours of the Nation-State in Uruguay? The Vicissitudes of Emigration Policyin the 2000s”.