Hugo Chavez, the U.S., and Latin America in the United Nations

Hugo Chavez was, to put it mildly, no fan of U.S. foreign policy. One of his favored outlets to express those views was the United Nations General Assembly; most famously his 2006 speech in which he called George W. Bush the devil. Below is a graph that depicts the “dynamic ideal point estimates” of the United States, Venezuela, and some other Latin America states based on their vote choices in the UN General Assembly. It is based on a paper Michael Bailey, Anton Strezhnev and I will present at the upcoming MidWest political science conference (sorry not done yet). Here is a brief illustration that may help with the methodology (or see this article). Our goal is to provide historically comparable estimates of the positions of states on a dimension that captures conflict over acceptance of the Western U.S. led liberal order.

In the early days of the UN, Latin American states were reliable allies of the U.S. Most Latin America states gradually moved away from the U.S. with the exception of Cuba, which shifted abruptly after its revolution. Hugo Chavez moved very quickly towards Cuba’s ideal point after taking power in 1998. He was joined there by Nicaragua (after the Sandinista came to power) and also Bolivia (not shown). This has created a somewhat bi-polar situation within Latin America; with some countries (like Argentina and Chile) quite a bit closer to the U.S. than others. Historically, Latin American countries have often voted together (with the exception of Cuba). This is all fairly well-known but I thought this graph captures the dynamics well and puts Chavez in some historical and comparative context.

For those interested: I plot the same graph below the fold with the traditional way of computing voting similarities between countries (S-scores or simple percentages of agreement with the U.S.). You’ll see that those obscure some important differences among Latin American countries.


5 Responses to Hugo Chavez, the U.S., and Latin America in the United Nations

  1. Jeff Colgan March 6, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Erik, this looks like really good stuff. My major worry about using affinity scores based on UN votes is that some large percentage (up to 40%) of the votes are based on Israel/Palestine issue, which means that countries like Saudi Arabia look like dire enemies of the US even though that’s clearly not true. In your new work, have you figured out a way to adjust for that issue? (The State Department’s list of “important votes” doesn’t really solve it.)

    • Erik Voeten March 6, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

      Jeff: once our paper is done and our estimates are available hopefully there is no need to use Affinity scores anymore. Middle East votes are not as influential in our estimates as colonialism/human rights and so on (i.e. on average their discrimination parameter is lower). However, there is a bigger conceptual issue here: the theoretical concept is NOT foreign policy closeness with the U.S. That is a garbage can concept as far as I am concerned. The concept is ideological predispositions towards a Western liberal order. On that front the Saudi are somewhat far removed from the U.S. They are allies DESPITE disparate preferences on this dimension. I’ll post more on this once we are ready to release some data.

      • Jeff March 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

        The attitude towards Western liberal order sounds very promising. But I’m not sure that means we shouldn’t ever be concerned about affinity. And isn’t affinity all about closeness with country X, whether it is the U.S. or between any two states? Why is that a ‘garbage concept’?

        • Erik voeten March 7, 2013 at 6:31 am #

          It is a garbage can concept because every time we discuss “common interests” or common preferences” we should ask “preferences over what?” if you cannot answer that question, then you cannot interpret a regression coefficient substantively.

  2. Garrick March 8, 2013 at 3:00 am #

    It’s interesting that even after the right-wing coups in Argentina and Chile occurred, their voting patterns continued to drift away from the U.S.’s with little change, in contrast to the big shift away from the U.S. following left-wing coups in Cuba and Nicaragua.