Americas - Issue 83 - Magazine | Monocle

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View from Washington

After you, Hillary

By Sasha Issenberg

As Hillary Clinton prepares to formally announce her presidential candidacy, never before has a non-incumbent had so little work to do to become their party’s nominee. The name of the rump grassroots super-pac that paved the way for her – Ready for Hillary – might as well speak for the whole Democratic party: the burden is on her to accept the nomination, not earn it. Why doesn’t anyone want to force her to?

Clinton’s strengths are obvious: a well-rounded CV in domestic and foreign affairs, an ability to raise large amounts of money quickly, nostalgia for her husband’s presidency and the looming promise of a historic breakthrough for women in her victory. She lords over the Democratic party through reverence and fear, earning a monarch’s dutiful affection from her subjects.

Clinton had an identically daunting profile eight years ago when seven other Democrats thought she was still worth challenging in their party’s primaries. They discovered that she amounted to something of a piñata: imposing at a distance but liable to crack on contact – and filled with rewards for whoever stood closest when she did.

Clinton’s weaknesses remain only now they are no secret: her worldview is plainly more sympathetic to the financial sector than Democratic activists, who are now far more concerned about Wall Street; and any Clinton nostalgia can quickly turn sour, especially as what must be a congenital instinct to prevaricate reveals itself under pressure.

Yet even so, the crucial reason she was denied the 2008 nomination is the most impolitic to mention: her strongest challenger was black. Barack Obama was uniquely able to affiliate African-Americans and white liberals, leaving little room for Clinton to grow. Simultaneously squeezed by John Edwards, running as a rural white populist, Clinton was unable to place any better than third in the Iowa caucuses.

No Democrat today appears positioned to reassemble such an intra-party coalition against Clinton. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren is a persuasive critic of her husband’s economic policies, while able to project the righteous sincerity Clinton lacks and neutralise her gendered appeal. But Warren has little experience campaigning for minority votes. Only two African-American Democrats look potentially presidential – Deval Patrick, former Massachusetts governor, and New Jersey senator Cory Booker – but neither is interested in 2016. Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor, is ready but lacks any compelling contrast with her other than relative youth and freshness.

That beguiling primary in 2008 was great for the Democrats’ campaigner class, which is far more sophisticated from the experience. But it had a stunting effect on a generation of politicians forced to live in the shadow of Obama and Clinton. Even as many female governors and senators claim her as a role model, Clinton’s ambitions seem to be at odds with theirs: every Democratic woman has stood down for her.
Meanwhile, the opposition party begins its primary season with as many as 20 aspirants. It is a far more impressive, diverse crop than in 2012. Whoever emerges triumphant wins the chance to see if Hillary has strengthened from a piñata into a potentate.

Three Democrats for the post-2016 era:

Julian Castro
Obama’s housing and urban development secretary is the Democrats’ top Latino star and his continued rise stokes party hopes of turning his native Texas blue.

Gavin Newsom
The former San Francisco mayor has already launched a 2018 gubernatorial campaign and will be a major national player if he wins.

Tom Wolf
A former businessman just elected Pennsylvania’s governor could be a fresh face for Hillary’s VP shortlist.

Law and borders

Dominican Republic [DIPLOMACY]

Haiti and its more prosperous neighbour the Dominican Republic – both of which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola – have a history of clashing but diplomatic relations have hit an all-time low. The Dominican Republic temporarily closed four of its Haitian consulates in March due to “recurring attacks” by protestors over alleged mistreatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Creole and French-speaking Haitians are angry at racism in the Spanish-speaking neighbouring country where it is not unusual to see graffiti stating, “Haitians get out”.

The Dominican government has responded by stepping up deportations of undocumented Haitians (escaping political violence and poverty) by imposing an intermittent security crackdown along the border.

Heightened tensions stem from a 2013 ruling on citizenship, affecting Dominicans of Haitian descent born in the country. Rights groups say the court ruling stripped children born of Haitian migrants of their nationality by denying them birth certificates and identity documents. It has left some 200,000 people stateless. “We see many cases where Dominicans of Haitian descent, born and raised in the county, are being told they can’t renew their identity cards or simply can’t get an identity card,” says Flor Ángel Agustín, who works with the rights group Socio-Cultural Movement for Haitian Workers in the Dominican Republic.

Under international pressure the Dominican government introduced a law in 2014 to allow people born to undocumented foreign parents to apply for residence permits but so far this has not solved the legal limbo.

Unexpected family breakdown


Rising humidity in the world’s driest desert – Chile’s Atacama – is putting ancient Chinchorro mummies that have been resting in its sands for millennia at risk of decomposing. The Chinchorro, who inhabited the coastlines of what make up modern-day Chile and Peru, started mummifying their deceased at least 2,000 years before the Egyptians, with some dating as far back as 5050bc. “Micro-organisms are using the collagen as a nutrient source,” says Ralph Mitchell, professor of applied biology at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Money mission

Argentina [SPACE]

Maybe Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s recent visit to China wasn’t such a disaster. Despite an ill-judged tweet mocking the Chinese pronunciation of the letter “r”, President Fernández managed to get agreement for a new space station – China’s first outside its borders – in Patagonia.

Argentina’s Congress has now approved the €275m project in Neuquén due in 2016, which will track Chinese missions to Mars and the moon. Some worry the base, which has a 50-year lease, could be used for military purposes. China granted €20bn in loans to Latin America last year: Argentina was the second largest recipient after Brazil.

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