Latin America

  • What Real Progress on Cuba Should Look Like (by Mel Martinez & Francis Rooney)


When President Obama stepped off Air Force One in Havana, many focused on the historic nature of his visit to Cuba—the first since President Calvin Coolidge. Coverage is focused on a thaw in Cold War animosity, and images of President Obama strolling the Maleco´n and meeting with Rau´l Castro are being broadcast around the world. However, behind those scenes, the Cuban people continue to suffer under a regime that denies them the rights, the freedom, the opportunity, and the dignity they deserve. Without addressing human rights, economic freedom, and freedom of expression, President Obama’s trip is likely to be nothing more than speeches and photo ops.

First, President Obama should make it clear that further opening of ties between the U.S. and Cuba is contingent upon further political, economic, and social reforms. These preconditions would make it clear to the Cuban regime that despite the restoration of diplomatic ties, the benefits they seek from trade, investment, and tourism from the United States are destined to benefit the Cuban people—not to buttress a repressive regime.

In Havana, we hope that President Obama reminds the Cuban regime of how far it lags behind its neighbors in the region who have embraced democracy, economic freedom, and the rule of law. Compared to the region, Cuba has remained an economic and political backwater. It must be made clear to the Cuban regime that their restrictions on political freedom, civil rights, free expression, and the rule of law are on the wrong side of history.

To this end, President Obama should push the Cuban regime to begin significant shifts to ensure the rule of law and initial steps towards the creation of an independent judiciary free of Communist Party influence. Protections of human rights, property, and dignity must come before the interests of the Cuban Communist Party. Furthermore, with party poised to hold its Seventh Congress next month, President Obama should suggest that further rapprochement requires that Congress to chart a path towards free and fair elections, and not to serve as a rubber stamp for the next generation of Communist apparatchiks.

More importantly, it must be made clear to the Cuban regime that the United States will not tolerate the continuing brutal detention of human rights activists and regime opposition. In the lead up to President Obama’s visit, 300 people have been arrested since March 8th. Dozens of the Damas de Blanco were arrested before Obama’s arrival over the weekend. Their ‘‘crime’’ is to demand the freedoms and rights that are not just U.S. interests, but rather fundamental American values. If the harassment and persecution of these reformers continues, President Obama should let the Cuban regime know that this rapprochement will be at least frozen, if not significantly rolled back. On the economic front, the U.S. private sector cannot be the successor to the Soviet Union and Chavez’s Venezuela in propping up the Cuban regime. The Helms-Burton Act will continue to remain the law of the land, and President Obama should remind the Cuban regime that Congress is unlikely to change that without a significant relaxation of the political and economic fetters the Cuban regime places on its people.

Furthermore, President Obama should make it clear that it is not acceptable for the Cuban government to serve as a passthrough middleman who receives investments in dollars or euros, and pays workers in Cuban Pesos that represent a fraction of the value of worker labor. If U.S. firms do invest in Cuba, they must be allowed to pay their workers directly—in dollars.

Additionally, if further investments are made in Cuban telecommunication systems, and if data connections between the U.S. mainland and Cuba are bolstered, the U.S. government should insist that the Cuban people have access to a free, uncensored version of the Internet. Improved telecommunications need to be contingent on ensuring that Cubans can join the global digital commons and communicate freely. Furthermore, with U.S.-Cuba increased data traffic on the horizon, the Obama Administration should make it absolutely clear that Cuba cannot continue to serve as a listening post for Russian and Chinese signals intelligence and cyber espionage aimed at the United States.

While we still believe that the Cuban regime has demonstrated far too little in the way of reform or openness to warrant the steps the Obama Administration has taken in opening to Cuba, we feel that these actions would ensure that his trip to Havana can bring about real benefits for the Cuban people.

  • US Needs a 'Plan Colombia' For Central America (by Mel Martinez & Francis Rooney)



One of the many positive items within the budget omnibus deal reached by Congress and approved by the president is the $750 million for assisting the countries of Central America that have been beset by crime and instability—which has, in turn, sent vast numbers of unaccompanied minors northward to the United States to seek safety and economic opportunity.

The $750 million allotted to help El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras will help to target the gang violence that has plagued these nations, combined with efforts to promote the rule of law, reduce corruption, and improve governance in these countries. This assistance is a positive step from the United States, but this crisis cannot be solved with American largesse alone.

Over the past year we have led a project focused on the lessons learned from the past decade of Latin American geopolitical trends, and how these trends affect the relationship between the United States and its hemispheric neighbors. One key lesson from this timeframe is how US assistance is only one part of the equation for addressing criminality and corruption. A willing partner on the ground is as important—if not more important—than the total sum of US assistance.

During the worst years of narco-violence in Colombia, the Plan Colombia provided [check sum] to the Colombian government for countering the cartels. This assistance would also include training from US forces and high tech surveillance and precision weaponry to target cartel infrastructure and leadership. However, the money and equipment only worked to solve this crisis because they were accompanied by political and military leadership in Colombia willing to make the sacrifices in blood and treasure to defeat the cartels. Colombian leaders understood that the fight against the cartels and rebel groups would also require significant political and economic reforms at home to address structural shortfalls that made cartels and insurgencies viable.

In our overview of the region, we also looked at how Latin American nations are, themselves, emphasizing the importance of the rule of law and reforms to governance that improve not only security, but also economic performance and political freedoms. In this sense, while US assistance can provide financial and technical support, it is also incumbent upon the US to work with its other hemispheric partners to stabilize these countries.

Again, Colombia’s experience and success in this area makes it a potential exporter of security expertise and assistance to the region. Reforms and economic structures implemented throughout the region, particularly among the nations of the Pacific Alliance, are also tools that can better integrate Central American economies into the regional economy. This combination of improved security and economic opportunity can starve the flames of gangs and corrupt politicians of their fuel.

Around the region, the growth of a vocal middle class has also increased the pressure on corrupt politicians as the people of Latin America have demanded more of their political class. Like other nations in the region, the assistance the Central American countries receive from the US and other regional partners should also address the need for improved civil society and the independent institutions that foster good governance and the rule of law.

Finally, in confronting the human cost of those fleeing Central America for opportunity elsewhere, we must remember that other nations in the region are our partners in addressing this challenge. The vast majority of those crossing our southern border come from these Central American countries, not Mexico. In fact Mexican nationals are now net migrants out of the United States. With the flow of migrants out of Central America, Mexico also finds itself seeking to better secure its southern borders. Solving this problem—and ensuring that young children do not fall victim to gangs of human traffickers—will require cooperation, not confrontation with Mexico.

The $750 million appropriated to help Central America is a positive first step, but to maximize the return on this investment, it will be necessary to foster a shared regional approach to stabilizing those countries.

  • Argentina's For in the Road: Choosing Between Competing Latin America Narratives (by Francis Rooney and Max Angerholzer III)


When the Argentine people go to the polls in October, they will have an opportunity to reject the protectionism and populism that are the hallmarks of current President Cristina Ferna´ndez de Kirchner’s government. There are certainly recent Latin American success stories that point towards a more hopeful path, to include the examples set by more conservative governments like those in Colombia and Mexico. There are also several countries that are both geographically and ideologically closer to home for Argentina that offer valuable lessons as well: consider the Chile of President Michelle Bachelet and former President Ricardo Lagos; the Uruguay of President Tabare´ Va´ zquez and former President Jose ‘‘Pepe’’ Mujica; and, notably, Peru and the transformation launched there by former President Alan Garcia.

Regardless of which role models and regional examples are chosen, there are now two clear and divergent narratives competing for the future of Latin America. The first encompasses those nations that have embraced elements of free-markets, economic diversification and integration into global commerce, reinforcing democratic institutions. The Pacific Alliance is a good example of this hopeful trajectory.

The second narrative is one of corruption, cronyism and populism, and the nations who have chosen this path have found themselves increasingly isolated from international commerce and unable to adequately care for their own citizens. Venezuela under Hugo Chavez blazed this trail, and in many ways Argentina and Brazil followed it down a dead end. Largely as a result these countries have missed the economic and democratic revival underway throughout much of the region, and their governments are faced with growing instability resulting from gross economic mismanagement, corruption, and the erosion of democratic institutions.

In the case of Argentina, ‘‘Kirchnerism’’— which combines aspects of populism, nationalism, and protectionism—guided the country’s development during the late 1990s and early 2000s. This ideology shaped the social and economic institutions of Argentina, leading to the nationalization of the country’s largest oil company Yacimientos Petrolı´feros Fiscales (YPF); the president’s rejection of closer economic ties with the European Union; and Argentina’s embrace of the protectionist trade bloc Mercosur. The populist economic policies implemented by the administration have also included freezing utility rates and attempting to combat inflation by doctoring official figures. As the Argentine economy has inevitably slowed, inflation and debt have continued to rise, further revealing the shortcomings of this dead-end ideology.

As Christina Kirchner’s second term mercifully comes to an end, presidential candidates Daniel Scioli, Sergio Massa, and Mauricio Macri are looking towards a different path. For Scioli and Massa, that means distancing themselves from ‘‘Kirchnrism.’’ Scioli has stated that he would break with populism and protectionism. Massa left Kirchner’s FPV Party last year and is running as a candidate for the Renewal Front Coalition. The only nonPeronist candidate, Macri, runs on a more pro-market platform and calls for realignment with the West.

Unfortunately, whoever wins the election will have to break the government’s habit of excessive social spending, and confront entrenched unions resistant to change. Likewise, potential Vice President Carlos Zanini and many governors and legislators who share the Kirchner ideology may work against free market reforms. Change will have to come gradually if sustainable, free market economics are to truly take root in Argentina.

The United States can help by reaching out to Argentina’s next president, enabling him with bilateral trade agreements and resources aimed at promoting free markets, democracy and the rule of law. Efforts should also be made to more closely integrate the country into international trade and financing institutions. U.S. think tanks that nurture democratic and free market reforms should also do their part. The next Argentinian president will need all the help we can muster in weaning the country off of the Kirchner brand of cronyism and statism.

The United States has similarly offered assistance to Colombia and Panama as they implemented comprehensive economic, legal and security reforms. Greater security and stronger democratic institutions in those countries have led to increased foreign investment, making their economies more globally competitive. As noted, Argentina can also look hopefully at the example of Peru, which has similarly transitioned from a statist, socialist model to one that embraces free trade, foreign investment and closer engagement with the United States. Ultimately change will have to begin at home with the choice of the Argentinian people in the upcoming election. If the next president decides to break with the past and steer the country out of the dead end of Kirchnerism and Peronist socialism, and towards free markets and more transparent governance, then the United States should be waiting with an outstretched hand.


  • A New Vision For Western Hemisphere (by Francis Rooney and Dan Mahaffee)


Consider a region with growing economic and geopolitical importance, home to several of our highest-value trading partners, with significant immigration into and remittances in and out of the U.S., and presenting security challenges vital to our interests. One would think that such a region would be at the top of the list of our foreign policy priorities.

In reality, this region exists in the Western Hemisphere, but our attention to Latin America has been sporadic and episodic since the 1980’s and early–1990’s. As we moved away from our Cold War-era attention to the region, we had some promising initial steps with efforts at greater regional integration. However, we failed to follow these initial efforts with needed follow-on measures and consistent policy, due to divisive and distracting issues of domestic politics at home and a focus on the Middle East and South Asia, propelled by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a result, we have been forced to react to events, many of which are dictated by nations openly hostile to the United States.

Whatever the outcome of November 6th might be, the victor has the opportunity, and the responsibility, to build a vision for the reshaping and revitalizing our relationship with the rest of the Western Hemisphere. For the increasingly busy post-campaign transition staffs of President Obama and Governor Romney, it is not too soon to begin laying the groundwork for such a vision.

In a recent exercise we conducted regarding our Western Hemisphere policies and a way forward, we found key items for an Administration’s agenda towards the region. An agenda based around an understanding of the need for greater economic ties, a joint approach to security challenges, and shared political and cultural values can be a vision that shows the region that America is not only a power in the region but also a partner. Through NAFTA and various preceding organizations like the IADB, the United States was once a key driver in the economic integration of the region.

There were subsequent free trade agreements with Chile, Colombia, Panama, Peru, and CAFTA–DR with the countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic. While these trade pacts have opened up economic opportunities for the nations involved, we have failed to capitalize on follow-up opportunities that would further the economic vitality and integration of the region. Integration of the economies of the United States and Canada with those of the Caribbean and Latin America can not only provide economic benefits but also address the economic inequality that fuels governments which are hostile to the United States, and deprives these nations of the bounty that their natural and human resources could provide. For all the socialist vitriol of leaders like Hugo Chavez, his promises to improve the lot of impoverished masses have kept him in power. His opponent in the recent election also made clear that he would continue many of these social programs.

Furthermore, these commercial partnerships present a clear alternative to the mercantilist policies of China, provide opportunities for American manufacturers and consumers, and create a bloc of Western Hemisphere nations united in negotiations regarding a Pacific trade agenda.

These commercial ties can also leverage educational exchange in strengthening regional ties. As individuals from the Western Hemisphere come to study at our greatest colleges and universities, we can not only attract the best and brightest talent here, but also strengthen and enrich shared values throughout the region. To accomplish this, we must decouple adverse perceptions about mass immigration from a policy which allows visas for top students and entrepreneurs.

In an era where crime and terrorism have undergone the same globalization as economies and cultures, the security challenges of the Western Hemisphere are not the concern of one nation. Building on the success of Plan Colombia, we can continue the fight against narcoterror across the region, based around a model of mutually reinforcing kinetic operations and the building and strengthening of institutions resistant to the pressures of crime and corruption.

Also, as narcotics move from Latin America through Africa into Europe, these issues are no longer solely an American concern. Our traditional security partners in Europe also have a role in the Western Hemisphere through shared interests and their historical and cultural ties to the region.

While it is often an issue that divides the U.S. from other nations in the region, it must also be understood that the oppression, intellectual bankruptcy, and the aging regime of Cuba present a security risk to all of the Americas.

Beyond these economic and security concerns, the vacuum created by the lack of consistent U.S. attention requires a shift in our political approach to the hemisphere. The OAS, long the main multilateral institution for the hemisphere, is now on life support. While it would be destructive to the organization for the U.S. to withdraw its support for the OAS, the next President must also build a close multilateral relationship with the leaders from the region. While it is true that many question the utility of the regional summits, the President can set forth a U.S. vision for the Western Hemisphere through a summit with the Presidents of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Uruguay, and the Prime Minister of Canada.

Such a vision can revitalize our policies and partnerships with the Western Hemisphere. No longer can we take this region for granted as merely our backyard, nor can we miss the opportunities presented by a vibrant, integrated Western Hemisphere.

  • A Papal Bull for Foggy Bottom (by Francis Rooney and Dan Mahaffee)


Met by crowds inspired by both adoration (for the Pope) and indignation (towards their government), the visit of Pope Francis to Brazil provides valuable insights for how the United States can better approach its Latin American neighbors.

The pronouncements of Pope Francis, a Pope of many firsts (first Jesuit, first from the Western Hemisphere), reflect a new Catholic evangelization based around human rights, social justice, and basic dignity. His austere lifestyle, stretching back to his days as a Jesuit priest in Buenos Aires, reflect his desire to refocus the Catholic Church towards its social mission of providing both physical and spiritual nourishment to the masses.

The message he sent to tens of thousands of Brazilians and pilgrims from all over the world was one that sought to balance the pressures of rapid growth in both economic and geopolitical heft with the abject poverty in which many reside. Not far from gleaming high rises and the sandy stretches of Copacabana, he spoke to the favelas where many feel that the economic boom of the past decade has left them behind.

While his message was to those gathered in Rio, it resonates in Caracas, La Paz, Managua, Quito, and beyond. For those steering U.S. policy in the region, it hopefully resonates there as well.

Similar to the Catholic Church, United States foreign policy has been inconsistent and episodic concerning Latin America. Distracted by the continued turmoil in the Middle East and the complexities of the ‘‘pivot’’ towards Asia, we have only furthered a belief that U.S. policy towards Latin America remains unchanged since the days of the Cold War. As the joke often goes, ‘‘there are only two real differences in U.S. Latin America policy: whether it is based in the 1960’s or the 1980’s.’’

Without understanding the broader dynamics of the region we will continue to view the region solely through the lenses of counter- narcotic operations, illegal immigration, and competition with China. Just as the Pope has taken the message of the Catholic Church directly to the people of Latin America, we must also show how the interests of the United States align with those of the people of Latin America.

While the anti-American leaders in the region certainly have mastered the use of the democratic process, albeit at times under suspicious circumstances, and deploy vigorous anti-American rhetoric, the coalitions they muster are not inspired by a ‘‘struggle against the yanqui, the enemy of mankind.’’ Instead, as all politics are local, these anti- American leaders are leveraging a public eager for greater economic and social equality and opportunity.

Despite the poor performance of these leaders (ask any Venezuelan about their access to basic staples such as cooking oil and toilet paper), the U.S. lacks a counter narrative to those espousing socialist or Bolivarian ideologies.

Just as the Pope said that ‘‘no one can re- main insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world,’’ U.S. policy must better reflect how we can assist the people of Latin America and better encourage partnerships based on equitable growth and shared interests. While we have strong ties with the globalized elites of these nations, we must also reach out to those left behind.

Again, the church provides the model in the various social and educational missions conducted by Jesuits, Franciscans, and countless other religious orders. These are the type of programs that provide real benefits to Latin Americans, and they can improve both perceptions of the United States and regional stability.

The United States can focus on aid pro- grams that encourage bottom-up development and reduce the corruption inherent in top-down projects. We can provide assistance to promote better policing and social services, in many ways supporting the spread of innovative indigenous programs that ensure social welfare.

We can nurture investment in the people instead of capital assets, and pursue projects that support open and fair economic com- petition, and equal and transparent enforcement of the law. Through improved access to U.S. markets, we can empower small business owners and entrepreneurs and show that the benefits of economic growth can be equitably distributed. Finally, we can demonstrate through deeds, not words, how the U.S. investments in the region stand in stark contrast to the exploitative, mercantilist approach of China’s state-owned industries.

In listening to the Pope’s message, we can build our own 21st century approach towards a region that can no longer afford to neglect.