Author Archive

The Cuban Market Mirage

| May 27th, 2015 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

It’s a safe bet that neither Cy Tokmakjian or Stephen Purvis will be attending a Brookings Institution event next week on doing business in Cuba. Canadian and British businessmen, respectively, they each suffered through Kafkaesque ordeals in Cuba after they did just that, somehow running afoul of some regulation in Cuba’s opaque and arbitrary judicial system. After being imprisoned for months and robbed of their assets by the Castro government, they were finally released only after heavy diplomatic pressure by their governments.

Indeed, of all the justifications for President Obama’s about-face on Cuba policy — that it will serve to moderate the Castro regime’s behavior, improve human rights, or that it will transform U.S.-Latin America relations — perhaps the biggest whopper in defense of the new policy is that Cuba’s bankrupt economy represents a gold mine for U.S. producers and investors.

Thus, we are currently being treated to a succession of trade delegations, assorted junkets, ... Read More

Where Does U.S. Policy Toward Cuba Go From Here?

| April 17th, 2015 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

With this week’s perfunctory delisting of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, it is clear President Obama can’t give away the store fast enough. The apparently antiquated diplomatic notion that when engaging an adversary you use your leverage to try and exact concessions that get you closer to your objective is evidently not for him. Instead, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “Mr. Obama’s Cuban diplomacy has been one unreciprocated offering after another.”

Even worse than that, the administration now finds itself in the humiliating position where the Castro regime is placing conditions on the United States to upgrade diplomatic relations: i.e., ending the terrorism designation, returning the Guantánamo naval base, ending support for dissidents, and so on.

What we are witnessing is a truly remarkable, perhaps unprecedented, piece of statecraft. Give your adversary everything he wants and then see what happens, historical experience be damned. In his own ... Read More

Have U.S. Sanctions Against Venezuela Actually Helped Maduro?

| March 30th, 2015 | No Comments »
Jose Cardenas

When President Obama announced human rights sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials on March 9, a number of Latin Americanists and others criticized the measure, arguing that the president just handed beleaguered Venezuelan Nicolas Maduro a huge propaganda victory. The thinking went that Washington’s heavy-handed interference in Venezuela would allow Maduro to rally his base, deflect attention away from their dire economic predicament, and otherwise strengthen his teetering government.

Today, three weeks later, is as good a time as any to see whether Maduro has benefited in any way from U.S. sanctions. According to recent polls, the answer is a resounding no.

According to a recent poll by the Venezuelan firm Datanalisis, for all Maduro’s bombast since the sanctions were announced, his already low popularity barely budged from 23 percent to 25 percent, likely within the margin for error; in other words, there hasn’t been any measurable improvement. This is all the more ... Read More

Washington’s $1 Billion Central America Challenge

| March 24th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Foreign Policy

The Senate Homeland Security Committee is holding a series of timely hearings this week revisiting the summer 2014 border crisis to ensure that, should there be a next time, the Obama administration won’t get caught napping again. That crisis saw thousands of illegal Central American immigrants, including many unaccompanied minors, surging across the United States’ southern border, overwhelming local authorities and inflaming the broader debate over immigration.

Wednesday’s hearing, focused on understanding and addressing the root causes of the crisis — the so-called “push” factors — is particularly important, as it gives lawmakers an opportunity to flesh out details of the administration’s proposed $1 billion Central America assistance plan. Vice President Joe Biden has been the administration’s point man on pitching the plan, writing recently in The Hill, “The president and I are determined to address conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and help these countries on their path to economic ... Read More

Obama’s Cuba Problem

| September 12th, 2014 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

The last time President Obama met with his Latin American and Caribbean counterparts was not a particularly memorable affair.  The 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, was overshadowed by an embarrassing Secret Service scandal that saw members of his advance team soaking in a little bit too much of the historical city’s Caribbean nightlife.

Meanwhile, in the absence of any substantive agenda, President Obama spent most of the summit being hectored by his counterparts with the incongruous assertion that undemocratic outlier Cuba must be part of the next meeting of all the popularly elected governments in the Americas.

It was clear the president wasn’t pleased with the badgering, complaining that, “Sometimes I feel as if in some of these discussions … we’re caught in a time warp, going back to the 1950s and gunboat diplomacy.”

Fast forward two years: Preparations for the 2015 Summit are well underway ... Read More

Don’t Believe Everything You Read About the United States’ Cuba Democracy Program

| August 8th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
Foreign Policy

For the second time in four months, the Associated Press has published a gross distortion of USAID’s Cuba Democracy Program that has made it the subject of unjust derision from the legions of U.S.-Cuba policy critics. The news agency evidently believes it has stumbled upon a vast, sinister U.S. conspiracy to overthrow the Castro regime, calling to mind those halcyon days of exploding cigars and poisoned wetsuits. It is nothing of the sort.

Previously, AP reported that USAID sought to foment an uprising in Cuba by introducing a rudimentary Twitter service for Cubans to utilize free of regime snooping. Now, we are told that USAID sent hapless youths from Latin America to Cuba to recruit agents to lead that national uprising.

Such assertions are ridiculous on their face. Moreover, it is distressing to see how easily people can apparently accept the notion that their government would involve itself in such lunacy.

The ... Read More

CARDENAS: To secure Southern Border, U.S. must also help secure Central America

| July 10th, 2014 | No Comments »
Article Appeared in The Washington Times

President Obama has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding to cope with the humanitarian crisis along our southern border, which has been besieged by a surge in unaccompanied minors and thousands more trying to enter the United States from Central America through Mexico.

Clearly, the administration is scrambling to undo the damage caused in part by its own rhetoric and unilateral actions on immigration that, whether intentional or not, sent the calamitous message to desperate families across the region that if you want to get to the United States, then now is the time to come, because some sort of legal status awaits them.

Yet, notwithstanding the considerable sum of money requested from Congress, the administration’s current plan is merely stop-gap. It does nothing to address the primary driver of the problem: the escalating criminality in the region — most of it fueled by drug trafficking to the United States — that ... Read More

Central America’s Security Crisis is the United States’ Problem, Too

| June 26th, 2014 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

With the Obama administration scrambling to address the “humanitarian crisis” of thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. southern border, let’s hope it has learned a sobering lesson about how presumably well-meaning (and politically expedient) words and actions on a such a hot button issue as immigration can have serious real-world consequences. Whatever the administration was trying to say or do over the past few years on immigration reform got lost in translation to thousands of Central American families whose only hope in life is to make it to the United States to find safety, security, and a decent day’s wage.

Reports are that the number of unaccompanied minors, primarily from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, detained at the border has more than tripled since 2011, with most of them believing — manipulated by unscrupulous human traffickers –that some sort of legal status awaited them.

As one regional expert told the Washington Post, what the ... Read More

Can the U.S. Force Cuba to Reform? Not a Chance.

| June 16th, 2014 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

In an article published last week on Foreign Policy, Christopher Sabatini called for elevating the tone of the debate on U.S.-Cuba relations by dispensing with what he characterized as shouting and name-calling. If that is the case, it is not quite clear how referring to supporters of the U.S. embargo as “rabid,” and as the mirror image of the despots in Havana, contributes to his idea of “reasoned political discussion.”

Be that as it may, Sabatini writes that not every critic of U.S. policy is a card-carrying member of the Communist Party. That is certainly true. There is no shortage of people of good will, frustrated by the ungodly conditions forced upon the Cuban people by the Castro regime, who argue for changes in U.S. policy to ostensibly help the Cuban people improve their lot in the face of oppressive state control.

Specifically, Sabatini argues that targeted economic engagement towards Cuba’s nascent micro-entrepreneurs “might create ... Read More

Colombia’s Peace Process Just Suffered a Stunning Rebuke

| May 30th, 2014 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

The results of last Sunday’s first round in Colombia’s presidential elections have dealt a stunning blow to the government’s ongoing peace negotiations with the narco-terrorist Fuerzas Armadas de Revolucionarias Colombiana (FARC). President Juan Manuel Santos, who basked in international acclamation when he announced the opening of talks almost two years ago, was evidently unsuccessful in an obviously more important detail: failing to convince the Colombian people of the merits of negotiations with the guerrilla group that has tormented Colombian society since the mid-1960s.

Santos finished second to challenger, Oscar Zuluaga, a protégé of former President Álvaro Uribe and fierce critic of the FARC talks, who garnered 29.3 percent of the vote to Santos’s 25.7 percent. The runoff will take place June 15.

The vote means fully 75 percent of Colombian voters expressed no confidence in Santos. Certainly there were other factors involved — Colombia’s economy continues to boast solid numbers, so that probably wasn’t one ... Read More

Sr. Vicepresidente Biden: No todo está bien en la República Dominicana

| March 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
Jose Cardenas

La noticia es que el vicepresidente de EE.UU., Joe Biden ha pospuesto su viaje a la República Dominicana de esta semana para volver a Washington desde Chile para reunirse con el primer ministro de Ucrania el miércoles 12 de marzo. Eso es lamentable, ya que la visita de un funcionario estadounidense de alto rango ayudaría a que esta administración preste más atención a los problemas políticos que cada día afectan más a ese país.

Visto superficialmente, la República Dominicana parece ser estable , con un gobierno bastante popular que intenta hacer lo correcto por su gente. Detrás de esa imagen, no obstante , las tendencias políticas en ese país son preocupantes y no deben pasar desapercibidas por las autoridades estadounidenses.

Un argumento convincente de que no todo está bien con la democracia dominicana se encuentra en un informe del Centro de Estudios Estratégicos e Internacionales titulado “La República Dominicana : Convirtiéndose en ... Read More

No Ordinary Election in El Salvador

| March 5th, 2014 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

Tumult in Ukraine and Venezuela in recent weeks has overshadowed a consequential regional election taking place this Sunday, March 9. Voters in El Salvador will go to the polls in a second round to choose from between two starkly different candidates. The result could shape Central American politics for the next several years — and not necessarily for the better.

The election pits veteran hard-liner and current Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the former guerrilla FMLN against San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano of the opposition ARENA party.

The polls favor an FMLN victory on Sunday (Sánchez Cerén defeated Quijano 49 percent to 39 percent in the first round on Feb. 2), which can be attributed to the party’s masterful political ads that managed to convert a battle-hardened ideologue into a kindly, old grandfather who wants to spend his twilight years building a better future for the country.

The FMLN’s control of government ... Read More

A Nation Divided: Venezuela’s Uncertain Future

| March 5th, 2014 | No Comments »
World Affairs

Ayear after the death of Hugo Chávez from cancer, Venezuela remains as polarized as at any time during the flamboyant strongman’s fourteen-year rule. As the dysfunctional economy he bequeathed to his successors continues to unravel—despite proven oil reserves rivaling those of Saudi Arabia—a determined political opposition continues its uphill fight against what Chávez designed as a permanent revolution.

President Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s anointed successor, came to power in a special election last April that was much closer than expected, sending shock waves through the chavista ranks. There were enough doubts about the legitimacy of the vote that his opponent, Henrique Capriles, never conceded. Since then, Maduro has struggled to escape Chávez’s shadow and assert his authority over the faction-ridden chavista party, the PSUV, a hodgepodge of leftists of all stripes along with a faction of the military loyal to the late president. Maduro has been buffeted by one challenge after another: infrastructure breakdowns leading to ... Read More

Obama Should Do Nothing to Rescue Chavismo

| February 28th, 2014 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

Mixed signals in recent days by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are helping embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to deflect attention away from the consequences of his misrule. With popular street protests across the country showing no signs of abating, the government of the late Hugo Chávez’s successor appears to have no answers as to how to quell the discontent — that is, beyond unleashing the blunt force of government-sponsored paramilitary gangs against the protesters.

Social media has been inundated with images of the violence being perpetrated against Venezuelan civilians. In response, Kerry has issued two formal statements (here and here), the second better than the first. In the second, he stated, “The government’s use of force and judicial intimidation against citizens and political figures, who are exercising a legitimate right to protest, is unacceptable and will only increase the likelihood of violence. I call on the Venezuelan government to ... Read More

CARDENAS: Venezuela still reeling from dysfunction

| February 26th, 2014 | No Comments »
Article Appeared in The Washington Times

Obama’s reluctance to speak out emboldens the chavistas

Just shy of one year since the death of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, the movement he created is floundering. In recent days, massive demonstrations have rocked the government of Chavez’s hapless successor Nicolas Maduro.

What began as student protests against rampant street crime has morphed into widespread mobilizations against the shortages of basic goods, out-of-control inflation, electricity blackouts, political polarization and, finally, the systematic elimination of political space to voice dissent.

While there is no question that he was bequeathed a dysfunctional economy and political system, Mr. Maduro, unlike Chavez, lacks the deft political skills to defuse crises before they became critical. Instead, his crude authoritarian rule has only worsened the economic situation, and in recent days, his heavy-handed reaction to the protests has only exacerbated the crisis to a degree that it is difficult to see how he will be able to return to the status quo ante.

During two ... Read More

Time for Congress to Act on Venezuela

| February 24th, 2014 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

With popular demonstrations across Venezuela turning into the latest crisis for chavismo, it is time to pronounce the Obama administration’s policy toward Venezuela an unmitigated failure. The capstone was Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s absurd call this weekend for negotiations with the United States even as his government was cracking down on unarmed protestors.

Of course it was meant as a diversion, but for the embattled Maduro even to pretend he can blow the dog whistle and the State Department will fall immediately into line reveals his utter contempt for the administration’s accommodationist policy towards his country. We need an entirely new approach.

Almost one year after the death of strongman Hugo Chávez, the movement he founded is reeling. Nationwide protests against rampant street crime, shortages of basic consumer goods, and political polarization have left half a dozen Venezuelans dead, many more wounded, and even more jailed. Leading opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez has been imprisoned on a military base under the preposterous ... Read More

Panama Canal Deadlock Could Cost U.S. Billions

| February 6th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
Foreign Policy

News that negotiations have broken down over a payments dispute in the massive $5.2 billion project to expand the Panama Canal is devastating news for U.S. exporters and only adds to the “disarray” narrative on U.S. trade policy.

The cash-strapped Spanish-led consortium that is building a new lane says it is stopping work due to the Panamanian refusal to pay an additional $1.6 billion in cost overruns. The Panamanians say it is a breach of contract. The consortium is threatening “years” of arbitration; the Panamanians say they will not yield to blackmail.

The only thing certain is that further delays in the project’s completion, which has already been pushed back from this year — the 100th anniversary of the canal’s completion — to as late as 2015 and beyond will continue to cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars, at a time when seaborne trade is essential to the United States’ economic ... Read More

CARDENAS: A corrupt deal threatens El Salvador elections

| January 30th, 2014 | No Comments »
Article Appeared in The Washington Times

Voters in El Salvador will go to the polls on Sunday to choose a new president from two decidedly opposite ends of the political spectrum. Former guerrilla and current Vice President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, of the hard-line wing of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), is facing off against San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano of the pro-U.S. opposition Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party.

As if the stakes were not high enough already — for the Salvadoran people and for U.S. interests in the region — the election is being complicated by the unhelpful role of a third-party candidate, Antonio Saca, the former president of the country who served under the ARENA banner from 2004 to 2009.

Once a favorite of the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Saca was subsequently expelled from ARENA in 2009 for his conspicuous corruption while in office. Today, many in El Salvador think he is running again ... Read More

RIP, Inter-American Democratic Charter

| January 24th, 2014 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

Next week, leaders from Latin American and the Caribbean will assemble in a jovial atmosphere in undemocratic Cuba to effectively bury the Inter-American Democratic Charter. That historic document, signed by all countries in the Western Hemisphere (excepting, of course, Cuba) on the fateful day of September 11, 2001, set the unprecedented standard that, “The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.”

Today, almost 13 years later, the charter has been rendered meaningless — and, worse, no one seems to care.

Perhaps the Organization of American States (OAS) — which proudly features the charter on its website — would have a comment on the utter incongruity of regional leaders supposedly obligated to promote and defend democracy summiteering in Cuba? Well, to find Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza you would have to ring him up in his hotel in Havana, as he ... Read More

Is Obama’s Latin America Policy Finally on Track?

| January 14th, 2014 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue is one of the more astute observers of Latin American affairs in Washington. His analyses are usually a reliable barometer on the prevailing inside-the-Beltway sentiment on U.S.-Latin America relations. The concluding paragraph of his recent article on the Obama administration’s failed policy to develop good relations with Ecuador’s obstreperous President Rafael Correa thus merits particular attention.

Shifter writes:

In the second Obama administration, a slight shift can be discerned. U.S. officials now appear somewhat less inclined to invest scarce diplomatic resources in repairing relations with Ecuador and other unfriendly governments. Rather, the focus is on deepening ties with allies in the region, especially Pacific Alliance members — Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Chile — and, of course, Brazil, given its strategic importance.

If that is the case, it would mark a huge and welcome turnaround in U.S. policy toward Latin America. For five years, administration policy has been just that: squandering ... Read More

Page 1 of 612345»...Last »