Author Archive

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

U.S. Needs to Call Foul on Salvadoran Election Dirty Trick

| December 5th, 2013 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

Salvadoran voters go to the polls next Feb. 2 to choose between former guerrilla Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the ruling FMLN and San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano of the ARENA party as their next president. By all accounts, it will be a rough-and-tumble showdown between two parties with starkly different views for El Salvador’s future.

Now, dirty tricks are dirty tricks, but last week President Mauricio Funes, in a bid to boost the electoral prospects of Sánchez Cerén, crossed the line by releasing to the press what he claims are sensitive U.S. Treasury Department documents attempting to damage former President Francisco Flores, who just happens to be Quijano’s campaign manager.

Funes alleges the documents “prove” that Flores misappropriated a $10 million donation from the Taiwanese government while in office, a charge Flores vehemently denies.

First of all, it is impossible, as surely the FMLN knows, to prove or disprove the authenticity of the documents and ... Read More

Colombia’s Wayward Search for Peace

| November 21st, 2013 | No Comments »
Real Clear World-01

When Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was elected in 2010 with 70 percent of the vote, it was seen as an overwhelming vindication of the policies of his predecessor Alvaro Uribe, whose tough security policies rescued the country from near failed-state status and drove drug trafficking guerrillas from outside cities back into the jungle.

Santos served ably as Uribe’s defense minister, and with Uribe’s endorsement, Colombian voters no doubt expected a continuation of the uncompromising stance against the guerrillas.

What they were not anticipating was Santos’ stunning announcement two years later that he was opening up peace talks with the narco-terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Ironically, it was the disastrous failure of an earlier peace process with the FARC that catapulted Uribe into the presidency and set him on the path to near iconic status among large swaths of the Colombia people for making their streets safe again.

Santos’ about-face on the FARC ... Read More

Is the U.S. Ready for a Venezuelan Meltdown?

| October 15th, 2013 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

As Republicans and Democrats continue their standoff in Washington, developments overseas directly affecting U.S. security interests continue apace. Think of multiple boulders tumbling down a hill. Let’s just hope a distracted Uncle Sam isn’t clobbered by one of them.

In Venezuela, the United States’ fourth-largest supplier of crude oil and 14th-largest trading partner, conditions are spiraling from bad to worse. The late Hugo Chávez’s hapless successor, President Nicolás Maduro, has requested emergency decree powers, which he says are needed to save an economy in free-fall — including an inflation rate among the world’s highest, collapsing public services, and shortages of basic goods such as milk, meat, and toilet paper. This, in a country sitting atop perhaps the largest reserves of crude oil on the globe.

Until now, Maduro has become little more than a laughingstock since claiming a suspicious victory over challenger Henrique Capriles in the April election following Chávez’s death. Obsessed with blaming others ... Read More

CARDENAS: The return of Manuel Zelaya to a wary Honduras

| October 11th, 2013 | No Comments »
Jose Cardenas

When the world last heard from Honduras in 2009, the country had sparked a regional crisis after deposing its president, Manuel Zelaya, for his repeated illegal attempts to rewrite the Honduran Constitution as his amigo, the now-deceased autocrat Hugo Chavez, had done in Venezuela. Despite the fact that the Law Library of the U.S. Congress later found the process to be constitutional, the Obama administration joined Chavez and other radical regimes in branding Mr. Zelaya’s removal a “military coup” and unleashed punitive sanctions on one of the region’s poorest countries.

Honduras survived that assault, but not before enduring such affronts to its sovereignty as Mr. Zelaya buzzing the airport in Tegucigalpa on a plane with Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza after being denied landing rights, and then Mr. Zelaya sneaking back into the country and finding refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, where he lined his room with tinfoil because he said Israeli agents were beaming microwaves at him.

Incredibly, Mr. Zelaya is poised to return to power in Honduras next month in the person of ... Read More

With Rousseff’s Visit Canceled, Where Do U.S.-Brazil Relations Go from Here?

| September 20th, 2013 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

It certainly would be easy to criticize Barack Obama’s administration for Brazil’s unprecedented cancellation of a state visit by President Dilma Rousseff over reports that the United States spied on her government and Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras. Especially since the administration made its political bones disparaging George W. Bush’s foreign policy and promising to “restore” America’s image in the world after the turbulent post-9/11 years.

In truth, let it be said, Rousseff’s decision has less to do with what the administration did right or wrong and more to do with Brazil’s own internal struggle to define what kind of country it wants to be on the world stage. The administration isn’t totally faultless (see below), but years of solid political leadership and economic growth have brought Latin America’s largest country to the precipice of a momentous decision: Does it want to be seen as simply a leader by acclamation of the developing ... Read More

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