A Latin America To-Do List for Trump

A Latin America To-Do List for Trump

By José R. Cárdenas

1.20.2017

José R. Cárdenas is a director with the international consultancy Vision Americas. He served in several senior foreign policy positions during the George W. Bush administration (2004-2009), including at the Department of State, the National Security Council, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. This piece is part of a special RCW series on America’s role in the world during the Trump administration. The views expressed are the author’s own.

It appears safe to say that Donald Trump’s approach ...  

Brazilian graft scandal reveals Latin America’s uphill battle against corruption

Brazilian graft scandal reveals Latin America’s uphill battle against corruption

By Roger F. Noriega

1/19/2017

More than two years after initial revelations of corruption involving Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, and the construction firm, Odebrecht, the scandal continues to roil the country and its trading partners in Latin America, demonstrating once again that corruption remains a fundamental challenge for the region. The corruption revealed by the investigation dubbed “Operation Car Wash” has contributed to a deep recession, implicated some of the country’s economic elite, and helped topple President Dilma Rousseff and elected ...  

Venezuela Faces Uncertain Future As ‘Failing State’ Enters Second Year Of Economic Crisis

Venezuela Faces Uncertain Future As ‘Failing State’ Enters Second Year Of Economic Crisis

Amid widespread poverty, worsening food shortages and tumbling oil prices, socialist Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has declared a sixth consecutive 60-day period of national economic emergency, stretching the crisis into a second year and further extending his government’s expansive decree powers.

Blaming the nation’s financial woes on low oil prices and a U.S.-led plot to topple his regime, the embattled leader announced Sunday that his administration would soon unveil a new plan to address Venezuela’s crippling recession and hyperinflation.

A former bus ...  

Colombia Seeks to Oust Embattled Brazilian Construction Giant Odebrecht

Colombia Seeks to Oust Embattled Brazilian Construction Giant Odebrecht

BOGOTÁ—Colombia’s government is seeking to oust embattled Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht from the country amid a growing investigation into allegations that the company bribed officials to secure massive infrastructure projects.

“We are working toward the definitive exit of Odebrecht from Colombia,” Luis Andrade, head of Colombia’s national infrastructure agency, said Wednesday. It was the government’s strongest statement since Odebrecht in a plea deal with U.S. authorities last month admitted to paying $439 million in bribes to officials in countries outside of ...  

Colombia to Hold Peace Talks With ELN Rebels

Colombia to Hold Peace Talks With ELN Rebels

Colombia’s government will begin much-delayed formal peace talks with the country’s second-biggest rebel group the ELN on Feb. 7, after the guerrillas release a politician being held hostage, the two sides said on Wednesday.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) will release politician Odin Sanchez on Feb. 2, meeting a repeated government requirement, negotiators said in a joint statement in Quito, Ecuador near where the talks will take place.

President Juan Manuel Santos had said earlier on Wednesday that the talks would begin ...  

Already reeling, Mexico fears it has much to lose with Trump

Already reeling, Mexico fears it has much to lose with Trump

Donald Trump’s assumption of the U.S. presidency couldn’t come at a worse time for Mexico.

Drug violence here is again on the upswing, the government has struggled to combat widespread corruption and nationwide protests have erupted after gasoline prices spiked this month amid the country’s falling oil production and inability to produce all its own fuel.

Even before his swearing-in, Trump has already hurt the country’s economy by pressuring automakers to shift factories out of Mexico, threatening its most important manufacturing sector ...  

Mexican President’s Support Plumbs New Low as Gasoline Soars

Mexican President’s Support Plumbs New Low as Gasoline Soars

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s approval rating plunged to a record low after the government’s raised gasoline prices by the most in two decades, prompting the looting of department stores and near-daily public protests.

Just 12 percent of Mexicans approve of Pena Nieto’s performance, the lowest level for any president in two decades of polling going back to the peso crisis of the mid 1990s and down from 24 percent in December, according to the survey by Mexico City-based newspaper Reforma. ...  

Brazil’s Next Crisis: Temer’s Government May Not Survive

Brazil’s Next Crisis: Temer’s Government May Not Survive

“Men shut their doors against a setting sun,” wrote Shakespeare in Timon of Athens. It is a fitting dictum for governments nearing the end of their terms or becoming lame ducks. Brazil’s President Michel Temer is in a similar situation now, and recently saw three clear signs of his support dwindling as yet another internal crisis hit his government:

Congress approved financial assistance to state governments without enacting pre-conditions to cut costs and balance local budgets.

In doing so, ...  

Peril in Peru: Islamic Terror Shifts South

Peril in Peru: Islamic Terror Shifts South

It might just be the most important terrorism case you’ve never heard of. Last fall, prosecutors in the Peruvian capital of Lima launched formal legal proceedings against a 30-year-old alleged Hezbollah operative named Mohammed Hamdar. The trial, now underway, has major regional—indeed, global—implications for the fight against international terrorism.

The case dates back to October 2014, when Peruvian police arrested the then-28-year-old Lebanese national in Lima’s Surquillo district. When he was apprehended, Hamdar had traces of suspicious chemicals on one of ...  

Venezuela Issues New Bank Notes Because of Hyperinflation

Venezuela Issues New Bank Notes Because of Hyperinflation

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s government began to issue new bank notes on Monday to replace the 100-bolívar bill, made virtually worthless by hyperinflation.

President Nicolás Maduro announced early last month that new notes would be issued to replace the old ones, a measure that promised to lighten the load for many Venezuelans, who must carry around bags of cash for even the simplest transactions.

The 100-bolívar note is worth about 2.8 American cents at Monday’s black market rate.

The new notes range from ...  

Back-to-back shootings shake Mexico’s tourism jewels

Back-to-back shootings shake Mexico’s tourism jewels

CANCUN, Mexico – Two consecutive days of shooting attacks that left a total of nine dead have put two of the jewels of Mexico’s Caribbean coast on edge and spurred a warning to tourists by the U.S. government.

As investigators worked Tuesday at the scene of a shooting the previous day that caused five deaths in the nearby beach town of Playa del Carmen, the region was stunned when gunmen assaulted the Quintana Roo state prosecutors’ offices in Cancun, and four ...  

Peru: Bribes by Brazilian builder cost country $283 million

Peru: Bribes by Brazilian builder cost country $283 million

Anti-corruption officials are calling for Peru’s three most recent ex-presidents to testify in connection with alleged bribes paid by Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht for inflated contracts that authorities say cost the Andean country $283 million.

Comptroller Edgar Alarcon said at a news conference Wednesday that Odebrecht was involved in 23 public works projects since 1998 worth at least $16.9 billion. Of those, 16 have been audited and authorities detected potential irregularities, including unjustified cost overruns and forgiveness of penalties for contractual ...  

Mexico Town Fears Nightclub Shooting Means Drug War Has Come

Mexico Town Fears Nightclub Shooting Means Drug War Has Come

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico — While authorities investigate what set off a deadly shooting at an electronic music festival event, residents said it came amid a growing and increasingly open drug scene in this resort town that has long been spared the violence of Mexico’s cartel wars.

Concerns that violence may be creeping into Playa del Carmen were voiced as people attended a Monday evening vigil in front of the Blue Parrot nightclub, where five people died and 15 were wounded ...  

Top diplomatic negotiator in Cuba warns Trump: ‘aggression doesn’t work’

Top diplomatic negotiator in Cuba warns Trump: ‘aggression doesn’t work’

Senior Cuban negotiators say the island will not be cowed by intimidation and bluster from Donald Trump, despite the incoming US president’s threat to rekindle Cold War animosities.

“Aggression, pressure, conditions, impositions do not work with Cuba. This is not the way to attempt to have even a minimally civilised relationship with Cuba,”Josefina Vidal, a foreign ministry department head, told the Guardian.

Cuba’s wait-and-see approach is guided by Trump’s unpredictability – and the knowledge that all previous 11 US administrations held talks ...  

Cartels reviving sealed tunnels along U.S.-Mexico border

Cartels reviving sealed tunnels along U.S.-Mexico border

While Mexico officials and incoming President Donald Trump feud over a border wall, cartels are finding plenty of opportunities to smuggle drugs underground.

A plan by the United States and Mexico to shut down tunnels that the cartels used along borders for smuggling is failing as criminals have found ways to carve them out again, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The reason is because while the United States sealed the entire portion of tunnels on its side of the border, Mexico ...  

New Venezuelan VP’s alleged ties with Hezbollah, radicalism raise concerns

New Venezuelan VP’s alleged ties with Hezbollah, radicalism raise concerns

CARACAS, Venezuela – Tareck El Aissami, one of the most powerful men in Venezuela, just acquired more power. Last week the self-proclaimed “radically Chavista” became the country’s second in command after President Nicolas Maduro appointed him as vice president.

The son of a Lebanese mother and a Syrian father, the 42-year-old El Aissami is also one of the most obscure figures in government circles — he is suspected of having ties to the Islamist militant group Hezbollah and is reportedly being ...  

Venezuela arrests anti-Maduro politicians in sweep

Venezuela arrests anti-Maduro politicians in sweep

Venezuela rounded up a dissident former general and two other regional politicians on Thursday in what the opposition called a wave of repression by socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

With its popularity falling during a brutal economic crisis, Maduro’s government cast the arrests as part of a crackdown against “terrorists” and coup plotters.

Authorities put ex-general Raul Baduel, who was first jailed in 2009 for six years, back behind bars on accusations of breaking parole conditions by conspiring against the government.

Two city ...  

Drug Cartels Are Looting Mexican Gas Pipelines

Drug Cartels Are Looting Mexican Gas Pipelines

“How long will it take you to get here?” Panchito, a gasoline thief, shouts into his cell phone at a truck driver headed his way. “I’ve got 12 canisters filled with diesel just for you.”

“I’ll be there in about an hour,” replies the driver, known by his nickname, El Chile Verde. “I’m just leaving Mexico City now.”

Panchito sells stolen fuel from the side of a highway outside Mexico City. He declined to give his last name. He says demand for ...  

Colombia seized record 378 tons of cocaine last year

Colombia seized record 378 tons of cocaine last year

Colombia’s armed forces seized a record 378.3 tons of cocaine in 2016, nearly 50 percent more than the year before, while murder were down by 4 percent, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said on Wednesday.

Homicides fell to 12,252 last year, Villegas told journalists, as the government signed a peace deal with the Marxist Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels. Attacks on infrastructure were also down.

Colombia, once infamous as the home of violent drug cartels, is one of the world’s top ...  

Investors Bolt Mexico as Peso Enters Free Fall

Investors Bolt Mexico as Peso Enters Free Fall

Global investors are fleeing Mexico’s financial markets, sending the peso to record lows on mounting concerns that Donald Trump’s trade policy could end the country’s privileged status among developing countries.

The peso on Wednesday tumbled to another all-time low against the dollar as Mr. Trump pledged to change U.S. trade policy with Mexico. “Mexico has taken advantage of the United States,” he said during his press conference. “It’s not going to happen anymore.”

The Mexican currency weakened 0.3%—at 21.8609 from 21.8009 late ...  

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About

During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform American policymakers and American and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.