Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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U.S.-Latin America Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality

by Shannon K. O'Neil
May 20, 2008

After taking a 3 plus month maternity hiatus, I am back and will be posting regularly again.

To kick things off, here is a link to a new Independent Task Force report from the Council on Foreign Relations, titled U.S.-Latin America Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality. The Council brought together 19 individuals of various interest and expertise under the chairmanship of Charlene Barshefsky and General James T. Hill. As director of the project, I can attest to the long hours of intense and at times spirited discussion among its members.
The group decided that U.S. policy should focus on four critical areas: poverty and inequality, public security, migration, and energy integration. The main recommendations are the following:

Poverty and Inequality:

  • U.S. should expand targeted assistance for poverty alleviation and institution building by fully funding the Millennium Challenge Account and developing new initiatives to reach the poor regions of the larger middle income countries. These programs should reflect the priorities of Latin American governments and also involve restructuring and integrating the programs of various U.S. government bureaucracies and multilateral institutions.
  • Alongside aid, the United States should approve pending free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and extend trade preferences to Bolivia and Ecuador to encourage productive relations with these complex countries.

Public Security:

  • The United States should assist Latin American countries in strengthening their law enforcement and judicial systems. Only through strong institutions can criminal networks and drug traffickers be controlled in the long term. The United States should also focus more on the demand side of the drug equation, working closely with other large drug consuming nations, specifically those in the European Union.

Migration:

  • Push through a comprehensive reform in 2009. This must deal with border security, employer responsibility, some sort of regularization of the 12 million unauthorized workers here today, and a flexible guest worker program to deal with future labor demands.

Energy Security:

  • The United States should provide FDI incentives to help build energy infrastructure i the region. It should also sponsor regional and subregional working groups to forward best practices.

Finally, the task force touches briefly on 4 bilateral relations. It recommends deepening U.S. relations with Brazil to promote global trade negotiations and manage energy demands; strengthening cooperation with Mexico to stop narcotics trafficking, increase U.S. investment in energy production, and reform immigration policies; using multilateral institutions to address foreign and domestic policies of Venezuela; and opening informal and formal channels of communication with Cuba, with the eventual goal of lifting the embargo.

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