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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Reads of the Week: The Latin American Soybean Boom, Mexican Security Spending and U.S. Drug Markets

by Shannon K. O'Neil
September 16, 2011

Workers harvest soybeans at a farm in Tangara da Serra, Brazil (Paulo Whitaker/Courtesy Reuters).

A recent article by Mariano Turzi argues that soy is the most recent of Latin America’s commodity booms, creating many of the same challenges that metals, minerals, and oil brought in the past. Whether economic booms and busts, populist leaders, or fights between more powerful (e.g. Brazil) and weaker (e.g. Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia) nations in the supply chain, Turzi worries about the fallout for the Southern Cone and its future.

Mexico Evalúa recently released the first study I have seen evaluating the outcomes of Mexico’s New Security Model. The results are mixed, at best. Some of the most fundamental measures differentiating the new security model from its predecessors – such as tracking law enforcement officers and their arms in a national database – have not become universal, and in fact have actually declined in recent years. The huge government outlays – now six times the amounts at the start of Calderon’s term – remain at times unspent and in others poorly accounted for. Accountability in general remains perhaps the biggest challenge. Mexico Evalúa finds it hard to judge these programs from the outside, as few metrics are provided. The military maintains even less oversight than the other security agencies they analyze. But reports such as these are at least a start toward pushing for more openness, evaluation, and in the end, better outcomes.

Finally, the Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center’s annual report shows cocaine prices increased by a third and purity decreased by more than two thirds from 2007 to 2010. This seems to have led to a decline in cocaine use – down by almost a quarter — confirming the findings of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report included in last week’s reads. Less positive, methamphetamine production (north and south of the border) seems to have reached an all time high, driving prices down, while purity has continued its steady climb.

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