Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

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

Mexico’s Underground Economy and Illicit Money Outflows

by Shannon K. O'Neil Monday, January 30, 2012
Wachovia Bank sign is seen at a branch in New York. Wachovia settled federal charges that it laundered nearly $400 billion in drug money from Mexican and Colombian traffickers in 2010. Wachovia Bank sign is seen at a branch in New York. Wachovia settled federal charges that it laundered nearly $400 billion in drug money from Mexican and Colombian traffickers in 2010.

Yesterday Global Financial Integrity released a new report, “Mexico: Illicit Financial Flows, Macroeconomic Imbalances, and the Underground Economy,” which provides an in-depth look at flows of illicit money from Mexico. The study finds that nearly $1 trillion in illicit capital left Mexico from 1970-2010, averaging about $50 billion a year this past decade. Illicit outflows have increased over time – in 1970 only $3 billion of illicit money left the country per year – and experienced particularly large upswings during macroeconomic crises. These flows decreased by more than 50 percent as a share of exports, though this is largely because exports overall increased dramatically as Mexico transformed from a relatively closed to open economy. Read more »

Debating Amnesty and Immigration Policy

by Shannon K. O'Neil Friday, January 27, 2012

Yesterday I had an exchange with my CFR colleague, Ed Husain (who has a fantastic blog, “The Arab Street,”), about my last post on Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” plan. I wanted to post it here, to add to the lively debate on the issue of amnesty, and immigration reform more generally, and he graciously agreed. Below is our conversation: Read more »

What’s Wrong With Romney’s “Self-Deportation” Plan

by Shannon K. O'Neil Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Republican presidentical candidate Romney speaks as Gingrich listens during the Republican presidential candidates debate in Tampa (Scott Audette/Courtesy Reuters). Republican presidentical candidate Romney speaks as Gingrich listens during the Republican presidential candidates debate in Tampa (Scott Audette/Courtesy Reuters).

During Monday’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney put forth his plan for dealing with illegal immigration: self-deportation. Here is how the exchange went:

Debate Moderator Adam Smith: Governor Romney there’s one thing I am confused about, you say you don’t want to round people up and deport them but you also say that they would have to go back to their home countries, and then apply for citizenship. So if you don’t deport them, how do you send them home? Read more »

Guest Post: Ríos Montt Plays a Risky Defense Game

by Tuesday, January 24, 2012
An indigenous woman passes graffiti depicting former dictator Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala City (Daniel Leclair/Courtesy Reuters). An indigenous woman passes graffiti depicting former dictator Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala City (Daniel Leclair/Courtesy Reuters).

This is a guest post by Natalie Kitroeff, a research associate here at the Council on Foreign Relations who works with me in the Latin America program.

Without fanfare, or so much as a public arrest, this weekend Guatemala took another historic step toward justice for a genocidal civil war that took the lives of more than 200,000 innocent, mostly indigenous civilians. Just a week after losing his diplomatic immunity, General (Ret) Efraín Ríos Montt was ordered to testify in court about his role in abuses that occurred between 1982 to 1983, when he was de facto President of Guatemala. If judge Patricia Flores decides there is enough evidence to proceed to trial, Ríos Montt will be prosecuted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity (including 626 massacres of civilians in Chimaltenango, Quiché, Huehuetenango and Baja Verapaz). Read more »

A (Partial) Defense of the So-Called “siesta Congress” in Mexico

by Shannon K. O'Neil Friday, January 20, 2012

A recent Economist article paints Mexico’s legislature as inefficient and unproductive, calling it the “siesta Congress.” Below is an excerpt from the piece:

“Mexico’s lawmakers sit for only 195 days a year, the second-fewest among Latin America’s bigger countries. (Their $11,200-a-month pay, however, is the highest after Brazil’s.) When they do stir themselves to vote, it is more often to block rivals’ bills than to pass reforms. Gridlock in the palace of San Lázaro partly explains why Felipe Calderón’s presidency, which ends in December, now looks like a six-year damp squib.” Read more »

Mexico’s 99 Percent: How the Next President Can Reduce Poverty and Inequality

by Shannon K. O'Neil Thursday, January 19, 2012
A boy from the "Insurgentes de la Paz" (Peace Insurgents) school receives lessons inside an old bus turned into a class room in the settlement of Pueblo Nuevo, Oaxaca (Courtesy Reuters). A boy from the "Insurgentes de la Paz" (Peace Insurgents) school receives lessons inside an old bus turned into a class room in the settlement of Pueblo Nuevo, Oaxaca (Courtesy Reuters).

It is campaign season in Mexico, and aside from security issues, front-runners Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD are focusing on poverty and inequality. Both criticize the past two PAN governments for not improving the lot of Mexico’s poor, and for perpetuating if not exacerbating an uneven playing field that benefits the few and not the many. In a recent campaign stop in the Southern state of Veracruz, Peña Nieto came down hard on the PAN, saying “[the PRI] knows what Mexico hasn’t achieved in the past decade. We haven’t forgotten that more people are poor, that we haven’t had the economic growth that creates jobs that the public demands.” Read more »

What to Watch in 2012: Two Elections That Could Transform Latin America

by Shannon K. O'Neil Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Venezuela's opposition Democratic Unity coalition potential presidential candidates attend a second debate in Caracas (Jorge Silva/Courtesy Reuters). Venezuela's opposition Democratic Unity coalition potential presidential candidates attend a second debate in Caracas (Jorge Silva/Courtesy Reuters).

Though fewer in number than in 2011, the two Presidential elections on the docket for 2012 will make up for it in terms of their importance in the region.

The first will happen in July in Mexico. Leaders of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) are already talking about not only winning Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, but taking the “carro completo” – gaining a majority in the House and Senate. Read more »

What to Watch in 2012: A Leading Multilateral Role

by Shannon K. O'Neil Friday, January 6, 2012
Britain's Prime Minister Cameron stands with other leaders during the family photo session of the G20 Summit in Seoul (Courtesy Reuters). Britain's Prime Minister Cameron stands with other leaders during the family photo session of the G20 Summit in Seoul (Courtesy Reuters).

2012 will be a year to watch Latin America’s rising role on the multilateral stage.  The hints of Latin America’s growing stature were already there in 2011. In November, International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Christine Lagarde toured the region, meeting with Brazil, Mexico and Peru to ask for help (and extra funds) to stabilize Europe and the eurozone. But 2012 will be the real stage, as both Mexico and Brazil – the region’s largest economies – take the reins. Read more »