Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

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

Migration From Central America Rising

by Shannon K. O'Neil Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Central America, Northern Triangle, violence, homicides, dangerous, migration, U.S. border patrol, unaccompanied minors, International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACIH), Berta Caceres Children from Honduras, who will be accompanied by their families when they travel to reach northern Mexico or the U.S., have their meals at the Todo por ellos (All for them) immigrant shelter in Tapachula, Chiapas, in southern Mexico, June 26, 2014. Thousands of young people and families are hoping to reach the U.S. from their impoverished and violent homes in Central America (Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez).

Central America’s Northern Triangle is one of the most violent regions in the world. Last year’s murder rate of roughly 54 per 100,000 inhabitants surpasses Iraq’s civilian death toll. El Salvador alone registered 103 homicides per 100,000—making it the deadliest peacetime country. While victims are often young men, women and children die too. Kids face a murder rate of 27 per 100,000 in El Salvador—making the country as dangerous for elementary and middle schoolers as it is for an adult in the toughest neighborhoods of Detroit or New Orleans. Its neighbors Honduras and Guatemala are also among not just Latin America’s but the world’s most dangerous nations. Read more »

The Significance of Peru’s June 5 Election

by Matthew Taylor Thursday, May 12, 2016
Peru, June 5 election, neoliberal, Alberto Vergara, Ollanta Humala, Alberto Fujimori, Keiko Fujimori, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Veronica Mendoza, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Sendero Luminoso A combination file photo shows Peru's presidential candidates (L-R) Keiko Fujimori after voting and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski arriving to vote, during the presidential election in Lima, Peru, in these April 10, 2016 file photos (Reuters/Mariana Bazo (L) and Guadalupe Pardo).

While the world is distracted by Brazil’s impeachment drama, Venezuela’s impending meltdown, and Cuba’s promising détente with Washington, a potentially significant election campaign is underway in Peru that may have long-term implications for the success of the region’s “right turn.” Two candidates with robust neoliberal credentials are neck and neck in the second round contest that will take take place on June 5, and will determine who governs the country through 2021. Perhaps because of the similarities in the likely economic policies of the two contenders, not much foreign media attention has been focused on the election: regardless of who wins, Peru seems likely to continue with outward looking initiatives, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Pacific Alliance, while practicing market-friendly policies at home. But precisely because the economic policies of the two candidates are so similar—prominent Peruvian columnist and political scientist Alberto Vergara notes that whichever candidate governs Peru beginning in late July, their cabinet will be composed of technocrats who could serve their rival—observers have not focused on the underlying significance of this election to the democratic legitimacy of Latin America’s new rightward turn. Read more »

Legitimacy and the Battle to Remove Rousseff

by Matthew Taylor Wednesday, May 4, 2016
President Dilma Rousseff, Vice President Michel Temer, impeachment, legitimacy, Ricardo Janot, PSDB, PMDB, Lava Jato, Brasilia Brazil's Vice President Michel Temer (L) talks with President Dilma Rousseff during a ceremony to announce the adaptation criteria in the AM and FM broadcasting grants, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, November 24, 2015 (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters).

The past week has brought a number of puzzling new feints and jabs in Brasília’s bloody political cage match:

– Most dramatically, reputable news organizations are reporting that President Dilma Rousseff is contemplating resigning from office later this week, despite having spent much of the past year denying that she would ever countenance resignation; Read more »

CFR Conference Call: Brazil Update

by Shannon K. O'Neil Friday, April 22, 2016
Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, Impeachment Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a news conference for foreign journalists at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil April 19, 2016 (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters).

Earlier this week I had the chance to talk with Michael T. Derham, a partner with Novam Portam, about the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and Brazil’s possible paths forward. You can listen to our conversation here.

Brazil’s Impending Hangover

by Matthew Taylor Thursday, April 14, 2016
President Dilma Rousseff, Michel Temer, impeachment, Workers' Party, economic mismanagement, political turmoil, hangover, Renan Calheiros, Supreme Federal Tribunal, Oscar Vilhena Vieira, Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, Eduardo Cunha, Lava Jato, Car Wash investigation, golpismo Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff reacts during a signing ceremony of a deal between mining company Samarco and its owners, BHP Billiton and Vale SA, with the Brazilian government at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, March 2, 2016 (Adriano Machado/Reuters).

After months of suspense, President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment looks set to proceed in a floor vote in the Chamber of Deputies on Sunday, April 17. At present, impeachment seems more likely than not: Vice President Michel Temer and his allies have overcome many of the political hurdles to impeachment by skillfully creating a bandwagon effect among legislators, in part by arguing that there is little point in continued support for the outgoing Rousseff and that now is the time to make sweet deals with the incoming Temer administration. This week’s desertions mean that of the seven largest parties in Congress, only one (the PT) still supports the president, while five are in opposition (PMDB, PSDB, PP, PSB, and DEM) and one is still officially undecided (PR). Read more »

Five Things Washington Should Do to Help Latin America Curb Corruption

by Guest Blogger for Matthew Taylor Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Corruption, Latin America, Operation car Wash, U.S. Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs, antimoney laundering, Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act, International Center for Investigative Journalism (ICIJ), U.S. real estate market Paraguayan prosecutors Hernan Galeano (C), Federico Espinoza (center, R) and Chief Prosecutor Roberto Zacarias hold a news conference in Asuncion, January 8, 2016. Paraguayan state prosecutors on Thursday raided the headquarters of South American soccer confederation CONMEBOL after a request for cooperation from U.S. justice officials probing corruption inside world soccer, the prosecution office said (Jorge Adorno/Reuters).

This is a guest blog post by Dr. Richard Messick, an anticorruption specialist. It is based on a talk he gave at a CFR roundtable on March 24 hosted by Matthew M. Taylor, adjunct senior fellow for Latin America Studies.

One of the most promising developments in U.S. foreign relations is the all-out war on corruption being waged across Latin America. From “Operation Car Wash” in Brazil to investigations of presidential wrongdoing in Bolivia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Panama, across the region independent, tenacious prosecutors and investigators are out to end the massive theft of state resources that for so long has hobbled political development and throttled economic growth. The United States should be cheering for these corruption warriors, for we have much to gain if they succeed. Less corruption translates into more stable, reliable political allies; it means faster, more equitable growth and that means shared prosperity and less northward migration. Finally, less corruption in government will offer U.S. firms new opportunities. Think what the end of corruption in Brazilian public works would mean for U.S. engineering and construction companies. Read more »

Macri’s Surprising Honeymoon

by Matthew Taylor Thursday, March 31, 2016
Mauricio Macri, Argentina, Cambiemos, pragmatic Argentina's President Mauricio Macri (L) and Jujuy's Province governor Gerardo Morales (back C) dance as they take part in a carnival celebration in the Argentine northern town of Purmamarca, February 6, 2016 (Argentine Presidency/Reuters).

By all accounts, Mauricio Macri has had a remarkable honeymoon since he was inaugurated December 10, quickly moving to revise Argentina’s economic policies, restructure its relations with the world, and tackle a variety of rule of law challenges, ranging from corruption to the drug trade. President Obama’s trip to Argentina last week was in many ways the capstone to Macri’s dynamic first hundred days in office. The visit signaled a generational shift in U.S. policy toward Latin America, seeking to repair some of the worst damage done by U.S. support of the military dictatorship that took office when Obama was a teenager, but Obama and his entourage of more than four hundred business representatives were even more convincing in their strong praise for the Macri administration’s new openness to foreign investors. Read more »

Do Brazil’s Street Protests Spell the End for Rousseff?

by Matthew Taylor Thursday, March 17, 2016
Dilma Rousseff, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Lava Jato, Marcelo Odebrecht, protests, Workers’ Party, Delcídio Amaral, Aloizio Mercadante, Supreme Federal Tribunal, Michel Temer, Aecio Neves, Renan Calheiros, legitimacy, golpismo, PSDB, Sérgio Moro, Eduardo Cunha, resignation, impeachment, Ricardo Lewandowski An inflatable doll known as "Pixuleco" of Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is seen during a protest against Rousseff, part of nationwide protests calling for her impeachment, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 13, 2016 (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters).

Brazil’s drama has escalated at breakneck speed. On March 4, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was detained for questioning. On March 8, construction magnate Marcelo Odebrecht was sentenced to nineteen years in prison for his role in the Lava Jato scandal. On March 9, state prosecutors in São Paulo filed a motion for Lula’s arrest, and on March 13, an estimated three million Brazilians hit the streets in the largest anti-government protests of recent years. On March 15, the plea bargain signed by Workers’ Party (PT) senator Delcídio Amaral was approved by the country’s high court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), revealing accusations against President Rousseff’s confidante and minister Aloizio Mercadante, against erstwhile government allies Vice President Michel Temer and Senate President Renan Calheiros, against opposition leader Aécio Neves, and even against Rousseff herself, who is alleged to have pushed judges to tamper with the ongoing investigation. Yesterday, March 16, spontaneous protests broke out in several cities after a wiretap was released of Lula and Rousseff discussing his appointment as presidential chief of staff, with protesters interpreting the conversation as obstruction of justice and an effort to ensure Lula special standing in a high court that has long been deferential to politicians (ministers, including the chief of staff, can only be tried in the STF). Read more »

Foreign Affairs’ Brazil Economic Summit

by Shannon K. O'Neil Thursday, March 10, 2016
Brazil, Brazil Economic Summit, Brian Winter, Foreign Affairs, President Dilma RousseffBrazil, Brazil Economic Summit, Brian Winter, Foreign Affairs, President Dilma Rousseff (Courtesy of Foreign Affairs)

I had the pleasure yesterday morning of sharing the stage with Brian Winter, vice president of policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas and editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, to talk about Brazil for Foreign Affairs’ Brazil Economic Summit. We discussed the ongoing corruption probes, President Dilma Rousseff’s chances of survival, and the possibility and paths for recovery. You can watch our discussion here.

Anticorruption Efforts in Mexico

by Shannon K. O'Neil Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Corruption, 43 students, IMCO, cost of doing business, Transparency International, Pact for Mexico, National Anticorruption System, Ley 3de3 (Courtesy ley3de3.mx).

Corruption dominates Mexico’s headlines: helicopter rides for officials’ family members, housing deals from favored government contractors, the still unexplained disappearance of 43 students, and a drug lord escaping a maximum-security prison, for the second time. In a recent survey, Mexicans listed corruption as the country’s top problem, ahead of security and the economy. Read more »