Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

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

Latin America’s Accountability Revolution

by Matthew Taylor Friday, February 24, 2017
People take part in a protest against corruption in Lima, Peru after a scandal involving bribes Brazil's Odebrecht distributed in Peru, February 16, 2017 (Guadalupe Pardo/Reuters).

A wave of corruption scandals has roiled Latin America in recent years, from Chile’s campaign finance affairs, through Mexico’s Casa Blanca revelations. Most recently, the information divulged in the December Odebrecht settlement has sent a shudder of fear across regional politics after the Brazilian construction firm admitted to paying nearly $800 million in bribes in twelve countries. The tide of corruption revelations has contributed to massive protests, slumping incumbent polls, and political uncertainty throughout the region. Read more »

The Future of Lava Jato and Brazil’s Reform Agenda

by Matthew Taylor Friday, February 10, 2017
Brazil's President Michel Temer attends the inauguration ceremony of new Ministers, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, February 3, 2017 (Reuters/Adriano Machado). Brazil's President Michel Temer attends the inauguration ceremony of new Ministers, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, February 3, 2017 (Reuters/Adriano Machado).

The tragic January airplane crash that killed Justice Teori Zavascki, a member of Brazil’s highest court (the Supremo Tribunal Federal, STF), has given President Michel Temer an opportunity to seize yet another commanding position in Brasília: a potentially balance-shifting court seat. This appointment, and other machinations underway in Brasilia, could undermine the Lava Jato investigation, engender a popular backlash, and ultimately undercut the incipient reform efforts underway in Congress. Read more »

Mexico Plummets in Annual Corruption Rankings

by Shannon K. O'Neil Thursday, January 26, 2017
Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (R) gestures as Mexico's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong applauds during the XXXVIII Session of the National Council of Public Security at the National Palace in Mexico City, August 21, 2015. A Mexican government auditor on Friday exonerated Pena Nieto and his finance minister from any wrongdoing over purchases of homes from public contractors, but opposition lawmakers poured scorn over the bid to lay the scandal to rest (Reuters/Edgard Garrido). Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (R) gestures as Mexico's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong applauds during the XXXVIII Session of the National Council of Public Security at the National Palace in Mexico City, August 21, 2015. A Mexican government auditor on Friday exonerated Pena Nieto and his finance minister from any wrongdoing over purchases of homes from public contractors, but opposition lawmakers poured scorn over the bid to lay the scandal to rest (Reuters/Edgard Garrido).

Transparency International yesterday released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) that ranks 176 countries on a scale from zero (highly corrupt) to one-hundred (very clean), based on the opinions of citizens and experts. Read more »

Open Questions about Latin American Relations During the Trump Administration

by Matthew Taylor Wednesday, January 25, 2017
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto walk out after finishing a press conference at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City, Mexico, August 31, 2016 (Reuters/Henry Romero). U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto walk out after finishing a press conference at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City, Mexico, August 31, 2016 (Reuters/Henry Romero).

We know very little about who will run Western Hemisphere affairs under the Trump administration. So far, the only named appointees are Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and National Security Council (NSC) Senior Director Craig Deare. There are as yet no nominees for key Western Hemisphere positions at State, Defense, or Commerce, which is not unexpected for an administration this young. Although the Latin America team is not fully formed, the pressing Latin America agenda – which will get underway in earnest with today’s visit by a Mexican delegation – suggests that it is well worth reflecting on the central questions likely to determine the trajectory of the region during Trump’s presidency: Read more »

Why Argentina’s Macri Could Have a Rockier Year in 2017

by Shannon K. O'Neil Monday, January 23, 2017
Argentine President Mauricio Macri gestures during a news conference at the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina, January 17, 2017 (Reuters/Marcos Brindicci). Argentine President Mauricio Macri gestures during a news conference at the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina, January 17, 2017 (Reuters/Marcos Brindicci).

Argentine President Mauricio Macri and his team can take a bow for their first year in office. Despite Macri’s outsider status and his party’s limited influence in the Congress, he in short order took on the country’s biggest economic distortions—unifying the exchange rate, resolving the fight with international creditors, cutting energy subsidies, reestablishing credible statistics, and eliminating a whole host of tariffs, quotas, and export licenses. Read more »

Trump Won’t Stop Investment in Mexico

by Shannon K. O'Neil Thursday, January 19, 2017
A general view shows the General Motors assembly plant in Ramos Arizpe, in Coahuila state, Mexico January 4, 2017 (Reuters/Daniel Becerril). A general view shows the General Motors assembly plant in Ramos Arizpe, in Coahuila state, Mexico January 4, 2017 (Reuters/Daniel Becerril).

NAFTA is as much an investment as a trade treaty, providing guarantees of international courts, regulatory coordination, and intellectual property protections. This has helped bring over $500 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) to Mexico over the last twenty-three years. This investment has mostly come from the United States, going into manufacturing, financial services, and mining. Read more »

The Even Scarier Thing About Brazil’s Prison Violence

by Matthew Taylor Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Relatives of inmates react in front of Desembargador Raimundo Vidal Pessoa jail in the center of the Amazonian city of Manaus, Brazil, January 8, 2017 (Reuters/Michael Dantas). Relatives of inmates react in front of Desembargador Raimundo Vidal Pessoa jail in the center of the Amazonian city of Manaus, Brazil, January 8, 2017 (Reuters/Michael Dantas).

Prison violence has taken the lives of more than one hundred Brazilian prisoners since the beginning of the year. While the recent killings have been gruesome and especially numerous, they are a continuation of a long-standing pattern of savage prison violence that has developed its own macabre logic of control. Scarier still than the calculated horror of the past week’s violence, though, is the possibility that this prison violence may contribute to the consolidation of a particularly virulent form of criminal organization that threatens the rule of law in Brazil and its neighbors. Read more »

The Odebrecht Settlement and the Costs of Corruption

by Matthew Taylor Tuesday, December 27, 2016
A sign of the Odebrecht SA construction conglomerate is pictured in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 26, 2016 (Reuters/Ricardo Moraes). A sign of the Odebrecht SA construction conglomerate is pictured in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 26, 2016 (Reuters/Ricardo Moraes).

It is hard to overstate the meaning of the settlement announced by U.S. authorities on December 21 with Odebrecht. Under this “largest-ever global foreign bribery resolution,”[1] the construction giant and its petrochemical subsidiary Braskem have agreed to pay at least $3.5 billion to Brazil, U.S. authorities, and the Swiss Office of the Attorney General. Of the total criminal fines, 80 percent of Odebrecht’s payments and 70 percent of Braskem’s payments will go to Brazil, a victory for both Brazilian prosecutors and for the cash-strapped Brazilian government. Read more »

Latin America’s Wide-Open Electoral Season

by Matthew Taylor Thursday, December 15, 2016
July 28, 2016 (Reuters/Guadalupe Pardo). July 28, 2016 (Reuters/Guadalupe Pardo).

Half of the eighteen nations of Central and South America will hold presidential elections over the next two years.[1] The number of elections is not unprecedented, but the degree of uncertainty is, given the economic doldrums and political crises that have afflicted the region in recent years. As a consequence of the electoral outlook’s uncertainty, many of the coming year’s events in Latin America will need to be interpreted through the peculiar lens of candidates’ strategic calculations and parties’ maneuvering for advantage at the polls. Read more »