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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Latin America’s Middle-Income Trap

by Shannon K. O'Neil
Latin America, Middle-income trap A student writes down in her note book on the first day of school in Managua February 11, 2013. Around 1.6 million students are expected to start their new academic year, according to the Ministry of Education of Nicaragua (Oswaldo Rivas/Courtesy Reuters).

In 2014, GDP growth in the region slowed to less than 1 percent. Expectations for 2015 are just slightly better, with forecasters predicting growth of nearer to 2 percent. The downturn reflects external factors, including the European Union’s continuing problems, a slower China, and falling commodity prices. But it also results from domestic barriers that hold these nations back. Read more »

The Political Fallout of the Petrobras Scandal

by Shannon K. O'Neil
A member of Brazil's Movimento dos Sem-Teto (Roofless Movement) holds up a sign in a protest in front of the Petrobras headquarters in Sao Paulo March 11, 2015. The sign reads "No more Lies" (Nacho Doce/Courtesy Reuters). A member of Brazil's Movimento dos Sem-Teto (Roofless Movement) holds up a sign in a protest in front of the Petrobras headquarters in Sao Paulo March 11, 2015. The sign reads "No more Lies" (Nacho Doce/Courtesy Reuters).

The Petrobras corruption investigation, known locally as Operation Lava Jato (Carwash), entered a new phase last week, when Rodrigo Janot, Brazil’s general prosecutor, implicated 53 politicians from six different political parties. All but two come from President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) congressional coalition. Read more »

Central America’s Unaccompanied Minors

by Shannon K. O'Neil
Central America, Unaccompanied Minors, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador Women and their children wait in line to register at the Honduran Center for Returned Migrants after being deported from Mexico, in San Pedro Sula, northern Honduras June 20, 2014. Thousands of young people are hoping to reach the U.S. from their impoverished and violent homes in Central America. In the eight months ended June 15, the U.S. has detained about 52,000 children at the Mexican border, double the figure the year earlier. There is no telling how many have gotten through (Jorge Cabrera/Courtesy Reuters).

During the summer of 2014 tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors surged across the U.S-Mexico border. Over the course of the fiscal year, nearly 70,000—mostly from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—endured brutal and at times even deadly conditions as they made their way to the United States. While most of these children were between the ages of 13 and 17, the fastest growing group was 6 to 12 years old. Of the many factors that influenced their individual decisions, four stand out. Read more »

Glimpses of Optimism in Guatemala

by Shannon K. O'Neil
Guatemala, Optimism, Asociacion Puente, Wakami, MILKnCOOKIES, Sheva.com, CICIG (Courtesy Shannon O'Neil)

The news and statistics from Guatemala are anything but reassuring. More than half the nation’s sixteen million citizens live in poverty. Worse, almost one in two children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, which affects not just their immediate well-being but also limits their physical and intellectual potential for the rest of their lives. Read more »

Interview With Charlie Rose

by Shannon K. O'Neil
Charlie Rose, Shannon O'Neil, Enrique Peña Nieto, US-Mexico relations (Courtesy Charlie Rose)

Last month, I had the pleasure of joining Charlie Rose on his show along with Jorge Castañeda, Mexico’s former foreign minister, and Francisco Goldman, contributor to The New Yorker, to discuss Mexican President Peña Nieto’s meeting with President Obama last month and US-Mexico relations more broadly. Recently aired, you can watch the interview here.

The Strategic Importance of North America to U.S. Interests

by Shannon K. O'Neil
North America, Western Hemisphere, House Foreign Affairs, energy, economic competitiveness, integration (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Yesterday, I had the privilege to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere at a hearing titled “The Strategic Importance of the Western Hemisphere: Defining U.S. Interests in the Region.” Also joining me before the subcommittee were Bonnie Glick, senior vice president at Meridian International Center, Evan Ellis, research professor at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, and Eric Farnsworth, vice president of Council of the Americas. Read more »

United States and Mexico Finally Resolve Cross-Border Trucking Issue

by Shannon K. O'Neil
Mexican trucking, Mexican carriers, NAFTA, pilot program California Air Resources field representative Valente Armenta works a checkpoint set up to inspect heavy-duty trucks traveling near the Mexican-U.S. border in Otay Mesa, California September 10, 2013. California Highway Patrol and the Air Resources Board were inspecting trucks for compliance to California's air pollution laws (Mike Blake/Courtesy Reuters).

For the twenty years since the start of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the United States failed to fulfill its treaty obligations to open its roads and permit safe cross-border services. As part of the original agreement, Mexican trucks were supposed to be able to operate in four U.S. states—Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona—by December 1995, and then throughout the continental United States by January 1, 2000. Almost fifteen years later, the vast majority of Mexican trucks are still not allowed on U.S. roads. Mexico retaliated in kind, blocking the movement of U.S. trucks within its borders. In 2009, Mexico also applied retaliatory tariffs on a yearly rotating basis to a variety of U.S. imports, permitted by a favorable 2001 NAFTA dispute settlement panel ruling. Read more »

Elections to Watch in 2015

by Shannon K. O'Neil
Latin America Elections 2015 Argentina's current president and presidential candidate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner listens to Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli (L) during a visit to the Luchetti noodle factory in Buenos Aires, October 20, 2011. Argentine President Fernandez looks set to win easy re-election on Sunday after a dramatic comeback that has confounded critics of her unconventional economic policies and combative style. A center-leftist who has given the state a leading role in the economy, Fernandez has rebounded from low approval ratings and angry protests by farmers and middle-class voters that erupted early in her first term. Polls show she could win more than 50 percent of the vote on Sunday (Martin Acosta/Courtesy Reuters).

The region will hold just two presidential elections this year, choosing new leaders in Guatemala and Argentina. More prevalent will be congressional and local elections. Midterms in Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia in particular may prove bellwethers for the direction of these three important regional economies. Read more »

Panama Twenty-Five Years Later

by Shannon K. O'Neil
U.S. Invasion of Panama, Operation Just Cause U.S. troops take up positions outside the external relations ministry during the invasion of Panama on December 22, 1989 (Roberto Armocida/Courtesy Reuters).

December 20 marks the 25th anniversary of Operation Just Cause, better remembered as the U.S. invasion of Panama. Set off by the death of an off-duty Marine lieutenant by Panamanian security forces, the invasion represented the final step in a deteriorating relationship between the United States and Manuel Noriega—once a CIA informant and close ally, later a defiant dictator, undone by the winding down of the Cold War and his own brazen corruption. The lopsided confrontation ended by early January of 1990, when Noriega surrendered to U.S. authorities. He was then extradited, tried, convicted, and eventually sentenced to twenty years in U.S. federal prison for drug-trafficking, racketeering, and money-laundering. Read more »

Spillovers From Falling Oil Prices: Risks to Mexico and the United States

by Shannon K. O'Neil
Mexico, Pemex, Oil prices Refinery workers walk at one of the facility's catalytic plants, used to convert heavy hydrocarbon crude oil fractions into lighter gasoline and diesel in Tula November 21, 2013. Mexico's oil refining industry, saddled for years with bloated costs, chronic underinvestment and generous government fuel subsidies, ought to be on the verge of a bright new dawn. A shake-up last month dismantled the state-run Pemex oil and gas monopoly, ending decades of stubborn self-reliance and potentially opening the door to foreign oil companies (Henry Romero/Courtesy Reuters).

Geopolitically, U.S. policymakers generally see high oil prices as bad and low oil prices as good for national interests. In a CFR Working Paper I coauthored with Michael Levi and Alexandra Mahler-Haug we find a sustained drop in oil prices will affect at least one of the United States’ closest trading partners and geopolitical allies negatively: Mexico. Read more »