Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

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

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 »

The Long Arm of U.S. Law and Latin America’s Corruption Malaise

by Matthew Taylor Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Latin America, corruption scandals, CICIG, Petrobras, U.S. foreign policy, Brazil's Clean Company Law, U.S. Deparment of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York A demonstrator holds inflatable dolls depicting Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff during a protest calling for the impeachment of Rousseff near the National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, December 13, 2015 (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters).

Latin America’s corruption scandals of the past two years are moving slowly toward resolution. As they move forward, it is interesting to note that in a region that has been particularly protective of its sovereignty, foreign cooperation has played a significant role, whether it is via bilateral exchanges between prosecutors, mutual legal assistance treaties, or even United Nations support, as in the case of Guatemala’s International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG). But these various forms of international cooperation may soon be joined by another international anti-corruption effort that is less well understood in Latin America: prosecution by U.S. attorneys. Read more »

Argentina’s Congress Returns

by Shannon K. O'Neil Friday, February 26, 2016
Argentina, bond payments, cerrojo law, coparticipaciones, currency controls, economic reforms, Enacom, energy subsidies, export taxes, federal transfers, INDEC, Judge Griesa, Kirchner, labor negotiations, pago soberano law, President Macri, Sergio Massa The Chamber of Deputies at the Argentine Congress is seen during a session in Buenos Aires, September 10, 2014 (Marcos Brindicci/Reuters).

During his first two months in office Argentine President Macri pushed through reforms to eliminate currency controls, cut export taxes, and remove energy subsidies. He also appointed two new judges to the Supreme Court and enhanced the court’s oversight of security surveillance, postponed promised changes to the legal system, shuffled responsibilities within the cabinet, modified a contentious media law, and annulled a Kirchner decree transferring federal funds to the provinces. All was done without Congress, which entered its three month summer recess on November 30 (before Macri’s inauguration). This will change March 1, as the legislature comes back into session. Read more »

Seven Uncertainties in Lenten Brazil

by Matthew Taylor Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Brazil, Zika virus, Lula da Silva, Olympics, PMDB, Lava Jato, Zelotes, Aedes Aegypti mosquito, Eduardo Cunha, Vice President Temer, PSDB, Workers Party, Antonio Monteiro Municipal workers wait before spraying insecticide at Sambodrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, January 26, 2016 (Pilar Olivares/Reuters).

Brazil is getting back to business after an exuberant carnival that brought irrepressible Brazilian humor to bear on serious national travails, including the Zika virus, Lula’s legal troubles, and the Olympics. Reality’s bite may be harsh after two months’ holiday respite from the high political drama of 2015. The coming year will be jam-packed, including the highly contested election later this week of new party leadership, a PMDB party leadership convention in March, the April deadline for ministers and governors to step down if they are running for office, the August Olympics, and the October municipal elections. Layered over these events will be the ongoing Lava Jato and Zelotes corruption investigations, campaigns against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, and of course, the continued drama of Chamber of Deputies’ president Eduardo Cunha’s cage match with President Rousseff. Read more »

The Political Salience of Latin Americans’ Perceptions of Corruption

by Matthew Taylor Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index, Support Mission against Corruption and Impunity, MACCIH, International Commission Against Impunity, CICIG. corruption, impunity A demonstrator holds a scarf during a march to demand for the resignation of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Tegucigalpa August 14, 2015. Thousands of protesters have been continuing demonstrations in Tegucigalpa, calling for the resignation of Hernandez over a $200 million corruption scandal at the Honduran Institute of Social Security (Jorge Cabrera/Reuters).

Once a year, policymakers and the press are forcibly reminded of the terrible costs of corruption. This year, it fell on January 27, when Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) was released, inciting the ritual gnashing of teeth and beating of chests about relative national corruption gains and losses. Read more »

Latin America’s Ninis

by Shannon K. O'Neil Thursday, February 4, 2016
Latin America, World Bank, Ninis, inequality, demographic bonus, violence, conditional cash transfers, job training, entrepreneurship programs, employment services, regional economic downturn Young people rest on a sidewalk in Mexico City May 9, 2011. While many nations fret about their aging populations, Mexico may be frittering away its abundant youth with legions of jobless dropouts known here as NiNi. Short for "Ni trabaja, Ni estudia" (neither works nor studies), the term NiNi has become shorthand for young Mexicans without jobs who have given up on their education (Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters).

18 million Latin Americans—1 in 5 of those between the ages of 15 and 24—neither work nor attend school. Commonly dubbed “ninis” (ni estudian ni trabajan), a new World Bank report looks at this phenomenon across the region. Read more »