Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

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

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 »

Michel Temer’s Shrinking Presidency

by Matthew Taylor Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Brazil, president, Lava Jato, PMDB, Michel Temer, corruption, anticorruption reforms, Geddel Vieira Lima Brazil's President Michel Temer looks on during a news conference at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, November 27, 2016 (Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino).

When he officially became president three months ago, Michel Temer’s game plan was simple and bold: in the roughly eighteen months before the 2018 presidential campaign ramped up, he would undertake a variety of legislative reforms that would put the government’s accounts back on track, enhance investor confidence, stimulate an economic recovery, and possibly set the stage for a center-right presidential bid (if not by Temer himself, at least by a close ally). Temer’s band of advisors—Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) stalwarts and long-time Brasília hands Romero Jucá, Geddel Vieira Lima, Eliseu Padilha, and Moreira Franco—would ensure that he had the backing of Congress to push through reforms that might not bring immediate returns, but nonetheless might improve investor confidence, prompting new investments in the short term. Sotto voce, many politicians also assumed that the PMDB—which has been an integral player in every government since the return to democracy in 1985—would be well placed to slow the pace of the bloodletting occasioned by the massive Lava Jato investigation and stabilize the political system. Read more »

The Hidden Refugee Crisis in the Western Hemisphere

by Shannon K. O'Neil Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Haitians migrants wait to make their way to the U.S. and seek asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana, Mexico, July 15, 2016 (Reuters/Jorge Duenes).

While much attention is rightly focused on Syria and the Middle East, there are a growing number of refugees in the Western Hemisphere.

The largest group comes from Central America’s Northern Triangle—Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. For each of the past three years between 300,000 and 450,000 Central Americans have fled north. Of these, between 45,000 and 75,000 are unaccompanied children; another 120,000 to 180,000 families (usually a mother with children); and between 130,000 to 200,000 single adults. These numbers peaked in May and June 2014 when more than 8,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the U.S. border each month. 2016 numbers are again rising, with August inflows higher than ever before. Read more »

Bringing International Pressure To Bear on Nicolás Maduro

by Matthew Taylor Friday, October 28, 2016
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (2nd L) and former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (2nd R) speak next to Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) Ernesto Samper (L) and former president of Dominican Republic Leonel Fernandez, during their meeting at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela July 21, 2016 (Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins).

[This post was co-authored with John Polga-Hecimovich*. It is the third of a series that begins with this post.]

The collapse in Venezuela has many potential costs: democratic regression in Latin America; destabilization of neighboring countries, including, potentially, the fragile peace process in Colombia; the possibility of a significant migrant crisis; rising violence, corruption, and criminality; and threats to hemispheric energy security. A mix of frustration with President Nicolás Maduro’s recent moves and apprehension about the potential outcomes of the crisis has led to a frantic search for alternatives, none of which seems particularly likely to be effective on its own. The paucity of alternatives suggests that the best the international community may be able to hope for is to isolate the regime, demonstrate to moderates within the regime that there are costs to sticking with Maduro, and make efforts to ameliorate the worst humanitarian consequences of the crisis. Read more »