Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

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

Five Questions After Colombia’s Surprising Vote Against Peace

by Matthew Taylor Monday, October 3, 2016
Alvaro Uribe, Colombia, FARC, peace deal, plebiscite, President Juan Manuel Santos, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Timochenko People holds balloons during an event organized by supporters of the "no" vote for the upcoming Plebiscite in Bogota, Colombia, September 29, 2016 (Reuters/Felipe Caicedo).

Pollsters’ best bets were radically overturned in Colombia Sunday, as widespread apathy and torrential rains dampened turnout in the referendum on the peace deal. Opponents of the deal appeared as surprised as anyone at their own victory, triumphing by fewer than 55,000 votes in a country of 33 million voters. Abstention topped 60 percent, and the “No” side won with the support of less than one-fifth of total voters, by a margin of 0.16 percent of those eligible to vote. Read more »

Winning the Peace: Paying for Colombia’s Peace Deal

by Matthew Taylor Thursday, September 22, 2016
Colombia, plebiscite, peace deal, Si, FARC, United States, drug trade, bacrim, peace, Plan Colombia, forgiveness, ELN, President Santos Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fighters walk at the camp where they will ratify a peace deal with the Colombian government, near El Diamantee in Yari Plains, Colombia, September 17, 2016 (Reuters/John Vizcaino).

We are ten days away from Colombia’s momentous October 2 plebiscite on the peace deal. Current polling suggests voters will choose “,” bringing to an end a war that has killed nearly a quarter of a million Colombians and displaced as many as seven million more over the past half century. But although the outlook for approving the deal is good, the battle for the peace will be far longer and more uncertain, requiring a sustained effort for years to come. Five aspects of implementation are particularly thorny, with the fifth—funding the high cost of implementing the deal—undergirding all the rest: Read more »

Political Fault Lines in Post-Rousseff Brazil

by Matthew Taylor Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Dilma Rousseff, Brazil, impeachment, Michel Temer, Eduardo Cunha, corruption, Lava Jato, golpe, golpismo, Workers' Party, Lula, Centrão, Marcelo Odebrecht, Petrobras Senator Aecio Neves (C), Rousseff's attorney in the impeachment proceedings, Jose Eduardo Cardozo (L) and Brazil's suspended President Dilma Rousseff smile during a voting session on the impeachment of Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, August 29, 2016 (Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino).

After nearly nine months, Brazil’s impeachment drama is over. The process ended on a curiously subdued note: the Senate’s questioning of Dilma Rousseff on Monday was a staid affair, and Tuesday’s speeches were calculatedly calm and measured. By the time the Senate began to vote today, Rousseff’s removal was a foregone conclusion. But the civilized, even boring, proceedings obscured an important objective of this week’s debates: shaping the historical narrative that will guide each side’s supporters over Michel Temer administration’s next twenty-eight months in office. Read more »

Credible Commitment and the Colombian Peace Plebiscite

by Matthew Taylor Monday, August 22, 2016
Colombia, Colombian peace process, FARC, President Juan Manuel Santos, Alvaro Uribe, civil war, public ratification, peace plebiscite Colombia's lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle (R) and Colombia's FARC lead negotiator Ivan Marquez shake hands after signing the protocol and timetable for the disarmament of the FARC in Havana, Cuba, August 5, 2016 (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa).

The Colombian peace process began in 2012, and by June 2016, appeared to have reached preliminary agreement on a deal that would result in the cessation of hostilities, ending a war that has killed more than a quarter of a million Colombians. Yet somewhat surprisingly, while the deal was initially celebrated as a milestone, recent polling suggests that a declining share of Colombians would actually support it: 39 percent in August, down from 56 percent in July. Read more »

A Game of Inches: The Uncertain Fight Against Corruption in Latin America

by Matthew Taylor Wednesday, August 10, 2016
3 out of 3, anticorruption, Car Wash investigation, Claudia Paz y Paz, corruption, International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Matthew Stephenson, Sérgio Moro A boy holds a sign which reads, "No more corruption", during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, in downtown Guatemala City, May 30, 2015 (Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez).

Harvard’s inimitable Matthew Stephenson this week published a thought-provoking blog post comparing anticorruption efforts in Asia and Latin America. Crudely summarizing Stephenson’s argument, a few years ago many looked to Asia as the gold standard in anticorruption efforts, in part because of the success of independent and effective anticorruption agencies (ACAs) in the region. But recent news of political meddling with Hong Kong’s ACA, brazen kleptocracy in Malaysia’s state development fund, and efforts to water down reform in Indonesia all suggest that the pendulum is swinging in a less positive direction. By contrast, Stephenson is optimistic about the important gains made in recent years in Latin America, including by Guatemala’s International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), Brazil’s Car Wash investigation, elections in Peru and Argentina that highlighted voter frustration with corruption, and Mexico’s “3 out of 3” reforms. Read more »

Brazil’s Agonizing August

by Matthew Taylor Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Brazil, 2016 Olympics, Rio de Janeiro, Zika, August, Dilma Rousseff, impeachment, Michel Temer, reforms, pension reform, labor reform, elections, democracy, developmentalist economic policies, coalitional political system Brazil's David Luiz lies on the pitch after missing a goal during the 2014 World Cup third-place playoff between Brazil and the Netherlands at the Brasilia national stadium in Brasilia July 12, 2014 (Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino).

The coming month will be a stressful one for Brazilians.

The Olympic opening ceremony on August 5 may have two rival presidents in attendance, killer mosquitoes, pesky media, and now, the potential for terrorism. Most Brazilians had long hoped the games would be a chaotic but happy mess, like the 2014 World Cup, and few anticipated an embarrassment. But sentiment has shifted with the arrest of a dozen alleged homegrown extremists. Terrorism can be added to the long litany of potential problems that have led Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes to note that “contingencies are always possible,” and that the Olympics have been a “lost opportunity” for Brazil. Read more »

Corruption, Politics, and Corporate Transparency in Latin America

by Matthew Taylor Thursday, July 21, 2016
anticorruption, campaign spending limits, corporate donations, corporate transparency, corruption, electoral finance, illegal enrichment, influence peddling, Lava Jato, multilatinas, multinationals, Odebrecht, politics, transparency Gustavo de Hoyos (C), president of the Mexican Employers' Confederation (COPARMEX), holds a placard during a protest to demand senators to approve the original proposal of the National Anticorruption System, at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City, Mexico, June 16, 2016. The placard reads: "Businessmen demand to stop corruption. #SNA" (Reuters/Ginnette Riquelme).

It is Latin America’s anticorruption season. Deep beneath the waves of revulsion about scandal, graft, and the general filthiness of local politics has been a profound concern with democracy. In particular, there is a growing awareness that the dangerous liaisons between corruption and electoral finance threaten the stability and legitimacy of elected governments in the region. While there is plenty of good news about the impressive corruption busters who are shaking up settled patterns of corruption and impunity in the region, many of the underlying links between corporate transparency, corruption, and campaign finance remain deeply troubling and potentially destabilizing. Read more »

Argentina and Brazil Grow Together

by Shannon K. O'Neil Friday, July 15, 2016
Argentina, Brazil, corruption, global supply chains, high expectations, Mauricio Macri, Michel Temer, reform, South America, stagnant growth, trade Hundreds of cars stand in the port of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil December 1, 2015 (Reuters/Ricardo Moraes).

In my piece published this week on Foreignaffairs.com I reflect on Argentina’s and Brazil’s current political and economic situations. I argue that while their current challenges are their own, a potential long-term solution to their problems comes from each other—namely working to build an integrated South American economic hub. You can read the first two paragraphs of the article below: Read more »

Latin America’s Savings Problem

by Matthew Taylor Thursday, July 14, 2016
Latin America, savings, investment, safety net, growth, Inter-American Development Bank, public savings, private savings, foreign savings, domestic savings, government consumption, pension reform, infrastructure investment, targeted tax policies, productivity, financial sector reform, savings culture, access, incentive Shoppers look over merchandise at Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) store in Peru, at the Jockey Plaza mall in Lima, July 21, 2015 (Reuters/Mariana Bazo).

Savings are essential for growth: domestic savings finance productive investment, provide a safety net for the future, and are strongly associated with long-term growth prospects. Sadly, a new report from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) makes the convincing case that Latin America has fallen behind, with repercussions for development in the region for decades to come. Read more »

Venezuela’s Woes Reach Mercosur

by Matthew Taylor Thursday, July 7, 2016
Mercosur, trade, Pacific Alliance, Venezuela, European Union, democratic clause, Nicolas Maduro, Jose Serra, Delcy Rodriguez Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro stands in front of an image depicting the country's late President Hugo Chavez during a meeting with members of Venezuela's United Socialist Party (PSUV) in Caracas, in this handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace on January 29, 2016 (Reuters/Miraflores Palace).

Mercosur is under considerable internal strain. As at other times in the trade bloc’s history, shifting political winds and changing trade priorities have placed the member countries at loggerheads. The five-member organization is in the midst of what is perhaps the most severe of its periodic identity crises, exacerbated by the Left’s waning power in the region, the rise of the Pacific Alliance, and renewed member interest in external trade agreements. Read more »