Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

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

Three Factors Driving Venezuela’s Impasse

by Matthew Taylor Friday, October 28, 2016
Demonstrators clash with members of Venezuelan National Guard during a rally demanding a referendum to remove Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in San Cristobal, Venezuela October 26, 2016 (Reuters/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez).

[This post was co-authored with John Polga-Hecimovich*]

The increasingly dangerous crisis in Venezuela (described in the first post of this series), has been complicated by the political economy of the Chavista regime. Three aspects of the regime as it has evolved under the Nicolás Maduro government are particularly important to understanding where things stand: the policy centrality of the country’s impending debt default; the absence of an adequate exit strategy for many members of the regime; and the central role of the military as a likely guarantor of any solution to the crisis. Read more »

How Venezuela Got Into This Mess

by Matthew Taylor Friday, October 28, 2016
People line up to try to buy toilet paper and diapers outside a pharmacy in Caracas May 16, 2016 (Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins).

[This post was co-authored with John Polga-Hecimovich*]

By the end of 2017, the Venezuelan economy will likely be less than three-quarters of its 2013 size. Inflation is set to increase from 700 percent in 2016 to a hyperinflationary 1,500 percent next year. Despite the government’s best efforts to continue payments, a crippling debt default seems increasingly inevitable. The human costs of the crisis are readily apparent, with food and medicine shortages, rising infant mortality, and increasing violence. Fully three-quarters of Venezuelans polled claim to want President Nicolás Maduro out. But last week, a series of judicial decisions appear to have quashed one of the most promising routes out of the political crisis, the presidential recall referendum. This string of suspect decisions confirms the Maduro administration’s descent into blatant authoritarianism and cuts off one of the last avenues for the peaceful restoration of a democratic system. Incongruously, all of this is in a country with the richest reserves of oil in the world, where the government has long proclaimed a commitment to social progress, inequality reductions, and popular legitimation. Read more »

Corruption, FATCA, and the Tightening Dragnet Around Brazilian Offshore Accounts

by Matthew Taylor Friday, October 21, 2016
Brazilian Federal Revenue Secretariat, SRF, corruption, FATCA, brazilian offshore accounts, Swiss bank accounts, Car Wash, Panama Papers, Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, Repatriation Law, illicit money Replicas of R$100,00 banknotes are hung on a clothesline during a protest of the national union of prosecutors against money laundering in Brazil, at the Esplanade of Ministries in Brasilia March 18, 2015 (Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino).

The Brazilian Federal Revenue Secretariat (SRF) has some good news to cheer: a big haul of fines and taxes from assets held offshore by Brazilians. The deadline for filing under Brazil’s equivalent of the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program ends October 31, but news reports suggest that more than US$12.6 billion in foreign bank accounts held by more than 25,000 Brazilians have already been disclosed, leading to fines and taxes of nearly US$4 billion on money ferreted away in accounts that had previously been inaccessible to tax officials. More than a third of that money has been declared in the last week alone, suggesting that by the end of the month, the absolute volume of fines and taxes may be near the amounts collected under a sister program in the United States, whereby 45,000 taxpayers contributed US$6.5 billion to the U.S. Treasury. Read more »

A Brief Note on Eduardo Cunha’s Arrest

by Matthew Taylor Friday, October 21, 2016
Brazil, Eduardo Cunha, Car Wash, Lava Jato, corruption, President Michel Temer, Lula, Dilma Rousseff Former speaker of Brazil's Lower House of Congress, Eduardo Cunha (C), is escorted by federal police officers as he leaves the Institute of Forensic Science in Curitiba, Brazil, October 20, 2016 (Reuters/Rodolfo Buhrer).

This week’s arrest of Eduardo Cunha—the former president of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, a leading member of President Michel Temer’s PMDB party, and a principal architect of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment—is a major turning point for the massive Car Wash corruption investigation that has mesmerized Brazil for much of the past two years. Read more »

Latin America’s Populist Hangover

by Shannon K. O'Neil Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Alberto Fujimori, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Carlos Menem, corruption, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Ecuador, Evo Morales, Getulio Vargas, Guatemala, Honduras, Hugo Chavez, Jimmy Morales, Juan Orlando Hernandez, Juan Peron, Latin America, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Mexico, Nestor Kirchner, Nicolas Maduro, Otto Perez-Molina, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Peru, populism, Rafael Correa, Venezuela Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner waves to supporters from a balcony after a ceremony at the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires on May 4, 2015 (Reuters/Argentine Presidency).

In my piece published in the November/December 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, I lay out the economic and political characteristics of populism, analyze why it is receding in Latin America today, and describe what a next wave might look like. I also argue that Latin America’s historical experience with populism provides some bracing warnings to other countries now flirting with such politics. You can read the first three paragraphs of the article below: Read more »

Interview With Jim Zirin: Current Events in Latin America

by Shannon K. O'Neil Friday, October 14, 2016
Jim Zirin, Conversations in the Digital Age, United States, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, U.S.-Mexico relations, peace deal, impeachment (Courtesy Jim Zirin)

Last month, I had the pleasure of joining Jim Zirin on “Conversations in the Digital Age” to discuss the U.S.-Mexico relationship, the presidential impeachment in Brazil, Colombia’s peace deal, Argentina’s return to global markets, and the turmoil in Venezuela. You can watch the interview here.

Mexico’s Corrupt Governors

by Shannon K. O'Neil Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Mexico, corruption, Veracruz, Quintana Roo, Chihuahua, Durango, PRI, Zacatecas, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Aguascalientes, Javier Duarte, Roberto Borge, Cesar Duarte, Miguel Alonso, Gabino Cue, Francisco Olvera, Carlos Lozano, PAN, PGR, SAT, nepotism, money laundering, embezzlement, money laundering, illicit enrichment, fraud, anticorruption Javier Duarte, governor of the state of Veracruz, attends a news conference in Xalapa, Mexico, August 10, 2015 (Reuters/Stringer).

Last June, Mexico elected new governors in twelve of its thirty-one states. As millions of voters went to the urns, corruption was a top concern (along with insecurity). Eight states saw the incumbent party kicked out; in four—Veracruz, Quintana Roo, Chihuahua, and Durango—the PRI lost for the first time in the party’s history. Read more »

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 »