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PRISM Vol.8, No. 1

Released March 2019

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Features

Protests in February 2014 against the Nicolas Maduro government in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city.

Defending Democracy and Human Rights in the Western Hemisphere

By Luis Almagro

One glimpse at the covers of the main news and political magazines in recent years is often enough to discern a common theme. These publications often display fatalist titles such as “Democracy in Demise,” “Democracy in Crisis,” “Democracy in Peril,” or maybe the alternative favorite, “Authoritarianism on the Rise.” First the 2008 financial crisis, then the results of certain elections worldwide led many to question the future of liberal democracy. In Latin America, an additional series of events such as the “Operacão Lava Jato” (Operation Car Wash) corruption scandal that put many high-level elected and public officials in jail, paved the way for fed-up citizens to rebel against their governments in the streets and in the polls, ousting traditional parties and political elites from power. Despite the bad news, and the serious backsliding in some specific cases and notorious exceptions (e.g. Cuba and Venezuela), I argue that democracy is not dying. For better or worse, it is moving forward. Recent events do not necessarily mean that democracy is on the brink of extinction; rather, they show that there are challenges inherent to democratic life. If anything, the heated public debates confirm that democracy is a living process, which requires constant maintenance and strengthening


In 2003, OPIC committed $200 million in financing to support the construction of the Mariscal Sucre International Airport (Quiport) in Quito, Ecuador. Since opening in 2013, the airport has produced far-reaching benefits from Ecuador to the United States. (OPIC)

The Strategic Price of Neglect

By Peter Schechter

Latin America is a good mirror of our times; an apt measurement of the zeitgeist of doubt. Having cemented its democracies and reformed its economies, some of America’s closest Latin American friends are reassessing their options and realigning their interests away from the United States. Our closest regional friends are realizing that the United States may no longer be the fulcrum of Latin America’s future. While America’s soft power—its culture, innovation, and ethos—are still highly attractive, the fact is Europe, Asia, and China are capturing much of the region’s political imagination and economic attention. At a time of fast change, it is hard to think strategically. Yet, strategy is what will be needed to re-prioritize Latin America within U.S. foreign policy.


In September 2018, U.S. C–130 Hercules pilots conduct low altitude flying maneuvers over Colombia during the Colombian-led search and rescue exercise Angel de los Andes. (U.S. Air Force/ Angela Ruiz)

The U.S. Military in Support of Strategic Objectives in Latin America and the Caribbean

By R. Evan Ellis

This article examines the role that the U.S. military plays, and can play, in advancing U.S. strategic objectives in Latin America, with a focus on security cooperation and administration of security assistance efforts, as part of coordinated whole-of-government approach. It argues for greater U.S. military attention to the development and application of strategic concepts built around strengthening governance, as the approach that is both appropriate to sensitivities and limitations regarding the employment of U.S. armed forces in Latin America, and as an effective bulwark against the cycle of criminality, corruption, and populism that opens the door for significant strategic threats against the United States. These include authoritarian anti–U.S. governments that serve as enablers for widespread criminality, terrorist threat networks, and collaboration with hostile extra-hemispheric state actors such as Russia and the People's Republic of China.


Thousands of Venezuelans have fled to Colombia, straining the Colombian government’s ability to police its 1,300 mile border. (CSIS/ Moises Rendon)

The Venezuelan Crisis and Salvador Allende's Glasses

By Juan S. Gonzalez

The situation in Venezuela is deeply worrisome, and the countries of the hemisphere have an important responsibility to the Venezuelan people. It is also in the national interest of the United States for Venezuela to prosper as a nation, while seeking to pursue policies supported by its people through a stable and fair democratic process. There is a serious lack of meaningful and productive dialogue between the Venezuelan government and its own people at a time when the country’s economy is in crisis. The United States can and should lead, but it should follow the lead of the Venezuelan opposition, and avoid reverting to the Cold War-era unilateral action that until recently defined much of our foreign policy toward the region. Such an approach will not usher Venezuela back to its place as one of the most economically and politically consequential countries in Latin America. At least that is what Allende’s glasses seem to say.


Firefighters fighting a fire in one of the 90 buses destroyed in a series of attacks coordinated by the PCC in São Paulo in May 2006. (Folhapress)

The Evolution of the Most Lethal Criminal Organization in Brazil—the PCC

By Leonardo Coutinho

After more than a decade of denying its existence, Brazilian authorities have finally recognized the PCC—referring to Primeiro Comando da Capital, or First Capital Command—as a criminal organization that is a significant threat to public security, whose capacity to threaten democracy and the state can no longer be ignored. Formed in prison, PCC emerged and grew in the dark, ignored by the authorities. Its top leaders are already behind bars yet PCC is the leading criminal organization in Brazil and indeed in South America, benefiting both from the silence of the authorities and from the lack of an approach that acknowledges PCC as a transnational criminal organization that commits crimes from north to south across the length of South America.


Celebration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico City after being declared winner in Mexico’s federal election of July 1, 2018. (Wikimedia/Salvador alc)

Great Expectations and Grim Realities in AMLO’s Mexico

By Mary Speck

There is no single strategy that can quickly overcome the violence consuming many Mexican communities. Andrés Manuel López Obrador—known simply as AMLO—assumed Mexico’s presidency on Dec. 1, 2018, with a robust mandate. AMLO can no more save Mexico through massive social programs than President Enrique Nieto could by enacting sweeping economic reforms or President Felipe Calderón by deploying tens of thousands of federal forces. Mexico’s criminal groups have proven to be as complex as the country itself, with an uncanny ability to mutate and migrate. Change will come community by community, municipality by municipality, and state by state by initiating effective violence prevention programs, ensuring genuine transparency, strengthening civilian law enforcement, and building a justice system that is both efficient and fair. The United States should instead concentrate on the long-term task of helping Mexico strengthen law enforcement by sharing expertise to create a new generation of professional police, prosecutors, and judges.


Iván Duque assumes the Presidency; August 7, 2018 at the Bolivar Square in Bogota, Colombia.(Presidency of the Mexican Republic)

Security Challenges of the New Colombian Administration

By David E. Spencer

Colombia faces one of the most complex security situations in its recent history, as it is simultaneously confronted by four intertwined security challenges—increased drug production, increased organized crime, peace negotiation complications, and a volatile border with Venezuela—that have formed a perfect Gordian Knot. The new administration led by President Iván Duque must cut this knot to maintain the security advances made by its preceding administrations during the past two decades.


Port of Spain National Academy for the Performing Arts in Trinidad and Tobago, built by the Shanghai Construction Group. (Wikipedia/Belchman9006)

Extra-regional Actors in Latin America: The United States is not the Only Game in Town

By Douglas Farah and Kathryn Babineau

In a multipolar world, jockeying for a geopolitical edge is not uncommon nor necessarily a threat. However, in the case of Latin America, none of the primary competitors with the United States share any of its fundamental values of fostering democracy and rule of law, nor strategic objectives such as drug interdiction, halting migrant flows, or building a mutually beneficial regional security structure. In fact, China, Russia, and Iran see the United States as an enemy and views diminishing U.S. influence and weakening its standing as strategic imperatives.The current trajectory in the Hemisphere cannot be altered solely with displays of military power or occasional threats and sanctions against bad actors. A genuine-whole-of-government strategic approach, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military components, is the only option to shrink the operational space of adversaries intent on diminishing the influence and effectiveness of the United States in Latin America


In August 2010, hundreds of Mexican journalists silently marched in downtown Mexico City in protest of the kidnappings, murder and violence against their peers throughout the country. (Knight Foundation)Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License. Photo unaltered.

Only Connect: the Survival and Spread of Organized Crime in Latin America

By Ivan Briscoe and David Keseberg

Deeply entrenched over decades, organized crime has married with systemic corruption and high levels of impunity to generate multiple forms of political and economic capital across the ideological spectrum in Latin America. But recent experience gives some provisional grounds for optimism. The end point of popular disaffection with flawed democracies and illicit links between criminal groups, political elites, and the private sector need not inevitably result in an embrace of authoritarianism and/or charismatic caudillos.


Comparison of a U.S. penny to a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration)

The New Opium War: A National Emergency

By Celina B. Realuyo

Sadly, the current opioid crisis is reminiscent of past periods of addiction and overdose deaths in the United States. The crisis today, however, is on a much larger scale owing to how the American appetite for opioids has changed the nature of the drug trade in North America, from the consumption of marijuana and cocaine to that of heroin and fentanyl, and that Mexican transnational criminal organizations have been quick to capitalize on this demand signal at the expense of record levels of drug-related violence and homicides in Mexico. The opioid epidemic is now a health, security, social, economic welfare, and national security crisis. The public, private, and civic sectors must take a more active role in raising awareness of drug abuse and addiction to reduce the demand for opioids, particularly since this opioid epidemic does not discriminate against gender, race, age, economic status, or location. As a transnational crisis, international cooperation to address the supply of illicit opioids is also essential. A whole-of-society approach is required to triumph in the new opium war and overcome this latest opioid epidemic in North America.


Book Reviews

China’s Strategic Partnerships in Latin America: Case Studies of China’s Oil Diplomacy in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela 1991–2015

By Yanran Xu, Reviewed By William H. Godnick

China’s gains in Latin America achieved through strategic partnerships and oil diplomacy are probably an inevitable result of the country’s unprecedented economic growth and need for commodities. However, the relative reduction in U.S. influence is largely a a result of inattention and the lack of a coherent strategy for the Western Hemisphere within the U.S. official strategic community. Yanran Xu’s book, "China's Strategic Partnerships in Latin America," unsurprisingly demonstrates that the Government of China takes a longer view on these issues showing a willingness to accept short-term difficulties in the name of longer-term objectives.


Soldiers, Politicians, and Civilians: Reforming Civil-Military Relations in Democratic Latin America

By David Pion-Berlin and Rafael Martínez, Reviewed By Craig Deare

David Pion-Berlin and Rafael Martínez have collaborated to co-author an important contribution to the rich literature of civil-military relations in Latin America. Both are well-known scholars in this specific field: Their partnership in this project adds another contribution with an emphasis on what they term “a multidimensional approach” to “examining what is a complex set of relations between soldiers, politicians, and civilians.” As they acknowledge at the outset of the book, the civil-military relations field is extensive, and is pursued from a number of angles, “perhaps too many.”That said, the net takeaway of the Pion-Berlin and Martínez project is a well-researched, thoughtfully constructed, highly informative, and most readable contribution to the extensive civil military relations literature. Any student or scholar interested in the ongoing discussion of the role of the armed forces in Latin America should have this volume on their bookshelf.