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Defending Democracy in Latin America…but Which Democracy?

Courtesy of Niccolò Caranti/Flickr. Image modified. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

 

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 15 February 2017.

Since the early 1990s, political elites have enthusiastically embraced the values and practices of democracy in the Americas. At the international level, this enthusiasm translated into collective commitments to defend democracy against its enemies, through specific instruments added to the legal frameworks of the regional organizations existing in the region. The tendency has continued in the new millennium as new organizations such as the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) have also committed themselves to assist and, if necessary, to sanction those countries in which democracy is breached.

Liberal intellectuals and politicians were quick (maybe too quick) to interpret these regional developments as further proof of the consolidation of democracy in the Western Hemisphere. Yet, it is worth taking a more careful look at this phenomenon, especially in a phase in which illiberal democracies, competitive authoritarian, and truly authoritarian regimes seem to be coming to stay, at least for a while, alongside traditional democracies in the Americas and in Europe.

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The Hidden Refugee Crisis in the Western Hemisphere

Starts and Stripes

Courtesy William Billard/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on 1 November 2016.

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.

These migrants are fleeing violence (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are some of the most dangerous nations in the world), poverty, and the economic devastation wrought after three years of record droughts. They are pulled to the United States through personal ties. One study of interviewed minors found 90 percent had a mother or father in the United States. Many of these U.S. residents from Honduras and El Salvador came on temporary protected status (TPS) visas, meaning they can live and work legally in the United States but may not sponsor other family members (including their children).

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China: A Partner for the Development of Latin America?

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Courtesy Diego Wyllie/flickr

This Expert Commentary was published by the Elcano Royal Institute on 11 July 2016. It also appeared in the discussion paper “EU-China Relations: New Directions, New Priorities” by Friends of Europe.

China’s re-emergence over the last few decades coincides chronologically with the process of diversification in Latin America’s pattern of international insertion. We have witnessed Beijing grow from a marginal factor in Latin America, to become a key player in shaping the evolution of countries in the region and their process of regional integration. Deepening relations with non-traditional partners has opened a more pluralistic scenario for Latin American countries, extending the range of their international cooperation options in all spheres.

The economic dimension of Chinese-Latin American relations has blossomed in the areas of trade and finance. Beijing has become the second largest trade partner and the main source of international public finance for Latin America. With that being said, the economic development of some Latin American countries is so dependent on the performance of the Chinese economy that a fall of one percentage point in the growth rate of Chinese GDP would reduce Latin American growth by 0.6%, according to the World Bank. Therefore, it is particularly relevant to analyse whether engagement with China is healthy for the economic development of Latin America or not.

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The Big Question

Boys protest on the street in Honduras

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute in its World Policy Journal in the Winter 2015/16 Issue.

What are the challenges determining your country’s position within Latin America?

The balance of power in Latin America is shifting. Large, recently thriving countries like Brazil are struggling, hampered by domestic scandals. The economies of oil-dependent countries like Venezuela and Ecuador are stagnant, while other nations, such as Chile and Mexico, seem poised for growth. Amid this turbulence, countries are striving to reposition themselves. World Policy Journal consulted a panel of experts to help understand what issues are defining their countries’ changing roles in the region.

ARGENTINA: NARCO STATE

MARIANO TURZI

The most pressing problem Latin America faces today is narcotrafficking. As Pope Francis mentioned in his U.N. speech in September, narcotrafficking is accompanied by human trafficking, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation, and other forms of corruption. This trade increases violence, with Latin America’s poorest people caught in the middle as the state tries to eliminate drug rings or stop rivalries between cartels.

Moreover, the narco state destroys economies. Illegal networks arise, concentrating on trafficking in substances, arms, and persons. But then they “diversify” into general smuggling and kidnapping. Narco-economies generate enclaves that displace other productive endeavors. Financial and human capital are chased away by the prospect of escalating violence.

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A Review of Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and The New Politics of Latin America

A man full of tattoos, courtesy Alejandro De La Cruz/flickr

This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 15 January 2016.

Ioan Grillo has served as an international media reporter in Latin America since 2001 and is fluent in Spanish. Most of his experience comes from his in-depth coverage of the Mexican narco wars, from which he authored El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (Bloomsbury 2012). His new book, unlike his earlier one, takes a much broader perspective on the crime wars that have broken out in many areas within the Americas. In many ways, it can be considered an evolution of his thinking concerning this broadening Western Hemispheric security concern.

To be quite truthful, the reviewer is both amazed and at times abhorred by the situations Grillo—‘a crazy Brit’— placed himself in while working on this book. His hanging out with heavily armed and drugged Shower Posse members in Tivoli Gardens (essentially a garrison or fortified ghetto) is just one illustrative example. This is very much reminiscent of the work Gary ‘Rusty’ Flemming and Robert Young Pelton have done in the past related to Mexican cartels/gangs and global combat reporting, respectively. It signifies the important investigative role independent journalists and filmmakers can make via their ability to safely gain interviews with violent non-state actors on their own turf while the rest of us—and in particular police and military officers and governmental agents—would likely not survive such ‘snake pit’ encounters.

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