China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project was late in coming to Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). First announced by President Xi Jinping in 2013, OBOR, later renamed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), did not arrive in the LAC until 2018, when, at a meeting of the China-CELAC (Community of Latin America and the Caribbean) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi claimed that BRI would “inject new energy into the China-CELAC comprehensive cooperative partnership and open up new prospects.” Given the impressive rise of the People’s Republic of China to the world’s second largest economy—first, by some measures—and the difficulties that many LAC countries were experiencing, it is hardly surprising that Wang’s offer was greeted with enthusiasm. If brought to completion, the integration of the LAC region into BRI would comprise 65 percent of the world’s population and 40 percent of global GDP.
In 2013, Venezuela was a defective democracy experiencing serious breaches of civil and political rights, but with more or less functioning electoral institutions, and accountability between the branches of the state. Today, the country is an authoritarian regime. President Nicolás Maduro’s government crossed into that territory on March 29 this year, when the Supreme Court, following instructions from the executive, stripped the country’s National Assembly of its competences, triggering the wave of demonstrations that continues today (42 a day on average) and that has cost the life of 126 Venezuelans. Another definitive step occurred on July 16, with the election, through massive electoral fraud, of a Constituent Assembly with total powers over the National Assembly and aimed at rewriting the national constitution.
There are two main victims of the Venezuelan crisis. The first are the Venezuelan people, who have not only witnessed a dramatic deterioration of their living conditions, but have also lost the ability to live together in harmony, for an undetermined amount of time. The second victim, on which I focus here, is multilateralism—the ability of states to bring collective solutions to conflicts and crises through institutions and other forms of cooperation.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has made a name for itself as various governments across the world resort to it to rule on inter-state disagreements. There are certainly valid criticisms about how the ICJ, the chief judicial body of the United Nations, operates, particularly as African governments have accused it of imposing Eurocentric international law. Some of its rulings on controversial cases have even been denounced as ‘step[s] backwards’.
Despite these criticisms, Latin American governments have regularly turned to ICJ rulings on border disputes and other inter-state disagreements. Over the past decades, the Court has ruled on numerous cases between Latin American states and enjoys a positive record so far in this region, given the generally peaceful compliance of Latin American states to the Court’s rulings. Nevertheless, the complexity of one particular case, ‘Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean’, a historically-charged territorial dispute between Bolivia and Chile, may prove to challenge the credibility of the ICJ in Latin America in the near future.
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.
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).