Recent Events

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On Thursday April 12, the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center held a public, on-the-record conference call to speak about the rising trade tensions between the United States and China, and what it means for Latin America.  

Please find below a recording and transcript of the call.

Once the country’s lifeline, Venezuela’s oil industry has been decimated, the product of decades of neglect and mismanagement. As Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crisis worsens and political conditions deteriorate ahead of upcoming presidential elections, the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, in partnership with the Global Energy Center and Eurasia Center, hosted a timely conversation on March 13, 2018 on the future of Venezuela’s oil industry and the implications of the entrance of foreign actors into the space. The event marked the launch of The Collapse of the Venezuelan Oil Industry and its Global Consequences, a new policy brief by Francisco Monaldi, Atlantic Council author and fellow in Latin American Energy Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute. The brief details what’s ahead for the crisis-ridden country and its energy industry. 

The panel discussion, moderated by Center Director Jason Marczak, convened Monaldi; David Goldwyn, chair of the Atlantic Council Energy Advisory Group and senior fellow in the Latin America Center; Rebecca Chávez, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the US Department of Defense; Kerry Contini, partner at Baker McKenzie’s Outbound Trade Practice Group; and David Smolansky, former mayor of El Hatillo Municipality in Venezuela and deputy secretary general of Voluntad Popular. 

On Monday March 5th, at S&P Global Platts NYC headquarters, the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center and Global Energy Center, in partnership with HSBC, hosted an event titled “A Rising China’s Impact on Global Energy and the Implications for the United States,” with former US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. The event launched the Atlantic Council’s latest report, China, Oil, and Latin America: Myth vs. Reality. The event kicked off with the Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, Jason Marczak, providing his insight into the changing geopolitics between China, Latin America, and the United States. He noted that China’s president will now likely rule China for quite some time, and how there has been a sharp focus by China on strengthening relations with Latin America, including China’s recent invitation for Latin America to join its Belt and Road Initiative. Next, HSBC’s Vice Chairman of Latin America Advisory, Andres Rojo, gave his latest thoughts on Latin America becoming an exciting and dynamic region and on the increasing complementarity of the China – Latin America relationship.
Last month, the Venezuelan government fast-tracked the presidential election, announcing April 22 as the official date. To explore the declining electoral conditions and the potential for international engagement, on February 21 the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center hosted a public event and released a new Venezuela poll of 800 in-country respondents that showed collapsing levels of trust in institutions and profound concerns over the economic crisis and food shortages.

Jason Marczak, director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, opened the event with a  conversation with H.E. Carlos Reyes, the Colombian ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Reyes highlighted the history and the depth of the crisis in Venezuela, noting the urgent need for action by the international community.
On January 25, 2018, less than twenty-four hours after Brazil’s Fourth Regional Court of Porto Alegre voted 3-0 to uphold former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's conviction for corruption and money laundering, the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin American Center hosted a conference call to discuss the political and economic implications for Brazil and across the hemisphere. The historic decision, coupled with the extension of his sentence from nine and a half to twelve years and one month, throws a wrench into Lula’s his political aspirations, and makes probable the former president’s incarceration. It adds an additional layer of complexity into one of the most important elections in recent decades. Lula, for his part, has refused to withdraw his candidacy and has vowed to continue contesting the court’s decision.

Jason Marczak, director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, began the conversation by introducing Joseph Leahy, Brazil bureau chief for the Financial Times; Lisa Schineller, managing director for sovereign analysis in the Americas at S&P; and Marcos Troyjo, co-director of the BRICs Lab at Columbia University.
On December 7, 2017, days before the second anniversary of President Mauricio Macri’s time in office and the start of the Eleventh Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in Buenos Aires, the Atlantic Council, in partnership with HSBC, hosted “Argentina’s Transformations: Open to the World.” The half-day conference at the Alvear Palace Hotel in Buenos Aires focused on Argentina’s political and economic transformations, and its reinsertion into the world. The dialogue centered on Argentina’s ambitious reform agenda, and the new opportunities for businesses and economic growth in the country. The discussion also focused on the implications of Argentina’s renewed international leadership exemplified by its hosting of the WTO Ministerial and its presidency of the G20 Summit in 2018.
On Sunday, October 15, Venezuela held regional elections amidst a deep democratic crisis in the country. The National Electoral Council announced late on Sunday that the ruling chavista had won 18 out of 23 governorships, in contrast to virtually every pre-election poll conducted on the ground in Venezuela.  Following the stunning electoral outcome, the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center organized a rapid-reaction conference call with David Smolansky, the exiled opposition mayor of El Hatillo Municipality; Luis Vicente León, President of Datanálisis, a prominent Venezuelan polling organization; and Beatriz Borges, Director of the Center for Justice and Peace (CEPAZ) in Venezuela. The call was moderated by Jason Marczak, Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

Marczak kicked off the discussion by laying out the political landscape post-election. He emphasized the fact that the stark contrast between extensive pre-election polling predicting a comprehensive victory for opposition parties and the announcement of a sweeping electoral victory for President Nicolás Maduro and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) have drawn rightful suspicion of fraud, leading the United States to deem them as having been neither “free nor fair.”

Smolansky, a prominent figure in the opposition coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), gave the coalition’s interpretation of the electoral events both on election day and in the run-up. He described several tactics used by the Maduro government to sway the election in its favor: not allowing candidate substitutions, switching citizens’ electoral districts at the last minute, installing broken voting machines in opposition-controlled areas, leaving the door open for multiple voting by not using indelible ink, and refusing international oversight. Smolansky laid out the opposition’s next steps, arguing that “the National Assembly has to appoint new authorities for the Electoral Court in Venezuela”. He also warned that “as soon as the National Assembly finds new authorities for the Electoral Court, they will be prosecuted, so we have to be ready to swear them in as exiles.
On Tuesday, October 17, the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center and Baker McKenzie jointly hosted a discussion on the implications for businesses of the latest geopolitical and security developments in the Americas. The conversation, moderated by Deputy Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center Andrea Murta, occurred amid the latest round of NAFTA renegotiations, the continued unraveling of the crisis in Venezuela, and the ongoing implementation of the Colombia peace process. Distinguished speakers included Gen. Douglas Fraser, former commander of US Southern Command; Dr. Rebecca Bill Chavez, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for western hemisphere affairs; Peter MacKay, partner at Baker McKenzie and former minister of national defense, foreign affairs, and justice of Canada; and Miguel Noyola, partner at Baker McKenzie. The discussion was moderated

Following welcome remarks by Ted Murphy, partner at Baker McKenzie, Gen. Fraser opened the event by addressing security trends in the region, including the Colombian peace process and the crisis in Venezuela. He noted the positive movement of the Colombian peace process, and the challenges of long-term success, while also highlighting the need to address the problem of growing coca production. When discussing the crisis in Venezuela, he described the several ways the government is trying to hold on to power, doors the crisis has opened for Russia, China and Iran to increase their influence in the region, and the danger of increased mass migration as the humanitarian crisis deepens.

Above all, Gen. Fraser named transnational criminal organizations as the biggest security concern in the region. Their ability to undermine governments in the Northern Triangle through corruption and violence creates a need, he argued, to address their operations in and beyond Central America.

Following keynote remarks, the conversation opened with a discussion of the biggest challenge for the United States in the region. Gen. Fraser expressed concern with the availability of US forces in the region for traditional operations and emergencies as the United States turns its focus toward security threats from Russia, the Middle East and East Asia.

Dr. Chavez highlighted the bilateral security relationship with Mexico is under threat by tensions stemming from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations. She further argued that “a reduction in any of four areas of cooperation [counterterrorism, counternarcotics, coordinated efforts in the Northern Triangle, disaster response] could be very bad for stability in North America, but also Central America.”

Focusing on opportunities for businesses in the region, Miguel Noyola noted the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) significance for regional economic growth. “For Mexico, [NAFTA] propelled the country from being a closed economy to one that feels competent competing in global markets. So, with or without NAFTA we have [already] adopted that shift.”

While he emphasized the urgency of fully appreciating the damage NAFTA’s collapse would inflict on the United States, adding that he would expect the US Congress to intervene if NAFTA were to approach such a point, Peter McKay expressed optimism for the long term. He emphasized the trilateral relationship has and will continue to traverse a single country’s administration: “We are going to get through this. Administrations will come and go. This relationship in North America between Canada, the US and Mexico has a long enduring history,” he stated.

Beyond North America, Gen. Fraser discussed the growing influence of US competitors in the Americas, noting that “the opportunity presented to China by a changing dynamic in NAFTA or any trade relationship is real and is of geostrategic concern to the United States.” He added that “China is looking for every opportunity to fill a void… but I also take example that Russia is not out of this opportunity… They are looking for any opportunity to undermine the efforts of the United States to engage.”

Pivoting to the position of US companies on the current NAFTA renegotiations. Mr. Noyola argued that private enterprises are adaptable and will continue to find investment opportunities abroad regardless of trade agreements.

Minister McKay added that he expects NAFTA negotiations to continue well into next year considering the complexities and lack of immediate progress negotiations have yielded so far.

To conclude, the panel addressed the impact of next year’s elections in the region on the security and economic relationships with the United States. Minister McKay and Dr. Chavez agreed certain policies coming out of the United States have helped the leftist populist candidate in Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), increase his support for the upcoming election, with Dr. Chavez and Mr. Noyola both agreeing that he would win if elections were held today. Mr. Noyola concluded that even if AMLO wins he expects a more mature civil society to act as a check on his power and therefore moderate his more radical policies.
Following the end of the third round of NAFTA renegotiations, on October 5, 2017 the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center hosted an event to launch a new country-by-country publication “What if NAFTA Ended? The Imperative of a Successful Renegotiation”. The authors Javier Mancera, Phil Levy, Daniel Schwanen, Jason Marczak and Katherine Pereira quantify the gains and the wide-ranging implications of successful renegotiations.

The public discussion that launched the report began with an introductory statement by Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America CenterJason Marczak, who highlighted that via NAFTA the US, Mexico and Canada have worked together, tripled their trade volume and significantly deepened their cultural, diplomatic, and security ties. He stated that despite these gains, we have failed to communicate the benefits of the agreement to the American people.

The Honorable Will Hurd (R-TX-23rd district) gave opening remarks and stated that trade is an issue that impacts every sector of the US economy emphasizing the importance of Mexican firms and their investment for border cities. Ambassador Bob Zoellick followed and focused on a global perspective and talked about the future stakes of US, Canada and Mexico at the global stage if NAFTA ended. He said, “pulling out of NAFTA would send a negative message to the rest of the world, by showing a US that is not willing to support openness and play by the rules.”
On Thursday, October 5, 2017 the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center and Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center jointly hosted Mr. Gonzalo Aguirre, Mr. José María Castro, Mr. Giovani Machado, and Ms. Sue Saarnio for a discussion about the changing energy markets in Latin America and the role of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the regional energy mix. The discussion was moderated by the chairman of the Global Energy Center’s Advisory Group and Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center’s nonresident senior fellow, Mr. David Goldwyn.

The event opened with remarks from Mr. Goldwyn, who provided context on economic and energy developments of the last decade throughout Latin America, from increasing hydropower and renewable energy production to fiscal crises that have impacted cross-border trade. Following this introduction, Mr. Aguirre, Director of National Transport and Measurement of Hydrocarbons in the Argentinian Ministry of Energy and Mining, discussed regulatory frameworks for LNG in Argentina, as well as the country’s trade relationships with Bolivia and Chile. When asked about the status of energy in Colombia, Mr. Castro, general manager at Sociedad Portuaria El Cayao (SPEC LNG), touched on the country’s opening of a new LNG import terminal, the government’s mechanisms for financing projects including thermal generators, and the country’s trade relationship with Venezuela. Mr. Castro also called for increased energy integration throughout the region, pointing to a successful trade relationship between Bolivia and Brazil.