Recent Events

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.
Following the end of the second round of NAFTA renegotiations, the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center—in partnership with the Council’s Global Energy Center—hosted a discussion on a modernized NAFTA’s potential to revolutionize North America’s energy space on September 7, 2017. The event featured special remarks by Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX 10th District) and followed with a panel of leading experts on trade and energy, including David L. Goldwyn, chairman of the Atlantic Council’s Energy Advisory Group and nonresident senior fellow with the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center; Jeffrey J. Schott, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics; and Shawn Donnan, world trade editor at the Financial Times. The conversation was moderated by Amy Harder, energy reporter at Axios.

The event also marked the launch of a new Atlantic Council Spotlight publication, authored by David Goldwyn, outlining four ways an updated NAFTA can improve North American energy market integration and the region’s global energy competitiveness.
Even by its own standards, Venezuela is experiencing a period of crisis. Daily clashes occur between government and opposition forces as thousands take to the street to protest the government’s consolidation of power. Recently, twelve nations met in Lima to condone the rupture of democratic order in Venezuela. Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and the United States have placed additional economic restrictions on current and former government officials. Yet, despite these efforts, Venezuela’s government has moved ahead with a constitutional overhaul, prompting the United States to threaten stronger economic measures.  

On August 9, the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center held a public conference call on with Francisco Monaldi, Fellow in Latin American Energy Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, and David Mortlock, Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, to discuss the Arsht Center’s latest publication, Venezuela: What Are The Most Effective US Sanctions?. The authors provided an in-depth discussion, moderated by center director Jason Marczak, about five US sanctions options and laid out principles to be applied, stressing the need for joint action with the international community.
On Thursday, July 27th, the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center presented preliminary findings to the Mexican Congress of a new three-country report – What if NAFTA Ended? The Imperative of getting negotiations right. The event highlighted the strategic and economic importance of NAFTA to the North American economy right before negotiations between the United States, Canada, and Mexico begin. The final report is set to be released in Washington, DC, in October 2017.

The half day event in Mexico City was kicked off by Congressman Ángel Garcia Yanez, representative of the Nueva Alianza party who gave welcoming remarks. Garcia introduced Jason Marczak, Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, who commented on the long-term collaborative relationship that has produced a freer trilateral marketplace and a more competitive North America.

Following Jason’s remarks, Oscar Cázares, President, Mexican National Auto Part Industry, took the stage and provided insights from the auto industry standpoint, one of the sectors that would be most impacted by NAFTA negotiations.

The event continued with a panel featuring the authors of the report -, From Mexico, author Javier Mancera, director and founding partner of consulting firm CMM; from the United States, Philip Levy, senior fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs; and from Canada, Daniel Schwanen, vice president of research at the independent organization CD Howe Institute. They discussed implications of the upcoming negotiations from their country specific perspective under the moderation of Valeria Moy, Director, México, ¿Cómo vamos?, a research group that evaluates the performance of the country to promote accelerated and sustained economic growth.
Since the beginning of 2017, thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets to protest the government’s repressive policies and worsening economic and humanitarian crisis. Following a massive referendum on July 16 in which millions of Venezuelans voted against a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, the international community is again considering its next move.

To discuss the path ahead for the crisis-stricken country, on Friday, July 21, the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center hosted a panel discussion, ‘Venezuela on the Edge: The Time for New International Action’ with Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro. The event also launched the Atlantic Council’s new Venezuela Tracker, which for the first time aggregates a wide range of indicators like inflation and external debt in real time. The beta version is set to be updated over the next few weeks with additional indicators on health and poverty.
Corruption scandals continue to shake Latin America´s political landscape, but several institutions and anti-corruption movements have risen to the challenge. Across the region, vigorous investigations have implicated elite circles of business and politics –deemed untouchable– in major graft cases. Unprecedented in scale and impact, Brazil´s Lava Jato probe stands as the centerpiece of this new anti-corruption wave. As the fight against corruption gains momentum, the Brazilian experience leaves key lessons to share regarding Latin America´s judicial institutions and cooperation.