Tag Archives: Policy

What a Biden Win Means for Latin America

Latin America has had an interesting history with democracy.  From the “southern cone” to the Rio Grande, the countries of the western hemisphere have endured a political cycle of right-wing fascism that gives way to leftist insurgency and socialist governments which in turn were vulnerable to military coups. The common denominator through it all was a robust U.S. foreign policy interest in the region. Though American foreign policy manifested differently through the decades, no country south of the border can remain unaffected by decisions made in Washington. This was as true in 1820 as it is in 2020, so what will a Biden win mean for Latin America?

Carry a Big Stick

The history of U.S. influence in the region arguably begins with the administration of James Monroe whose “doctrine” is presented to history as an anti-colonial gesture aimed at the powers of Europe. In Latin American and European capitals however, it is seen less as a benevolent hedge against colonialism and more as an argument for giving Washington a free hand in the region.

Whatever Mr. Monroe’s true motivation, its effect was a succession of American Presidents that dealt roughly in the region. James K. Polk needed to win a war against Mexico to secure the southern flank for manifest destiny. William McKinley bowed to political pressure and declared war on Spain, a conflict that handed America its first taste of imperial responsibility. Theodore Roosevelt supported insurrection to create a nation (Panama) favorable to construction of the canal. Even Eisenhower, the ultimate practitioner of a cooperative foreign policy, did not shy away from supporting the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Guatemala and elsewhere. Thereafter, US foreign-policy in Latin America became a balance of fighting communism and fighting drugs; neither of which did much to impede existing oligarchies or bring peace.

While post-war relations brought cooperation and development to those that sought it and coercion and deterrence to that that did not; the Trump administration somehow managed to weave it all together. Characterized by a transient focus on a handful of issues that would impact Trump’s domestic voting base, the United States shifted all its development programs and most of its diplomacy to the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and the independent Development Finance Corporation; a government agency that guarantees loans to be issued to local investors by local banks. The result was the commoditization of a narrow list of foreign policy priorities that had little to do with anything except providing sound bytes for the never-ending Trump campaign.

Aside from a recurring focus on deterring immigration from Central America, none of Washington’s policies south of the border seemed to have any longevity or credibility. American ambassadors and working level-diplomats continued to make cooperative noises and broadcast neighborly themes of solidarity against endemic poverty, inequality, and crime but their voices were drowned out by the President who cancelled summits, made fun of and threatened leaders that displeased him, subordinated complex relationships to his narrow interests, and seemed unable to focus on anything for meaningful periods of time. Among his short lived fixations were making Mexico pay for a wall they did not want and which would not accomplish its purpose; a renaming of the North American Free Trade Agreement without any of the legislative legwork required for meaningful reforms; a poorly conceived attempt to topple Venezuela’s president by supplying his rival with humanitarian assistance and political top cover; and a very brief “war” against cartels in the Caribbean. The result was a decline in goodwill toward American leadership and a generation of Latin American leaders that got very good at telling Washington what it wants to hear while doing as little as necessary to keep the money flowing.

What Would Joe Biden Do?

A future Biden administration will have its work cut out for it in Latin America. While the job will not be as straightforward as simply rolling back Trump’s policies, there is recognition the United States must rebuild relationships for mutual benefit down South. Immigration is the most obvious starting point. The Trump Administration’s migration policies were among the most comprehensive attempted during his tenure. Building the wall and deploying the military was only part of that. Changing U.S. interpretations of political asylum procedures; imposing legally questionable deportation practices; and altering incarceration standards that saw children separated from their parents and held in horrifying conditions also came into play. But these were only the symptoms of a larger bureaucratic alignment that Biden will fix.

In 2018 the Trump administration crippled U.S. development and cooperation relationships in Central America by prohibiting USAID and parts of the State Department from initiating new programs there. Diplomats report an inability to secure meetings, a lack of involvement in events, and are facing difficult decisions to cut valuable local staff. Coupled with the government shutdown at the outset of that year that affected all but the Defense Department, U.S. engagement with host nation governments has been radically shifted to the security sector at the expense of education, anti-corruption, and judicial reform. In much of Latin America security agencies are the least capable of addressing the preconditions that lead to migration and in some cases have terrible relationships with the exact segments of the population that are most likely to migrate.

The upshot of this is we will see an immediate move to rebalance U.S. foreign aid programs in Latin America in general but in Central America in particular since the focus will be once again on immigration. Rather than reiterating the punitive approach taken by Trump, Biden will likely adopt four policy aims:

  • Redouble and revitalize cooperative efforts to help Mexico address its rule of law challenges with special attention to the problem of corruption. Social programs that reduce U.S. drug addiction, illegal firearms flows, and money laundering will reduce the size of the U.S. market and profitability.
  • Rebalance U.S. Foreign Aid: U.S. security interests in Central America include a complex mix of countering transnational organized crime, building partner capacity, intelligence sharing, and countering malign influences that impact the stability of governance or impede U.S. objectives. Addressing these threats requires improvements to the capability of law enforcement, refocusing military roles away from traditional law enforcement tasks, improving disaster response capacity, and countering malign influences from abroad.
  • Address Conditions that Lead to Migration: The vast majority of Central American migrants to the United States are seeking economic opportunity or to escape violence by either government or criminal organizations. Relatively small investments in economic development, enhancements to fairness and impartiality in both governance and economics, protection of minority rights, and assistance to migrants and refugees can go a long way to prevent Central Americans from making a decision to migrate. USAID has long been the primary foreign policy tool for addressing these problems. Biden will re-enable USAID and breathe life back into relationships with its governmental and non-governmental partners.
  • Encourage Regional Integration: Regional integration in Central America is expanding in some very effective ways in the Northern Tier and will be encouraged. Examples include cooperation agreements on immigration, disaster response, human rights, and legislation. Biden will encourage regional initiatives as a way to develop efficiencies in the above areas and more by enabling more meaningful engagement with international organizations and resuming a U.S. leadership role.


    Lino Miani, CEO Navisio Global LLC

    Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC.

Securing Trade and Transportation

The horrific bombings in Brussels on 22 March – and the attacks in Paris and Ankara that preceded them – make it very clear the security situation in Europe will remain unpredictable and fragile for some time to come. In responding to these threats, some nations have enacted measures to restrict the transportation of goods and people. Many more nations will do the same.

While terrorism will undoubtedly cost the global community many lives, barriers to free movement will also present severe economic consequences in billions of dollars in lost trade and development opportunities. In this way, the battle against terrorism is not just defined by suicide bombs and drone strikes, but also by the need to manage the flow of people and goods, and maintain economic growth.

Image Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/
Image Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/

The current situation demands politicians pursue the resolution of the conflict in a humanitarian and civilized manner. Threats must be addressed and neutralized, locally and regionally, in Europe and at the source. While there are short-term measures to be taken, we will, however, be at war for some time to come. The challenge will be to reconcile the security of borders with the need to minimize damage to economic growth for the duration of the conflict and enhance the resilience of the European trade system against disruption in the future.

Setting the Stage for Conflict

Uncontrolled immigration is a challenge for the European Union (EU).  Latest indications are that the million or so refugees and immigrants that have come to the continent in the past year have included terrorists as well as economic migrants. Though there is a clear need to differentiate between those that need help from those arriving with ulterior motives, the EU’s failure to act in unison leaves member nations no choice but to take unilateral measures to secure their populations. These measures take the form of border controls which will remain in place until the security improves, the stream of migrants abates and the EU adopts a clear immigration and asylum policy. Such a policy would allow an immigrant or refugee, legally allowed into one country, to legally travel to another EU country for pleasure or work.

Until then, trade will suffer. Cross-border commuters and trucks loaded with goods are already spending hours and days at crossings, costing millions of Euros every week.  With freedom of movement of both people and goods –  two of the four foundational freedoms of the EU – threatened, the EU must find methods to keep the borders controlled while letting bona fide European citizens and trade to flow unhindered. This is no small task and will require clear policies as well as some on-the-ground technical solutions.

Looking for Answers

Critical to the security of free trade is the construction of transportation corridors where pre-screened vehicles conducting cross-border travel have separate, dedicated lanes at the border for secure and unhindered continuous movement. These transportation corridors will enable Europe to create stable networks that protect its core industrial base and trade corridors. Such corridors could be created by the centralized management of transportation information regarding the goods being moved and the personnel transporting them.  Using existing technology, manufacturers, traders, and transportation companies could register their trucks with a central organization which would check the vehicle’s license plate against an encrypted registry. Today, police in some countries already scan license plates to search for known criminals; when a ‘hit’ occurs, the suspect is apprehended or followed.

With this registry in place, “accepted” vehicles then enter a virtual or physically secure pathway where their movement is monitored by GPS and national authorities can feel confident allowing them to pass unhindered across borders. In many places in Europe, limited access toll-roads already exist. Investment would be required on the part of nations to monitor flows in key corridors with cameras. Many transportation firms already follow their trucks with GPS systems, allowing for tracking of movements outside the supervised, segregated corridors.

Valuable information necessary for transportation security is already being collected by private corporations. Governments should implement similar technology in order to create virtual secure lanes of travel. Image Source: www.cshtransport.com
Valuable information necessary for transportation security is already being collected by private corporations. Governments should implement similar technology in order to create virtual secure lanes of travel. Image Source: www.cshtransport.com

All this information is already readily available. Transportation firms already have an abundance of additional data available such as the waybill, driver identity and other relevant documentation which can be biometrically linked to the driver, then stored and shared system-wide. The collection and integration of this information with automated camera systems that can match specific trucks against a planned itinerary in a secure pathway will allow national governments to supervise cross-border traffic with little hindrance, be alerted to unscheduled detours and other anomalies en route.

The Way Forward for Secure Transportation

None of these ideas are revolutionary; a model already exists for successful integration of this type of transportation data.  In the aviation sector, nations control registered movements within their borders and hand over verified movement to the next country as aircraft depart their airspace. Airline passengers that frequently cross borders can undergo a one-time intense background check and vetting process. These individual passengers, properly identified and documented, are then able to cross borders at airports based on biometric characteristics.

Clearly, this is a complex big-data exercise with some significant cost. Yet, if it can be done for aircraft, there is nothing preventing its implementation for ground-based freight and passenger traffic except the political willpower to execute.  It is time to extend this system-based approach to road-based border checkpoints. This transportation gap in the security matrix cannot be neglected any further.

Trade and free movement of goods and workers are critical interests for the security of all nations in Europe.  Currently, implementation of the appropriate measures to protect these interests are being lost in debates as politicians ride a wave of arguments tending towards protectionism and exclusion of immigrants. The authority to regulate interstate commerce resides with the governments of the European Union. For that reason, it is imperative that in the mire of political discourse, the need to build the critical infrastructure with the appropriate and available technology to restore trade and commerce receive ample attention and a unified response. Only by including transportation security in a complete threat analysis can we do justice to the complex task of intelligently and resiliently securing commerce and economies against terrorism.

Rein Westra Rein Westra is a former CEO in the public transit sector, and currently engaged in the development of web-enabled logistics IT services.  He is CEO of the The Hague Policy Group, an advisory firm focused on public policy  and strategy in trade and transportation, with particular concern for economic development and security.