The Foreign Service Journal, May 2018

30 MAY 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL T he growing repression in Venezuela has dominated U.S. coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean for quite some time, understandably. The inten- sifying political and economic turmoil under President Nicolas Maduro’s misrule has driven tens of thousands of desperate Venezuelans to Colom- bia and Brazil—on top of the massive brain drain during Hugo Chavez’s tenure. That exodus, in turn, has precipitated a refugee crisis in Colombia and Brazil; the latter government declared a “social emergency” in February as a result. The breakdown of law and order in Venezuela reflects a growing perception in the region of citizen insecurity, which can weaken public faith in political institutions and the rule of law. On the positive side, an incredible three out of every four Latin Americans of voting age either voted in a presidential election last year or will be eligible to do so in 2018. Those two years are packed with a total of nine presidential elections—in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela—not to mention legislative midterm elections in several countries. The outcomes of that balloting will have major ramifications, positive and negative, for U.S. eco- nomic and political interests in Latin America and the Caribbean. While holding free and fair elections is an important exercise of democratic principles, it is not sufficient. Strengthening the rule of law, inculcating respect for minority and human rights, and increasing citizen satisfaction with government services are also important building blocks in that process. Unfortunately, recent polling data reflect some discouraging trends in those areas. Yet despite some worrisome trends as far as support for democracy in the region is concerned, economic ties between the United States and Latin America remain strong. The Power of Trade and Investment The United States continues to be one of the top trading part- ners for nearly every country in Latin America, so these trends should be of concern inWashington, D.C. According to the U.S. Census Bureau for 2016, America’s top four trading partners in Latin America in terms of exports to the United States were Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina. Chief exports to the United States fromLatin America include oil, agricultural products, minerals and manufactured goods. In terms of exports from the United States to Latin America, sales more than doubled between 2000 and 2013. To solidify its economic dominance of the region, the United States has signed reciprocal trade agreements with its most impor- tant Latin American partners, as well as regional trade agreements Widespread corruption, crime and a lack of security, education, employment and basic services are driving a loss of faith in democracy throughout the continent. BY AL EXANDR I A “AL EX I ” PANEHAL Worrisome Trends in LATIN AMERICA ON DEMOCRACY FOCUS Alexandria “Alexi” Panehal, a Foreign Service officer with the United States Agency for International Development since 1983, is currently on the faculty at the National War College. Prior to that assignment, she was USAID mission director in Santo Domingo from 2012 to 2016 and in Quito from 2005 to 2009. Her earlier overseas assignments include Managua, Bangkok, Tunis, Tegucigalpa and Kyiv, where she was deputy director of the Regional Mission for Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. Following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she coordi- nated interagency efforts for shelter and infrastructure reconstruction. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and not necessarily those of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. government.