1. Washington Post:
    The number of families and unaccompanied minors arriving in 2016 is on pace to exceed the total in 2014, when U.S. Border Patrol stations were overwhelmed along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. They are coming primarily from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, an area sometimes called the Northern Triangle....

    ...Unlike the situation in Syria, where millions have been displaced by a devastating civil war, the Obama administration has been reluctant to label the Central American exodus a refu­gee crisis.
    There are major political and logistic reasons to avoid labeling Central American migrants as refugees. It's unfortunately easier and more politically palatable in the US to build private prisons to hold "illegal migrants" than it is to resettle people from neighboring countries as refugees. Still, the Obama administration should use its final months in office to label the situation a refugee crisis and put greater resources to helping those people who are fleeing violence.

    The fact that the US has built private prisons for migrants instead of refugee camps has certainly not been our proudest moment. Whether they are labeled refugees or not, everyone should remember they are humans deserving of basic human rights and legal rights.
  2. Here is how President Obama opened his speech to the UN this week:
    As I address this hall as President for the final time, let me recount the progress that we’ve made these last eight years.

    From the depths of the greatest financial crisis of our time, we coordinated our response to avoid further catastrophe and return the global economy to growth.  We’ve taken away terrorist safe havens, strengthened the nonproliferation regime, resolved the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomacy.  We opened relations with Cuba, helped Colombia end Latin America’s longest war, and we welcome a democratically elected leader of Myanmar to this Assembly.  Our assistance is helping people feed themselves, care for the sick, power communities across Africa, and promote models of development rather than dependence.  And we have made international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund more representative, while establishing a framework to protect our planet from the ravages of climate change.

    This is important work.  It has made a real difference in the lives of our people.  And it could not have happened had we not worked together.  And yet, around the globe we are seeing the same forces of global integration that have made us interdependent also expose deep fault lines in the existing international order.  
    Diplomacy with Cuba and peace in Colombia made the second paragraph of the speech and are right near the top of the list of success areas for the past eight years.
  3. Today's Washington Post suggests that the success of Plan Colombia has given the US a favorable case for intervention in the hemisphere. That's obviously a controversial suggestion. However, another article on Plan Colombia has me thinking of more lessons to be taken from the experience (I've written previous here, here and probably a few others as well). 

    There was definitely a role for the military in Colombia. The FARC, ELN and AUC were all groups that could be targeted militarily until they were defeated or degraded to the point where they were forced to negotiate. The FARC, with its Cold War era quasi-military structure based in rural areas, was an almost ideal military opponent compared to more modern and urban "insurgencies" around the world whose leadership structures are more fluid. 

    That's an important consideration in applying the lessons of Plan Colombia anywhere else in the hemisphere. Other potential opponents that could be considered (MS-13, Sinaloa Cartel, UPP), would not be as clearly defined as military opponents and would use urban spaces to a clear advantage the FARC never had. While Colombia still requires a significant amount of non-military assistance, the military role in Colombia is less controversial than it is in some other countries in the hemisphere where military objectives are less clearly defined. In terms of civilian role, Colombia has a functional and strong national police structure that falls under its Ministry of Defense and in many ways was ahead of the military in terms of vetting and human rights, not something that can be said in many other countries in the hemisphere.

    Negotiations may be necessary. "Success" in Plan Colombia has required negotiations, disarmament, reintegration and deals that have allowed some form of reduced or removed sentences for crimes. The AUC were negotiated out of the fight and the FARC have committed to a cease fire and will soon be demobilized. Many analysts who want to use the lessons of Plan Colombia in other countries are also quickest to say that they would never negotiate with the other groups who might be targeted. Those potential opponents are different, as I wrote above, so negotiations may not be possible. However, to pull the possibility of negotiations off the table completely is to block off a key part of what made Plan Colombia ultimately successful.

    Success means improving the country. Plan Colombia is considered a success domestically and abroad not because they defeated their insurgencies but because Colombia is better than it was when the program began. Nobody could seriously argue that Colombia today is not better than it was in the late 1990's. Interventions are risky options because they always leave the potential that the situation becomes worse, even if the initial military objective is achieved. Any intervention that wants to use the "Colombia model" needs to understand that its ultimate objective is improved security and economic prosperity for the citizens of the country, not just defeating the bad guys.
  4. Miami Herald:
    The OAS is expected to have about 130 observers for the balloting for president and legislative seats. Former Uruguayan Sen. Juan Raul Ferreira will lead the OAS’ mission.

    “Even though we never expressly accepted that the right decision was to do a redo, the OAS is there,” said Gerardo de Icaza, director of the hemispheric body’s department of electoral cooperation and observation. “We’re happy that at least a political crisis is being solved through a democratic way.”

    The United States and others in the international community have publicly opposed Haiti’s decision to scrap the results of its contested Oct. 25 first-round presidential vote. The U.S. announced that it would not underwrite the $55 million re-do and the European Union pulled its elections observers. But in recent months, U.S. officials have said they support the process and the U.S. is among seven countries funding the OAS’ elections mission.
    Both the US and OAS opposed the idea of new elections (they wanted the previous first round results respected), but both have reversed course to tentatively support the new election process that Haiti has decided on. This is the correct decision. Opposing the new elections would have been an unproductive policy, hurting Haiti's now best chance to move forward and restore a democratically elected government.

    This decision on Haiti is part of a larger trend of President Obama's policy towards the hemisphere that has focused on pragmatism over ideology. In this case, we won't be able to judge whether it was the correct decision for several months or several years, but my opinion is that it is the correct call.
  5. This entire op-ed on Guatemala's anti-corruption process is worth the read, but I want to highlight two details that are relevant regionally.
    It’s one thing to root out corruption; it’s another to create the functioning democratic and civil society that can inoculate a country against the disease. Guatemala is moving in the right direction, with growing numbers of citizens coming to understand that a democratic, equitable and just society is finally within reach. But to many, the government still seems incapable of decisive action; honest, enterprising Guatemalans don’t dare sign a government contract, and democracy activists hesitate to enter formal politics.
    Citizen involvement has been crucial for anti-corruption efforts across Latin America in recent years. However, the highlighting of public sector corruption by protesters, the media and prosecutors has amplified a general feeling of antipathy towards government and politics. The same civil society groups that have organized outside the system for the anti-corruption cause now need to figure out how to get inside of politics and work for transparency and clean government. Getting public support for anti-government protests is easy compared with getting public attention and participation in making government work well.
    The United States government understands the stakes, and has vigorously supported the United Nations commission and the attorney general’s office. Their opponents, who accuse the United States of neocolonialism when it suits them, are hoping for a victory by Donald J. Trump in the fall, which may well lead to a cutoff in funds for the reformers.

    But this support has also earned the United States crucial new allies. Liberal Guatemalans, even longtime die-hard opponents of American interventionism, have praised recent American efforts. After nearly a century of backing regimes notorious for oppression and violence, the United States is seen, finally, as being on the right side in Central America.
    While it's rarely placed in these terms, the United States support for the CICIG and other anti-corruption efforts around the hemisphere is a type of "good intervention" that has been done in the hemisphere. The US is giving financial and technical support to the reformers and anti-corruption investigators, which is tipping the political scales in some countries. While some corrupt governments (OPM in Guatemala, Maduro in Venezuela) have tried to place the US anti-corruption involvement in the framework of the reviled interventions of the past, the US assistance has generally been cheered by activists around the hemisphere. That is a very different position for the US and the Obama administration has been correct in treading cautiously in how it portrays its successes on this front and not over-reaching.
  6. BBC:
    Brazil's new government has announced a privatisation plan aimed at reviving the country's struggling economy. It plans to sell off four airports and two port terminals as well as offer contracts to private firms for a wide range of projects from building new roads to running mining projects.
    1) It's a bold return to privatizations for Latin America. After over a decade of politics that was a rejection of "neoliberalism" in the 1990's, this is an embrace of the sorts of 1990's economic measures that Lula stood against. It's going to be a tough debate for Brazil's politics moving into future elections.

    2) With Brazil still sorting through the details of significant corruption scandals, these privatizations are going to be heavily monitored. Yet, like all privatizations (or nationalizations for that matter), this process is going to be ripe for corruption. Any foreign business that wants to involve itself in this process is going to have to do an extra level of due diligence because they should know many local players are going to try to bend the rules to their favor even though they are far more likely to be caught in Brazil's new anti-corruption environment.
  7. The only surprising thing about Eduardo Cunha's expulsion from the Brazilian Congress is how long it took. The former speaker's corruption is well known and the evidence has mounted over the past months of the millions in bribes that he took.

    The fairness and legality of Dilma Rousseff's impeachment will be heavily debated in Brazil's future. Nobody is going to question whether Cunha deserved to be kicked out. The answer is a clear yes.
  8. This weekend's NYT article on the extradition of Colombia's paramilitary leaders to the United States is excellent. Former President Uribe was able to extradite away several key leaders just as they appeared prepared to deliver critical testimony about past human rights abuses and alleged links between the criminal/terrorist group and some of the country's politicians. The United States government should view this process as a warning against allowing our extradition system to be used for internal political leverage by other countries. There is still time to correct some of the problems and push the AUC leaders to provide evidence about human rights abuses and para-politics.

    Yet, the article misses one key fact. While quoting many victims' families and rights advocates about how justice was denied to them, the article fails to report that the paramilitary leaders in question spent far longer in prison than any of the FARC leadership will. The Justice and Peace agreement between the Colombian government and AUC was far tougher than the current peace agreement that has been negotiated with the FARC.

    Would it be better if the AUC leaders spent the rest of their lives in prison rather than only ten years? Probably. Would it be better if they had been forced to testify to the truth about various serious human rights abuses? Absolutely. But no peace deal is perfect.

    I was a supporter of the Justice and Peace deal with the AUC and I support the current peace deal with the FARC. For whatever the faults of these agreements, which unfortunately includes justice denied to some of the victims, Colombia is far better off with both of these groups negotiated out of the conflict.
  9. Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray's best short-term policy move was to hedge the country's contracts on oil. For every year as minister, he paid banks for the option to limit the losses on Mexico's oil contracts if the price of oil dropped. This protected against global volatility and created a level of certainty in the budget. The Mexican Congress could budget with the assumption of oil at a certain price and it would not be hit too hard (in the short term) if oil suddenly fell because Mexico's contracts were protected with a hedge.

    Mexico's hedged its 2014 contracts at $81 per barrel and its 2015 contracts at $74 per barrel. Given the oil price drop in late 2014 that sustained throughout 2015, when oil was priced below $50 for almost the entire year, Mexico netted over $6 billion dollars from Videgaray's hedges. That hedging policy, started by his predecessors but one that Videgaray aggressively continued, was the difference between bad and worse. While Mexico's growth hasn't lived up to its hype in recent years (and Videgaray deserves some blame for that), hedging oil prevented Mexico from facing massive social spending cuts and potentially recession.

    Videgaray's other big hedge didn't work out so well.

    Videgaray was apparently the cabinet member responsible for recommending the President Enrique Peña Nieto make a hedge on the global political stage and meet with US presidential candidate Donald Trump. While Hillary Clinton is more likely to win the presidency, wouldn't it make sense to meet with the Republican contender and begin to try to temper some of the worst of his anti-Mexico policies and rhetoric? From an economist's mindset, it's a logical conclusion to pay a small price now to hedge against the worst case outcome and try to soften the potential damage.

    Unfortunately for the now former finance minister, this hedge came at a much steeper price than he anticipated. While Trump's visit to Mexico played poorly for him, it was far worse for Mexico's president and government. Mexico's public hates Trump and they viewed EPN's meeting as a sign of weakness towards a candidate who has based his campaign on an anti-Mexico platform.

    Peña Nieto has been an intensely loyal president, rarely shuffling and only removing one cabinet minister completely from government prior to this week. Videgaray was the closest person in his inner circle. Videgaray's resignation was necessary to stop the president's approval rating from falling even further from its already record lows.

    The lesson here is that hedges in politics don't work the same as they do in economics. Videgaray made a mistake in thinking otherwise.
  10. Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos:
    You can rest assured that peace is much more profitable for the government and for Colombians than war. War has cost us a lot of money. With what we pay for four Black Hawks [helicopters], we can pay for the re-integration of the 14,000 guerrillas. So critics should not come now and tell us that we have no money for the post-conflict period. Of course we do, and much of it is already in our budgets.
    That quote comes from an interview with Andres Oppenheimer in which Santos was asked how Colombia would fund the peace process with reduced US aid.

    Most of the interview focuses on questions of impunity, concerns by critics of the deal that the FARC are not going to be punished enough for their crimes. Santos, correctly, wants people to ask what the alternative is. Critics who don't want this agreement to be approved are de factor arguing in favor of a return to conflict and hundreds or thousands of additional civilian deaths in the process. They may not think it is fair politics to portray their position in that manner, but that is the reality if this deal falls apart.

    The quote above is important because it starts to answer the more critical questions that should be asked. How human rights abusers of the past are punished is less important than understanding how to make this peace deal succeed moving forward. That means funding the reintegration of combatants and creating economic opportunity for all Colombians including the vulnerable populations who have been most hurt by the conflict.