January 4th, 2013
04:57 AM ET

Everything you’ve heard about the middle class is wrong

By Christopher Sabatini, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Christopher Sabatini is senior director of policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and adjunct professor at Columbia University. The views expressed are his own.

Whether its growth is being hailed as a major advance for Latin America or its alleged decline in the developed world is taken as a sign of the global North’s impending fall, the middle class has assumed almost totemic status in popular discussions.  The reality, though, is more complex.

The confusion stems in large part from how we define the middle class.

In the seemingly interminable 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign, the U.S middle class loomed like an endangered species, so much time was spent by the candidates positioning themselves as the savior of the supposedly beleaguered middle class. Lost within the debate was the matter of whether the U.S. middle class was actually shrinking and why – or why not.

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Topics: Latin America
January 1st, 2013
06:24 PM ET

2013: Latin America’s bulging middle

By Global Public Square staff

Who are the most positive people in the world? Well, at least according to the responses in a recent Gallup poll, eight of the top 10 countries whose citizens feel happiest are in Latin America – Panama, Paraguay, El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad&Tobago, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. Such results could in part be down to a cultural predisposition to looking on the bright side. But if Latin Americans have taken a moment to reflect on their financial situation, they will also see tangible reasons to be positive about the future.

While the rest of the world has become more unequal in recent years, Latin America is the only region in the world to reverse that trend. According to a World Bank report, 50 million people joined the region’s middle class between the years of 2003 and 2009. Poverty rates have plummeted; more women are working; safety nets have become stronger.

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Topics: 2013: What's Next? • Brazil • Latin America • Mexico • Venezuela
What the U.S. can learn from Mexico
December 31st, 2012
06:47 AM ET

What the U.S. can learn from Mexico

For more, watch GPS on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

By Global Public Square staff

A few weeks ago, the president told a newspaper the solution to partisanship is politics and more politics. That’s how you work toward the building of agreements.

Unfortunately, it wasn't Barack Obama. It was Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto. As Washington has been mired in gridlock this year, consider what’s happening just across the border. One of the first things Pena Nieto did after assuming office just weeks ago was to announce a pact for Mexico, an ambitious set of reforms to raise taxes, increase competition and take on the teachers’ unions.

Now, it is one thing to announce a plan, quite another to get support for it and President Pena Nieto's pact comes with endorsements from across the spectrum, the conservatives he ousted from office as well as the leftist Democrats.

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Topics: Latin America • Mexico
Getting ready for a new era in U.S.-Mexico ties
December 3rd, 2012
11:15 AM ET

Getting ready for a new era in U.S.-Mexico ties

By Andrew Selee & Christopher Wilson, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Andrew Selee is the vice president for programs at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a senior adviser for the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center. Christopher Wilson is an associate for the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are their own.

U.S.-Mexico relations have been dominated for the past six years by efforts to address drug trafficking and organized crime-related violence. This was the right thing to do while violence spiked in Mexico, but with a new administration in office after the swearing in of President Enrique Peña Nieto over the weekend, the time has come to re-balance the bilateral relationship.

Ties tend to have the same top three items on the agenda year after year and administration after administration: immigration; drugs and violence; and trade and economic relations. Drugs and violence have dominated in recent years, and cooperation in addressing the transnational flows of drugs, arms and illicit money, as well as support for Mexico’s efforts to strengthen public security, must continue. Although the gains are still tenuous and the situation fluid, violence in Mexico does appear to have begun to decline at a national level and major advances have been made in key border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez.

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November 27th, 2012
10:32 AM ET

Latin America's challenge

By Global Public Square

For more What in the World, watch GPS on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

With President Obama’s visit to Asia and war in Gaza, Washington's foreign policy energies have been focused this past week on the Far East and the Middle East. But let’s not forget the surprising developments in a region we share a 2,000 mile border with: Latin America.

I just read a new World Bank report, and it has some important findings. Between the years of 2003 and 2009, nearly 50 million people joined Latin America's middle class – that’s twice the entire population of the state of Texas, and a sixth of America's population as a whole. In those six years, the size of the region’s middle class expanded by 50 percent. The proportion of people in poverty fell sharply, from 44 percent, to 30 percent. And as the rest of the world became more unequal, Latin America was the only region to decrease the gap between rich and poor.

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November 13th, 2012
12:46 PM ET

Women key to Latin America economic progress

By Stephanie Leutert, CFR

Editor's note: Stephanie Leutert is a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Latin America's Moment originally appeared here. The views expressed are her own.

Over the last decade, poverty, and inequality have fallen throughout Latin America. Behind these positive trends are external factors, such as high global commodity prices and substantial foreign direct investment flows. And there are also internal influences, such as Latin America’s growing middle class, increased consumption, and successful government-run conditional cash transfers (which offer money to low income families who keep their kids healthy and in school). But another, less talked, about factor moving the region toward greater economic development is the millions of Latin American women in the workforce.

According to an August 2012 World Bank report, Latin American women have been responsible for 30 percent of the region’s extreme poverty reduction over the past decade, as a result of their increased workforce participation and higher earnings. Women’s income has had an even greater effect on the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, reducing the severity of poverty more than twice as effectively as men’s earnings. And, as in other places, the global economic downturn hit men’s incomes the hardest. In response, Latin American women picked up the slack, resulting in more than half of 2009’s poverty reduction.

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Topics: Latin America
Why is Mexico drug war being ignored?
October 30th, 2012
07:04 PM ET

Why is Mexico drug war being ignored?

By Ted Galen Carpenter, Special to CNN

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is the author of nine books on international affairs, including the just released The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America. The views expressed are his own.

A striking feature of the presidential debate on foreign policy was the total lack of attention given to Latin America –notably the drug violence wracking our next door neighbor, Mexico. Nearly 60,000 people have perished since 2006 in the Mexican government’s military-led offensive against the country’s powerful, ruthless drug cartels. But while President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both obsessed about the Middle East, they virtually ignored Washington’s relations with our southern neighbors. After a brief observation from Romney near the start of the debate that the region offered important – and neglected – economic opportunities for the United States, both candidates quickly abandoned the Western Hemisphere.

That was extraordinarily myopic. Given its geographic proximity, historical ties, and mounting importance as an arena for trade and investment, Latin America should be high on Washington’s diplomatic and economic agenda. And near the top of the national security agenda should be the alarming developments involving the drug violence in Mexico.

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Topics: 2012 Election • Drugs • Latin America • Mexico • United States
Why Latinos may decide the next U.S. president
October 12th, 2012
11:39 AM ET

Why Latinos may decide the next U.S. president

By Shannon K. O’Neil, CFR

Shannon K. O’Neil is senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Latin America’s Moment originally appeared here. The views expressed are solely those of the author.

A recent Pew Hispanic Center report on trends in Latino voter participation counts a record 24 million Latinos as eligible to vote in November’s presidential election (11 percent of all potential voters). It also finds that Latinos are particularly important in several battleground states. Their rising numbers and geographic concentration suggest that how and if Latinos vote on November 6 could determine the race.

While a large voting bloc for several election cycles now, Latinos have yet to fully wield their potential political power. Part of the reason is turnout – few Latinos make it to the polls on election day. In 2008 only half of eligible Latino voters cast ballots versus 65 percent of blacks and 66 percent of whites.

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Topics: 2012 Election • Latin America • United States
The Venezuelan opposition’s silver lining
October 9th, 2012
04:46 PM ET

The Venezuelan opposition’s silver lining

By Christopher Sabatini, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of the policy journal Americas Quarterly. The views expressed are his own.

For a brief moment last week, a few started to believe the impossible: that after 14 years, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez would lose an election to a unified opposition led by a young, energetic former governor, Henrique Capriles Radonski. But when the results were announced on Sunday night, Chávez had won, again.

This time, though, the victory was more about Chávez as a personal figure than his self-named Bolivarian Revolution over a fractured, discredited (and smeared) opposition. For the first time, the Venezuelan opposition made the election a referendum on Chávez’s record, rather than – as it had too often in the past – on his personality. With a record as governor of Miranda state and as a fresh face, the 40-year-old Capriles separated himself from the shadow of the corruption and mismanagement that preceded Chávez, instead focusing on the dismal record of the Bolivarian Revolution.

And there is a lot to focus on: in the last 14 years, Caracas – with a murder rate of about 67 per 100,000 residents – has become one of the most violent cities in the world; profligate public spending has led to an inflation rate that topped 27 percent last year (again one of the highest in the world), and reliance on oil and the capricious expropriation of business has led to one of the lowest rates of economic growth in the region, registering a flaccid 4.2 percent last year compared to 6 percent  for Chile and 6.9 for Peru.

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Topics: Elections • Latin America • Venezuela
September 12th, 2012
08:07 AM ET

Are criminals, terrorists, and Bolivarians teaming up against America?

By Stewart Patrick, CFR

Stewart M. Patrick is director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of The Internationalist originally appeared here. The views expressed are those of the author.

On August 16, Doug Farah, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, published Transnational Organized Crime, Terrorism, and Criminalized States in Latin America: An Emerging Tier-One National Security Priority. The monograph contributes in a major way to our understanding of the increasingly complex relationships that exist among criminal networks, terrorists, and sovereign states.

One of its most original contributions is to get away from the tired conventional wisdom about “failed states” – which suggests that it is the world’s basket cases that present the greatest opportunities for exploitation by illicit actors. In Weak Links , I’ve also suggested that the most dysfunctional, chaotic, or even collapsed states, do not provide conducive environments for most forms of crime (or for transnational terrorists, for that matter), since they provide little operational security from interdiction and are often too far removed from the sinews of global commerce.

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Topics: Latin America • United States • Venezuela
August 30th, 2012
02:39 PM ET

The Republican platform on Latin America

By Shannon O’Neil, CFR

Shannon K. O’Neil is senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Latin America’s Moment originally appeared here. The views expressed are solely those of the author.

With the Republican Convention underway, the Republican Party platform, in its entirety, has finally found its way onto the internet. The 50-plus page document touches briefly on all of the hottest election year topics, addressing everything from traditional marriage to Medicare to foreign policy. In regards to Latin America, the Republican platform focuses almost exclusively on the two states toward which the GOP has the greatest antipathy: Venezuela and Cuba.

On Cuba, the language harks back to the past, describing the regime as mummified and anti-democratic, and strongly declaring Republican support for Cuban opposition groups. Although the tone is decisively anti-Castro, the platform is less strict than in the past. Quite noticeably, there are no calls for a roll-back of the Obama administration reforms that loosened remittance restrictions and expanded family travel, perhaps because of their popularity with Cuban-Americans.

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Topics: Latin America
August 10th, 2012
02:46 PM ET

Peru’s resource-state curse?

By Christopher Sabatini, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of the policy journal Americas Quarterly. The views expressed are his own.

News last week that over 100 people had been affected by a toxic spill from the copper mine in Antamina added more fuel to the debate in Peru over the safety and responsibility of mining.  Despite the spills and controversy, the extraction of natural resources in Peru contributed the largest share to the county’s impressive 7-plus percent average growth for the last seven years.  But can it continue?

For almost a year, another conflict has raged north of where last week’s spill occurred in Cajamarca between a handful of community leaders and Colorado-based Newmont over the mining company’s plans to develop and expand the gold and copper Conga mines.  Local community leaders, supported by international non-governmental organizations, claim that Newmont’s operations will pollute water sources, a charge disputed by the mining company and a number of studies it has commissioned. Public marches, road blockages and violence over the Conga mines have crippled the national government and forced President Ollanta Humala to make several cabinet changes.

In Peru and outside, the clash has been portrayed as emblematic of the escalating and inevitable tension between the global markets’ demand for natural resources and the environmental and political rights of the communities where those commodities are produced.

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Topics: Energy • Environment • Latin America
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