The Americas Blog

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The Americas Blog seeks to present a more accurate perspective on economic and political developments in the Western Hemisphere than is often presented in the United States. It will provide information that is often ignored, buried, and sometimes misreported in the major U.S. media.

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Artículo del (CEPR) Centro de Investigación para la Economía y la Política por sus siglas en inglés; escrito por Jake Johnston y publicado el 31 de Marzo del 2021.

Traducido al español por Ana Roldán.

En marzo de 2017, antes de la segunda vuelta de las elecciones presidenciales de Ecuador, el CEPR informó de que empresas fantasma con sede en Florida y vinculadas al entonces candidato Guillermo Lasso poseían 144 propiedades en los condados de Broward y Miami-Dade con un valor de más de 30 millones de dólares. En esas elecciones, los votantes aprobaron un referéndum que prohibía a los políticos y funcionarios públicos tener activos en paraísos fiscales y les daba un año para desprenderse de ellos o transferirlos. Aunque Florida no está incluida en la lista de paraísos fiscales, se considera una “jurisdicción de baja tributación”, que las autoridades tratarán caso por caso.

Cuatro años después, Ecuador se dirige de nuevo a una segunda vuelta de las elecciones presidenciales, con Lasso en la papeleta. Si bien se han introducido capas adicionales de anonimato para ocultar aún más la propiedad, una revisión de los registros corporativos e inmobiliarios en Florida muestra que las participaciones de las empresas fantasma vinculadas a Lasso han aumentado desde 2017, lo que plantea dudas sobre la legalidad de la candidatura de Lasso. Irónicamente, Lasso compite en la segunda vuelta del 11 de abril contra Andrés Arauz, uno de los arquitectos originales de las reformas que se realizaron en Ecuador en el área de los paraísos fiscales.  

Del artículo publicado en 2017 por CEPR:

En 2009, según la División de Corporaciones de Florida, Guillermo E. Lasso -el hijo del candidato- registró una LLC [limited liability company, o empresa de responsabilidad limitada] en Florida llamada Nora Investment US. Entre junio de 2009 y diciembre de 2010, la sociedad de cartera compró 59 propiedades, que todavía posee hoy, en el condado de Broward de Florida, según los registros disponibles públicamente. Las compras, en su mayoría condominios, ascendieron a 5,7 millones de dólares.

Pero esto fue sólo el comienzo. En 2011, se incorporaron dos nuevos directores a Nora Investment US: Miguel Macías y Euvenia Touriz. Ambos fueron anteriormente funcionarios del Banco Guayaquil, y ambos figuran actualmente como directores en el banco Banisi de Panamá que es propiedad de Lasso. Entre 2011 y 2013, Lasso (hijo del candidato), Macías y Touriz registraron 10 LLC en Florida en las que todos figuran como directores. Las LLC adicionales también se utilizaron para comprar propiedades en Florida.

En agosto de 2014, tras la implementación de nuevas regulaciones en Ecuador sobre los activos en el extranjero, el nombre del hijo de Lasso fue sistemáticamente eliminado como director de las 10 empresas, según muestran los registros públicos. Sin embargo, Macías y Touriz continuaron abriendo más sociedades holding. Es importante tener en cuenta que, aunque las sociedades de responsabilidad limitada incluya a los administradores, el llamado beneficiario efectivo -o verdadero propietario- queda oculto.

En junio de 2017, Macías y Touriz -asociados de Lasso de anteriores empresas fantasma y bancos- figuran como directivos en una empresa fantasma de nueva creación, DEBLEN USA 1, LLC. Dos meses después, la empresa compró una casa de lujo en Miami por 1,475 millones de dólares. No hay registro de una hipoteca, lo que sugiere que la compra probablemente se hizo en efectivo. A partir de 2018, sin embargo, tanto Macías como Touriz parecieron ser eliminados sistemáticamente como funcionarios de la gran mayoría de los registros corporativos de las empresas fantasma.

En 2020, la mayoría de las empresas fantasma previamente identificadas sufrieron innumerables cambios: desactivaciones, reactivaciones, renuncias de directores, cambios de nombre, fusiones y disoluciones. A muchas de las empresas se les cambió el nombre una semana después de su disolución. Todas las sociedades patrimoniales asociadas a Lasso, salvo cuatro, se han fusionado en nuevas entidades. En total, hemos identificado 23 empresas activas registradas en Florida, incluida DEBLEN USA 1, mencionada anteriormente, asociada a los socios comerciales de Lasso.

Tabla 1. Participaciones inmobiliarias actuales de las sociedades ficticias vinculadas a Lasso
Nombre de la Entidad Fecha de Registro Número de Propiedades Inmobiliarias Valor de la Propiedad en Florida
BROWARD TWO LLC 1/8/18 45 $8,229,770
BROWARD ONE LLC 1/8/18 50 $6,913,150
BRICKELL TWO LLC 1/8/18 6 $5,472,758
BRICKELL ONE LLC 1/8/18 5 $3,848,943
LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC 1/8/18 4 $3,629,950
NORA INVESTMENT UNO US 3/29/11 14 $2,740,000
DORAL LLC 1/8/18 10 $1,452,370
MALENA UNO US LLC 7/29/13 1 $683,636
MALENA US LLC 7/29/13 1 $680,288
Total   136 $33,650,865
Notes: Nora Investment Uno US ya no es una empresa activa, a pesar de seguir figurando como propietaria de 14 propiedades. Otras 15 empresas están actualmente activas, pero no parecen ser propietarias directas de bienes inmuebles en los condados de Miami-Dade o Broward.

Por ejemplo, en 2016, “BILL INVESTMENT CINCO US, LLC”, con Macías y Touriz que figuran como directores, compró una casa en Fort Lauderdale, Florida, por 2,2 millones de dólares. El propietario de esa casa figura ahora como “LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC”. Los registros corporativos muestran que Macías firmó el papeleo que autorizaba la fusión de una serie de empresas fantasma más antiguas en LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC y un puñado de otras corporaciones. Pero en lugar de Macías, el administrador de la empresa figura como “DIRECT MANAGEMENT LLC”. En algunas de las otras empresas, el gerente figura como “FREEDOM MANAGEMENT LLC”. En lugar de personas físicas, los únicos responsables de estas empresas recién creadas son otras empresas fantasma. En todas las empresas fusionadas figura ahora una de estas dos empresas como gerente.

Tanto “DIRECT MANAGEMENT LLC” como “FREEDOM MANAGEMENT LLC” están registradas en Delaware, otra jurisdicción tristemente célebre por su secreto empresarial. Curiosamente, los registros corporativos de Delaware revelan que ambas empresas fueron creadas en la misma fecha: el 18 de diciembre de 2017. La remodelación corporativa de Florida comenzó poco después.

Aunque los socios de Lasso ya no aparecen en los registros corporativos, no cabe duda de que el propietario real de las propiedades no ha cambiado. De las 144 propiedades que poseían las empresas en 2017, 10 fueron vendidas y en 16 sigue figurando la empresa fantasma original como propietaria. En el caso de las propiedades restantes, aunque el nombre del propietario cambió, el propietario real no lo hizo. Aquí, es importante aclarar que, como es la naturaleza de las empresas fantasma, el “beneficiario real” del activo sigue siendo totalmente secreto.

Dos de las sociedades fantasma vinculadas a Lasso realizaron nuevas compras de bienes inmuebles en 2020: BRICKELL ONE LLC y BRICKELL TWO LLC. Los registros inmobiliarios de Florida muestran que la primera, BRICKELL ONE, es a su vez el resultado de una fusión de cuatro empresas ficticias diferentes: NORA INVESTMENT CINCO, NORA INVESTMENT SEIS, NORA INVESTMENT SIETE y NORA INVESTMENT NUEVE. La primera compra fue de un condominio de 665.000 dólares en abril de 2020. La segunda tuvo lugar en octubre de 2020.

La empresa fantasma BRICKELL ONE LLC pagó 1,25 millones de dólares a finales del otoño pasado por un apartamento en Coral Gables. El tasador de propiedades de Miami-Dade evaluó la casa con un valor de sólo 734.894 dólares en 2020. Curiosamente, el vendedor de esa vivienda era Miguel Macías, que había comprado la casa en enero de 2016 por 900.000 dólares. Eso plantea preguntas adicionales. Por ejemplo, ¿por qué una empresa fantasma que Macías había gestionado anteriormente le compraría entonces una vivienda por un precio muy superior al aparente valor de mercado?

La operación inmobiliaria más significativa, sin embargo, implicó la compra en 2017 de la casa de lujo en Miami por parte de DEBLEN USA 1 LLC. En agosto de 2020, apenas tres años después de la compra, la vivienda se vendió por 5 millones de dólares. Curiosamente, la empresa fantasma proporcionó al comprador una hipoteca de 2,25 millones de dólares. DEBLEN no es la única empresa que se ha metido en el negocio hipotecario. GLOBAL EQUITY SEVEN LLC, según los registros de Florida, es actualmente el prestamista de siete hipotecas por un total de 1,2 millones de dólares. Parece que las empresas fantasma han pasado de ser simples propietarias de bienes inmuebles a actuar como prestamistas directos en el estado de Florida.

En general, como puede verse en la Tabla 1, hemos identificado 136 propiedades de empresas fantasma asociadas a Lasso. Sin duda es posible que haya otras que permanezcan ocultas. En conjunto, las que hemos identificado tienen un valor de mercado actual de 33 millones de dólares, según los registros de propiedad de los condados de Miami-Dade y Broward. Además, las empresas fantasma actualmente activas poseen los 3,45 millones de dólares en hipotecas.

Aunque el nombre de Guillermo Lasso no aparece directamente en ninguno de los registros corporativos o inmobiliarios del sur de Florida, la implicación de miembros de la familia y socios comerciales cercanos, así como los recientes movimientos hacia un anonimato aún mayor, ciertamente plantean preguntas sobre la implicación del candidato. Sin embargo, las conexiones que Lasso puede tener con las empresas fantasma de Florida están lejos de ser las únicas preguntas sobre sus actividades financieras en el exterior.

El otoño pasado, el partido Unión por la Esperanza (UNES) de Arauz impugnó la legalidad de la candidatura de Lasso basándose en la legislación implementada tras el referéndum sobre el paraíso fiscal de 2017. La ley electoral actualizada impide que cualquier persona que tenga activos en un paraíso fiscal se presente como candidato a un cargo público. La denuncia citaba una investigación de 2017 del diario argentino Página/12 que documentaba los vínculos de Lasso con decenas de empresas pantalla y un banco panameño.

En 2017, Lasso admitió que era dueño del banco panameño, Banisi S.A. Sin embargo, el CNE rechazó la denuncia. El banco sigue operando en la actualidad con Macías y Touriz que figuran como directores, así como dos de los hijos de Lasso. Banisi tiene un capital que asciende a 60,4 millones de dólares, según la Superintendencia de Bancos de Panamá.

Una cosa no ha cambiado desde 2017: los medios de comunicación -tanto internacionales como ecuatorianos- han decidido ignorar por completo las posesiones financieras en el extranjero de Lasso. En abril de 2017, la Superintendencia de Información y Comunicación de Ecuador multó a siete medios de comunicación con 3.750 dólares cada uno por no informar sobre la investigación de Página/12. En los años posteriores, el actual presidente de Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, también ha sido implicado en el uso de paraísos fiscales en el llamado escándalo de los Papeles del INA. Moreno ha negado cualquier delito. Aunque Moreno se había presentado contra Lasso en 2017, ha parecido favorecer al banquero frente a Arauz en 2021.

Descargo de responsabilidad: Andrés Arauz ha trabajado anteriormente como investigador principal en el CEPR.

Artículo del (CEPR) Centro de Investigación para la Economía y la Política por sus siglas en inglés; escrito por Jake Johnston y publicado el 31 de Marzo del 2021.

Traducido al español por Ana Roldán.

En marzo de 2017, antes de la segunda vuelta de las elecciones presidenciales de Ecuador, el CEPR informó de que empresas fantasma con sede en Florida y vinculadas al entonces candidato Guillermo Lasso poseían 144 propiedades en los condados de Broward y Miami-Dade con un valor de más de 30 millones de dólares. En esas elecciones, los votantes aprobaron un referéndum que prohibía a los políticos y funcionarios públicos tener activos en paraísos fiscales y les daba un año para desprenderse de ellos o transferirlos. Aunque Florida no está incluida en la lista de paraísos fiscales, se considera una “jurisdicción de baja tributación”, que las autoridades tratarán caso por caso.

Cuatro años después, Ecuador se dirige de nuevo a una segunda vuelta de las elecciones presidenciales, con Lasso en la papeleta. Si bien se han introducido capas adicionales de anonimato para ocultar aún más la propiedad, una revisión de los registros corporativos e inmobiliarios en Florida muestra que las participaciones de las empresas fantasma vinculadas a Lasso han aumentado desde 2017, lo que plantea dudas sobre la legalidad de la candidatura de Lasso. Irónicamente, Lasso compite en la segunda vuelta del 11 de abril contra Andrés Arauz, uno de los arquitectos originales de las reformas que se realizaron en Ecuador en el área de los paraísos fiscales.  

Del artículo publicado en 2017 por CEPR:

En 2009, según la División de Corporaciones de Florida, Guillermo E. Lasso -el hijo del candidato- registró una LLC [limited liability company, o empresa de responsabilidad limitada] en Florida llamada Nora Investment US. Entre junio de 2009 y diciembre de 2010, la sociedad de cartera compró 59 propiedades, que todavía posee hoy, en el condado de Broward de Florida, según los registros disponibles públicamente. Las compras, en su mayoría condominios, ascendieron a 5,7 millones de dólares.

Pero esto fue sólo el comienzo. En 2011, se incorporaron dos nuevos directores a Nora Investment US: Miguel Macías y Euvenia Touriz. Ambos fueron anteriormente funcionarios del Banco Guayaquil, y ambos figuran actualmente como directores en el banco Banisi de Panamá que es propiedad de Lasso. Entre 2011 y 2013, Lasso (hijo del candidato), Macías y Touriz registraron 10 LLC en Florida en las que todos figuran como directores. Las LLC adicionales también se utilizaron para comprar propiedades en Florida.

En agosto de 2014, tras la implementación de nuevas regulaciones en Ecuador sobre los activos en el extranjero, el nombre del hijo de Lasso fue sistemáticamente eliminado como director de las 10 empresas, según muestran los registros públicos. Sin embargo, Macías y Touriz continuaron abriendo más sociedades holding. Es importante tener en cuenta que, aunque las sociedades de responsabilidad limitada incluya a los administradores, el llamado beneficiario efectivo -o verdadero propietario- queda oculto.

En junio de 2017, Macías y Touriz -asociados de Lasso de anteriores empresas fantasma y bancos- figuran como directivos en una empresa fantasma de nueva creación, DEBLEN USA 1, LLC. Dos meses después, la empresa compró una casa de lujo en Miami por 1,475 millones de dólares. No hay registro de una hipoteca, lo que sugiere que la compra probablemente se hizo en efectivo. A partir de 2018, sin embargo, tanto Macías como Touriz parecieron ser eliminados sistemáticamente como funcionarios de la gran mayoría de los registros corporativos de las empresas fantasma.

En 2020, la mayoría de las empresas fantasma previamente identificadas sufrieron innumerables cambios: desactivaciones, reactivaciones, renuncias de directores, cambios de nombre, fusiones y disoluciones. A muchas de las empresas se les cambió el nombre una semana después de su disolución. Todas las sociedades patrimoniales asociadas a Lasso, salvo cuatro, se han fusionado en nuevas entidades. En total, hemos identificado 23 empresas activas registradas en Florida, incluida DEBLEN USA 1, mencionada anteriormente, asociada a los socios comerciales de Lasso.

Tabla 1. Participaciones inmobiliarias actuales de las sociedades ficticias vinculadas a Lasso
Nombre de la Entidad Fecha de Registro Número de Propiedades Inmobiliarias Valor de la Propiedad en Florida
BROWARD TWO LLC 1/8/18 45 $8,229,770
BROWARD ONE LLC 1/8/18 50 $6,913,150
BRICKELL TWO LLC 1/8/18 6 $5,472,758
BRICKELL ONE LLC 1/8/18 5 $3,848,943
LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC 1/8/18 4 $3,629,950
NORA INVESTMENT UNO US 3/29/11 14 $2,740,000
DORAL LLC 1/8/18 10 $1,452,370
MALENA UNO US LLC 7/29/13 1 $683,636
MALENA US LLC 7/29/13 1 $680,288
Total   136 $33,650,865
Notes: Nora Investment Uno US ya no es una empresa activa, a pesar de seguir figurando como propietaria de 14 propiedades. Otras 15 empresas están actualmente activas, pero no parecen ser propietarias directas de bienes inmuebles en los condados de Miami-Dade o Broward.

Por ejemplo, en 2016, “BILL INVESTMENT CINCO US, LLC”, con Macías y Touriz que figuran como directores, compró una casa en Fort Lauderdale, Florida, por 2,2 millones de dólares. El propietario de esa casa figura ahora como “LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC”. Los registros corporativos muestran que Macías firmó el papeleo que autorizaba la fusión de una serie de empresas fantasma más antiguas en LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC y un puñado de otras corporaciones. Pero en lugar de Macías, el administrador de la empresa figura como “DIRECT MANAGEMENT LLC”. En algunas de las otras empresas, el gerente figura como “FREEDOM MANAGEMENT LLC”. En lugar de personas físicas, los únicos responsables de estas empresas recién creadas son otras empresas fantasma. En todas las empresas fusionadas figura ahora una de estas dos empresas como gerente.

Tanto “DIRECT MANAGEMENT LLC” como “FREEDOM MANAGEMENT LLC” están registradas en Delaware, otra jurisdicción tristemente célebre por su secreto empresarial. Curiosamente, los registros corporativos de Delaware revelan que ambas empresas fueron creadas en la misma fecha: el 18 de diciembre de 2017. La remodelación corporativa de Florida comenzó poco después.

Aunque los socios de Lasso ya no aparecen en los registros corporativos, no cabe duda de que el propietario real de las propiedades no ha cambiado. De las 144 propiedades que poseían las empresas en 2017, 10 fueron vendidas y en 16 sigue figurando la empresa fantasma original como propietaria. En el caso de las propiedades restantes, aunque el nombre del propietario cambió, el propietario real no lo hizo. Aquí, es importante aclarar que, como es la naturaleza de las empresas fantasma, el “beneficiario real” del activo sigue siendo totalmente secreto.

Dos de las sociedades fantasma vinculadas a Lasso realizaron nuevas compras de bienes inmuebles en 2020: BRICKELL ONE LLC y BRICKELL TWO LLC. Los registros inmobiliarios de Florida muestran que la primera, BRICKELL ONE, es a su vez el resultado de una fusión de cuatro empresas ficticias diferentes: NORA INVESTMENT CINCO, NORA INVESTMENT SEIS, NORA INVESTMENT SIETE y NORA INVESTMENT NUEVE. La primera compra fue de un condominio de 665.000 dólares en abril de 2020. La segunda tuvo lugar en octubre de 2020.

La empresa fantasma BRICKELL ONE LLC pagó 1,25 millones de dólares a finales del otoño pasado por un apartamento en Coral Gables. El tasador de propiedades de Miami-Dade evaluó la casa con un valor de sólo 734.894 dólares en 2020. Curiosamente, el vendedor de esa vivienda era Miguel Macías, que había comprado la casa en enero de 2016 por 900.000 dólares. Eso plantea preguntas adicionales. Por ejemplo, ¿por qué una empresa fantasma que Macías había gestionado anteriormente le compraría entonces una vivienda por un precio muy superior al aparente valor de mercado?

La operación inmobiliaria más significativa, sin embargo, implicó la compra en 2017 de la casa de lujo en Miami por parte de DEBLEN USA 1 LLC. En agosto de 2020, apenas tres años después de la compra, la vivienda se vendió por 5 millones de dólares. Curiosamente, la empresa fantasma proporcionó al comprador una hipoteca de 2,25 millones de dólares. DEBLEN no es la única empresa que se ha metido en el negocio hipotecario. GLOBAL EQUITY SEVEN LLC, según los registros de Florida, es actualmente el prestamista de siete hipotecas por un total de 1,2 millones de dólares. Parece que las empresas fantasma han pasado de ser simples propietarias de bienes inmuebles a actuar como prestamistas directos en el estado de Florida.

En general, como puede verse en la Tabla 1, hemos identificado 136 propiedades de empresas fantasma asociadas a Lasso. Sin duda es posible que haya otras que permanezcan ocultas. En conjunto, las que hemos identificado tienen un valor de mercado actual de 33 millones de dólares, según los registros de propiedad de los condados de Miami-Dade y Broward. Además, las empresas fantasma actualmente activas poseen los 3,45 millones de dólares en hipotecas.

Aunque el nombre de Guillermo Lasso no aparece directamente en ninguno de los registros corporativos o inmobiliarios del sur de Florida, la implicación de miembros de la familia y socios comerciales cercanos, así como los recientes movimientos hacia un anonimato aún mayor, ciertamente plantean preguntas sobre la implicación del candidato. Sin embargo, las conexiones que Lasso puede tener con las empresas fantasma de Florida están lejos de ser las únicas preguntas sobre sus actividades financieras en el exterior.

El otoño pasado, el partido Unión por la Esperanza (UNES) de Arauz impugnó la legalidad de la candidatura de Lasso basándose en la legislación implementada tras el referéndum sobre el paraíso fiscal de 2017. La ley electoral actualizada impide que cualquier persona que tenga activos en un paraíso fiscal se presente como candidato a un cargo público. La denuncia citaba una investigación de 2017 del diario argentino Página/12 que documentaba los vínculos de Lasso con decenas de empresas pantalla y un banco panameño.

En 2017, Lasso admitió que era dueño del banco panameño, Banisi S.A. Sin embargo, el CNE rechazó la denuncia. El banco sigue operando en la actualidad con Macías y Touriz que figuran como directores, así como dos de los hijos de Lasso. Banisi tiene un capital que asciende a 60,4 millones de dólares, según la Superintendencia de Bancos de Panamá.

Una cosa no ha cambiado desde 2017: los medios de comunicación -tanto internacionales como ecuatorianos- han decidido ignorar por completo las posesiones financieras en el extranjero de Lasso. En abril de 2017, la Superintendencia de Información y Comunicación de Ecuador multó a siete medios de comunicación con 3.750 dólares cada uno por no informar sobre la investigación de Página/12. En los años posteriores, el actual presidente de Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, también ha sido implicado en el uso de paraísos fiscales en el llamado escándalo de los Papeles del INA. Moreno ha negado cualquier delito. Aunque Moreno se había presentado contra Lasso en 2017, ha parecido favorecer al banquero frente a Arauz en 2021.

Descargo de responsabilidad: Andrés Arauz ha trabajado anteriormente como investigador principal en el CEPR.

This article can be read in Spanish here.

In March 2017, ahead of Ecuador’s second-round presidential election, CEPR reported that Florida-based shell companies linked to then-candidate Guillermo Lasso owned 144 properties in Broward and Miami-Dade counties valued at over $30 million. In that election, voters approved a referendum barring politicians and civil servants from holding assets in tax havens and giving them one year to divest or transfer their holdings. Though Florida is not included among the list of tax havens, it is considered a “low tax jurisdiction,” which authorities will handle on a case-by-case basis.

Four years later, Ecuador is again headed to a second-round presidential vote, with Lasso on the ballot. While additional layers of anonymity have been introduced in order to further hide ownership, a review of corporate and real estate records in Florida shows the Lasso-linked shell companies’ holdings have increased since 2017, raising questions over the legality of Lasso’s candidacy. Ironically, Lasso is competing in the April 11 run-off vote against Andrés Arauz, one of the original architects of Ecuador’s tax haven reforms.

From CEPR’s 2017 report:

In 2009, according to the Florida Division of Corporations, Guillermo E. Lasso — the candidate’s son — registered an LLC in Florida called Nora Investment US. From June 2009 to December 2010, the holding company purchased 59 properties, which it still owns today, in Florida’s Broward County according to publicly available records. The purchases, mostly condos, totaled $5.7 million.

But this was just the beginning. In 2011, two new directors were added to Nora Investment US: Miguel Macias and Euvenia Touriz. Both were previously officials at Banco Guayaquil, and both are currently listed as directors at the Banisi bank in Panama that is owned by Lasso. From 2011 to 2013, Lasso (the candidate’s son), Macias, and Touriz registered 10 LLCs in Florida in which they are all listed as directors. The additional LLCs were also used to purchase properties in Florida.

In August 2014, following Ecuador’s implementation of new regulations concerning offshore assets, Lasso’s son’s name was systematically removed as a director from all 10 companies, the public records show. But Macias and Touriz continued to open additional holding companies. It is important to note that while LLCs list directors, the so-called beneficial owner — or true owner — is concealed.

In June 2017, Macias and Touriz — Lasso associates from prior shell companies and banks — were listed as officers on a newly created shell company, DEBLEN USA 1, LLC. Two months later, the company purchased a luxury home in Miami for $1.475 million. There is no record of a mortgage, suggesting that the purchase was likely made in cash. Beginning in 2018, however, both Macias and Touriz appeared to be systematically removed as officers from the vast majority of the shell companies’ corporate records.

In 2020, most of the previously identified shell companies went through myriad changes: deactivations, reactivations, officer resignations, name changes, mergers, and dissolutions. Many of the companies had their names changed within a week of their dissolution. All but four of the property-holding companies associated with Lasso have now been merged into new entities. In total, we identified 23 active companies registered in Florida, including DEBLEN USA 1, mentioned above, associated with Lasso’s business associates. 

Table 1. Current Real Estate Holdings of Lasso-Linked Shell Companies
Entity Name Date Registered Number of Real Estate Holdings Value of Florida Property
BROWARD TWO LLC 1/8/18 45 $8,229,770
BROWARD ONE LLC 1/8/18 50 $6,913,150
BRICKELL TWO LLC 1/8/18 6 $5,472,758
BRICKELL ONE LLC 1/8/18 5 $3,848,943
LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC 1/8/18 4 $3,629,950
NORA INVESTMENT UNO US 3/29/11 14 $2,740,000
DORAL LLC 1/8/18 10 $1,452,370
MALENA UNO US LLC 7/29/13 1 $683,636
MALENA US LLC 7/29/13 1 $680,288
Total   136 $33,650,865
Notes: Nora Investment Uno US is no longer an active company, despite still being listed as the owner of 14 properties. 15 additional companies are currently active, but do not appear to directly own real estate in Miami-Dade or Broward counties.

For example, in 2016, “BILL INVESTMENT CINCO US, LLC,” with Macias and Touriz listed as officers, purchased a home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for $2.2 million. The owner of that home is now listed as “LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC.” Corporate records show that Macias signed the paperwork authorizing the merger of a number of older shell companies into LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC and a handful of other corporations. But instead of Macias, the manager of the company is listed as “DIRECT MANAGEMENT LLC.” On some of the other companies, the manager is listed as “FREEDOM MANAGEMENT LLC.” Instead of individuals, the only officers of these newly created companies are additional shell companies. Every one of the merged companies now list one of these two companies as the manager.

Both “DIRECT MANAGEMENT LLC” and “FREEDOM MANAGEMENT LLC” are registered in Delaware, another jurisdiction infamous for its corporate secrecy. Interestingly, Delaware corporate records reveal that both of these companies were created on the same date: December 18, 2017. The Florida corporate reshuffling started shortly thereafter.

While Lasso’s associates no longer appear on the corporate records, there can be no doubt that the actual owner of the properties remains unchanged. Of the 144 properties owned by the companies in 2017, 10 were sold and 16 still list the original shell company as the owner. For the remaining properties, while the name of the owner changed, the actual owner did not. Here, it is important to clarify that, as is the nature with shell companies, the actual “beneficial owner” of the asset remains entirely secret.

Two of the Lasso-linked shells made new real estate purchases in 2020: BRICKELL ONE LLC and BRICKELL TWO LLC. Florida real estate records show that the former, BRICKELL ONE, is itself the result of a merger of four different shell companies: NORA INVESTMENT CINCO, NORA INVESTMENT SEIS, NORA INVESTMENT SIETE, and NORA INVESTMENT NUEVE. The first purchase was of a $665,000 condo in April 2020. The second took place in October 2020.

The shell company BRICKELL ONE LLC paid $1.25 million late last fall for a Coral Gables apartment. The Miami-Dade property appraiser assessed the house as worth just $734,894 in 2020. Interestingly, the seller of that home was Miguel Macias, who had purchased the home in January 2016 for $900,000. That raises additional questions. For example, why would a shell company Macias had previously managed then purchase a home from him for well above the apparent market value?

The most significant real estate deal, however, involved DEBLEN USA 1 LLC’s 2017 purchase of the luxury home in Miami. In August 2020, just three years after the purchase, the home was sold for $5 million. Curiously, the shell company provided the buyer with a $2.25 million mortgage. DEBLEN isn’t the only company that has moved into the mortgage business. GLOBAL EQUITY SEVEN LLC, according to Florida records, is currently the lender on seven mortgages totaling $1.2 million. It appears the shell companies have moved from being simply owners of real estate to serving as direct lenders in the state of Florida.

Overall, as can be seen in Table 1 above, we identified 136 properties owned by shell companies associated with Lasso. It is certainly possible there are others that remain hidden. Together, those identified have a current assessed market value of $33 million, according to Miami-Dade and Broward County property records. In addition, currently active shell companies hold the $3.45 million in mortgages.

Though Guillermo Lasso’s name does not appear directly on any of the south Florida corporate or real estate records, the involvement of family members and close business associates, as well as the recent moves toward even greater anonymity, certainly raises questions about the candidate’s involvement. The Florida connections are far from the only questions, however. 

Last fall, Arauz’s Union for Hope (UNES) party challenged the legality of Lasso’s candidacy based on legislation implemented following the tax haven referendum in 2017. The updated electoral law prevents anyone who holds assets in a fiscal paradise from presenting themselves as a candidate for public office. The complaint cited a 2017 investigation in Argentina’s Pagina/12 newspaper that documented Lasso’s ties to dozens of shell companies and a Panamanian bank. 

In 2017, Lasso admitted that he owned the bank, Banisi S.A. Nevertheless, the CNE rejected the complaint. The bank continues to operate today with both Macias and Touriz listed as directors as well as two of Lasso’s sons. Banisi has capital totaling $60.4 million, according to the Panamanian superintendency of banks.

One thing has not changed since 2017: the media — both international and Ecuadorian — are completely ignoring Lasso’s offshore financial holdings. In April 2017, Ecuador’s state superintendent of information and communication fined seven media outlets $3,750 each for not reporting on the Pagina/12 investigation. In the years since, the current president of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, has also been implicated in the use of tax havens in the so-called INA Papers scandal. Moreno has denied any wrongdoing. Though Moreno had run against Lasso in 2017, he has appeared to favor the banker over Arauz in 2021.

Disclaimer: Andrés Arauz has been previously employed as a Senior Research Fellow at CEPR.

This article can be read in Spanish here.

In March 2017, ahead of Ecuador’s second-round presidential election, CEPR reported that Florida-based shell companies linked to then-candidate Guillermo Lasso owned 144 properties in Broward and Miami-Dade counties valued at over $30 million. In that election, voters approved a referendum barring politicians and civil servants from holding assets in tax havens and giving them one year to divest or transfer their holdings. Though Florida is not included among the list of tax havens, it is considered a “low tax jurisdiction,” which authorities will handle on a case-by-case basis.

Four years later, Ecuador is again headed to a second-round presidential vote, with Lasso on the ballot. While additional layers of anonymity have been introduced in order to further hide ownership, a review of corporate and real estate records in Florida shows the Lasso-linked shell companies’ holdings have increased since 2017, raising questions over the legality of Lasso’s candidacy. Ironically, Lasso is competing in the April 11 run-off vote against Andrés Arauz, one of the original architects of Ecuador’s tax haven reforms.

From CEPR’s 2017 report:

In 2009, according to the Florida Division of Corporations, Guillermo E. Lasso — the candidate’s son — registered an LLC in Florida called Nora Investment US. From June 2009 to December 2010, the holding company purchased 59 properties, which it still owns today, in Florida’s Broward County according to publicly available records. The purchases, mostly condos, totaled $5.7 million.

But this was just the beginning. In 2011, two new directors were added to Nora Investment US: Miguel Macias and Euvenia Touriz. Both were previously officials at Banco Guayaquil, and both are currently listed as directors at the Banisi bank in Panama that is owned by Lasso. From 2011 to 2013, Lasso (the candidate’s son), Macias, and Touriz registered 10 LLCs in Florida in which they are all listed as directors. The additional LLCs were also used to purchase properties in Florida.

In August 2014, following Ecuador’s implementation of new regulations concerning offshore assets, Lasso’s son’s name was systematically removed as a director from all 10 companies, the public records show. But Macias and Touriz continued to open additional holding companies. It is important to note that while LLCs list directors, the so-called beneficial owner — or true owner — is concealed.

In June 2017, Macias and Touriz — Lasso associates from prior shell companies and banks — were listed as officers on a newly created shell company, DEBLEN USA 1, LLC. Two months later, the company purchased a luxury home in Miami for $1.475 million. There is no record of a mortgage, suggesting that the purchase was likely made in cash. Beginning in 2018, however, both Macias and Touriz appeared to be systematically removed as officers from the vast majority of the shell companies’ corporate records.

In 2020, most of the previously identified shell companies went through myriad changes: deactivations, reactivations, officer resignations, name changes, mergers, and dissolutions. Many of the companies had their names changed within a week of their dissolution. All but four of the property-holding companies associated with Lasso have now been merged into new entities. In total, we identified 23 active companies registered in Florida, including DEBLEN USA 1, mentioned above, associated with Lasso’s business associates. 

Table 1. Current Real Estate Holdings of Lasso-Linked Shell Companies
Entity Name Date Registered Number of Real Estate Holdings Value of Florida Property
BROWARD TWO LLC 1/8/18 45 $8,229,770
BROWARD ONE LLC 1/8/18 50 $6,913,150
BRICKELL TWO LLC 1/8/18 6 $5,472,758
BRICKELL ONE LLC 1/8/18 5 $3,848,943
LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC 1/8/18 4 $3,629,950
NORA INVESTMENT UNO US 3/29/11 14 $2,740,000
DORAL LLC 1/8/18 10 $1,452,370
MALENA UNO US LLC 7/29/13 1 $683,636
MALENA US LLC 7/29/13 1 $680,288
Total   136 $33,650,865
Notes: Nora Investment Uno US is no longer an active company, despite still being listed as the owner of 14 properties. 15 additional companies are currently active, but do not appear to directly own real estate in Miami-Dade or Broward counties.

For example, in 2016, “BILL INVESTMENT CINCO US, LLC,” with Macias and Touriz listed as officers, purchased a home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for $2.2 million. The owner of that home is now listed as “LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC.” Corporate records show that Macias signed the paperwork authorizing the merger of a number of older shell companies into LOCAL EQUITY THREE LLC and a handful of other corporations. But instead of Macias, the manager of the company is listed as “DIRECT MANAGEMENT LLC.” On some of the other companies, the manager is listed as “FREEDOM MANAGEMENT LLC.” Instead of individuals, the only officers of these newly created companies are additional shell companies. Every one of the merged companies now list one of these two companies as the manager.

Both “DIRECT MANAGEMENT LLC” and “FREEDOM MANAGEMENT LLC” are registered in Delaware, another jurisdiction infamous for its corporate secrecy. Interestingly, Delaware corporate records reveal that both of these companies were created on the same date: December 18, 2017. The Florida corporate reshuffling started shortly thereafter.

While Lasso’s associates no longer appear on the corporate records, there can be no doubt that the actual owner of the properties remains unchanged. Of the 144 properties owned by the companies in 2017, 10 were sold and 16 still list the original shell company as the owner. For the remaining properties, while the name of the owner changed, the actual owner did not. Here, it is important to clarify that, as is the nature with shell companies, the actual “beneficial owner” of the asset remains entirely secret.

Two of the Lasso-linked shells made new real estate purchases in 2020: BRICKELL ONE LLC and BRICKELL TWO LLC. Florida real estate records show that the former, BRICKELL ONE, is itself the result of a merger of four different shell companies: NORA INVESTMENT CINCO, NORA INVESTMENT SEIS, NORA INVESTMENT SIETE, and NORA INVESTMENT NUEVE. The first purchase was of a $665,000 condo in April 2020. The second took place in October 2020.

The shell company BRICKELL ONE LLC paid $1.25 million late last fall for a Coral Gables apartment. The Miami-Dade property appraiser assessed the house as worth just $734,894 in 2020. Interestingly, the seller of that home was Miguel Macias, who had purchased the home in January 2016 for $900,000. That raises additional questions. For example, why would a shell company Macias had previously managed then purchase a home from him for well above the apparent market value?

The most significant real estate deal, however, involved DEBLEN USA 1 LLC’s 2017 purchase of the luxury home in Miami. In August 2020, just three years after the purchase, the home was sold for $5 million. Curiously, the shell company provided the buyer with a $2.25 million mortgage. DEBLEN isn’t the only company that has moved into the mortgage business. GLOBAL EQUITY SEVEN LLC, according to Florida records, is currently the lender on seven mortgages totaling $1.2 million. It appears the shell companies have moved from being simply owners of real estate to serving as direct lenders in the state of Florida.

Overall, as can be seen in Table 1 above, we identified 136 properties owned by shell companies associated with Lasso. It is certainly possible there are others that remain hidden. Together, those identified have a current assessed market value of $33 million, according to Miami-Dade and Broward County property records. In addition, currently active shell companies hold the $3.45 million in mortgages.

Though Guillermo Lasso’s name does not appear directly on any of the south Florida corporate or real estate records, the involvement of family members and close business associates, as well as the recent moves toward even greater anonymity, certainly raises questions about the candidate’s involvement. The Florida connections are far from the only questions, however. 

Last fall, Arauz’s Union for Hope (UNES) party challenged the legality of Lasso’s candidacy based on legislation implemented following the tax haven referendum in 2017. The updated electoral law prevents anyone who holds assets in a fiscal paradise from presenting themselves as a candidate for public office. The complaint cited a 2017 investigation in Argentina’s Pagina/12 newspaper that documented Lasso’s ties to dozens of shell companies and a Panamanian bank. 

In 2017, Lasso admitted that he owned the bank, Banisi S.A. Nevertheless, the CNE rejected the complaint. The bank continues to operate today with both Macias and Touriz listed as directors as well as two of Lasso’s sons. Banisi has capital totaling $60.4 million, according to the Panamanian superintendency of banks.

One thing has not changed since 2017: the media — both international and Ecuadorian — are completely ignoring Lasso’s offshore financial holdings. In April 2017, Ecuador’s state superintendent of information and communication fined seven media outlets $3,750 each for not reporting on the Pagina/12 investigation. In the years since, the current president of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, has also been implicated in the use of tax havens in the so-called INA Papers scandal. Moreno has denied any wrongdoing. Though Moreno had run against Lasso in 2017, he has appeared to favor the banker over Arauz in 2021.

Disclaimer: Andrés Arauz has been previously employed as a Senior Research Fellow at CEPR.

In testimony earlier this month, Admiral Craig S. Faller told Congress: “This Hemisphere in which we live is under assault.… We are losing our positional advantage in this Hemisphere and immediate action is needed to reverse this trend.” Faller was appointed commander of the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM, responsible for overseeing US military activities in Latin America) by the Trump administration in 2018, despite his ties to a notoriously corrupt defense contractor. On March 16 of this year, he spoke at a Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing on the FY 2022 military budget. Hearings of this kind often serve as a platform for government officials to argue for larger budgets by highlighting both their agency’s successes and remaining challenges.

Given this context, the general thrust of Admiral Faller’s testimony is unsurprising: the US is under attack, and SOUTHCOM is defending it valiantly, but will need even more money to keep doing so. “The very democratic principles and values that bind us together,” he argues in the written version of his testimony, “are being actively undermined by violent transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and [China] and Russia.” Iran also aims to “take advantage of the nascent, fragile democracies in the region and look to exploit the region’s resources and proximity to the United States.” Finally, “malign regional actors” are “opening the door” to foreign influence and criminal organizations. However, Faller offered little evidence that these threats are really as dire as he made them out to be.

Despite describing Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela as “malign regional actors,” and Iran as one of several “threats,” these four countries take up just 2 of the 22 pages in Faller’s written testimony, filled mostly with details like an Iranian-run Spanish-language news channel in the region (the US runs one as well). Of the seven sentences in the Venezuela section, six describe the country’s humanitarian crisis and don’t even attempt to portray it as a threat. Though US-Venezuela sanctions policy relies on the White House officially describing Venezuela as “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” SOUTHCOM apparently has little to share about how this could be true.

According to Faller, “transnational criminal organizations” are a serious security threat in the region, but even here his analysis is misfocused. The role of Central American cartels in widespread violence and the forced displacement of nearly half a million people are barely unmentioned. But he does mention the minor regional footprint of Hezbollah, despite that the group is allegedly implanted in the Triple Frontier region of South America, more than 3,500 miles from US soil. Only two criminal groups based in the Western Hemisphere are mentioned by name: a pair of Colombian left-wing guerrilla groups which, Faller claims, have close ties to the Maduro government in Venezuela (though no strong evidence of this has yet emerged).

The real subjects of Faller’s testimony were China and Russia, which are viewed through a Cold War-era framing of great power competition to justify high levels of US defense spending. In the written version of his testimony, Faller mentions China 26 times (more than any nation actually in Latin America), and the Russian government 14 times. 

Faller’s spoken testimony was less restrained than his written one, arguing: “the Chinese Communist Party, with its insidious and corrupt influence, seeks regional and global economic dominance and its own version of a rules-based international order.” As Fareed Zakaria recently put it, we are in a “new age of bloated Pentagon budgets, all to be justified by the great Chinese threat.” Observers have noted that this sort of Cold War rhetoric fuels discrimination and violence against Asian Americans; it is also detached from reality.

Faller first claims that China and Russia “are taking advantage of the pandemic” to “gain more access, presence, and influence in the region.” The impacts of COVID-19, he says, “creates a more fragile region that serves as fertile ground for our competitors to advance their interests, both malign and legitimate…” This argument portrays ending the pandemic as a competitive endeavor rather than a cooperative one, and implies that China and Russia are acting aggressively against the US when they seek to address needs in Latin America that the US has neglected. As Faller acknowledges: “If the U.S. wants to be the partner of choice — that means being first to respond in a crisis.”

Though SOUTHCOM engaged in some humanitarian relief efforts during the pandemic, from field hospitals to the provision of PPE, the overall US response in Latin America has been poor. In the critical early months, the US government may have actually accelerated the pandemic’s spread throughout the region through frequent deportations of infected individuals. The US then withdrew funding for both the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization when these multilateral organizations most needed funds to help developing countries combat the pandemic. Though US policymakers have recently begun putting greater emphasis on international aid, US assistance to the region was slow in coming. From February to August 2020, the US pledged only $141.5 million to all of Latin America in COVID-related aid (equivalent to 2.3 percent of the total US annual military aid budget).

Once vaccines became available, the US hoarded global supplies and sided with Big Pharma in helping to block other countries from manufacturing their own generic vaccines. The US initially refused to share its stockpiles with even the neighboring nation of Mexico, and now appears to be using them as leverage in getting Mexico to stop migrants from reaching the US border. The US government also pressured Brazil not to accept the Russian vaccine, as doing so would be to the “detriment of U.S. safety and security.” 

The reason nations like Brazil are now turning to China for vaccines is not Chinese aggression, but the counterproductive “vaccine nationalism” of US policy. The same applies to matters of finance: when the US fails to step up and provide the region with the help needed, Chinese assistance becomes a logical substitute. Like many other national security threats, the problem here lies not in Beijing or Moscow, but in Washington.

Outside of COVID-19, Faller presents a long list of actions through which China and Russia are growing their influence in Latin America. But the United States is also doing most of the things on Faller’s list. The US is presumed to have rightful hegemony over Latin America, “our neighborhood,” a perspective that dates to the Monroe Doctrine and suggests that China and Russia’s actions are a threat not to Latin American sovereignty, but to US sovereignty over Latin America. 

Faller notes that China and Russia have moved to expand their limited military presence in Latin America. Russia has more than doubled its naval deployments in the region, to a total of 11 in the years 2015 to 2020. We lack precise numbers on SOUTHCOM’s naval deployments over this period, but there is reason to assume they were far greater. SOUTHCOM press releases mention at least five instances of US military ships deployed in the region in 2019 alone: in May, in June twice, and in September, twice, not including aircraft-based deployments. The year 2020 also featured many US naval deployments, including those aimed at pressuring Venezuela and deterring China and Russia.

We are told that China is seeking ways to “establish global logistics and basing infrastructure in our hemisphere.” (Emphasis added.) China and Russia combined have zero military bases in Latin America (unless we include a secretive space station built as a joint venture between China and Argentina). The US military, on the other hand, has some form of enduring presence in over a dozen Latin American nations. 

China’s trade with Latin America is growing at an impressive pace, and Faller points out that it “is now the region’s second-largest trading partner behind the U.S.” It isn’t clear why trade competition is inherently malevolent, but even with this aside, China’s second-place position doesn’t match even half the US trade with Latin America, in terms of total trade. China has three trade agreements in the region, and the US has 11. 

Faller describes China’s Belt and Road Initiative as “a concerted effort by Beijing to indebt fragile countries in the region, impinge on our partners’ and allies’ sovereignty, and use its influence to extract concessions when needed.” Aside from the fact that these claims are questionable, it’s worth noting that the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, where the US wields disproportionate influence, have been criticized for imposing harmful conditionalities on developing countries for decades.

Russia is selling weapons to Latin America, but the US is the world’s largest arms dealer by far; in fact, Russia and China’s arms sales are shrinking, while US sales are growing. Under Trump, it became even easier for US weapons to wind up in the hands of criminal organizations and human rights abusers in Latin America.

The US government has provided military assistance to Latin American security forces for decades longer than China has, and in far greater amounts. Though Faller contrasts Russian military training with (much-larger) US training programs that he says include “values like respect for human rights and the rule of law,” US-backed forces have committed human rights violations in the region for well over a century. Faller even mentions a US Army unit “currently training Colombian and Honduran forces” in counternarcotics operations, two countries that have received massive US security assistance and where security forces have long and ongoing records of committing human rights abuses. 

Faller’s credibility on human rights becomes particularly questionable when he claims that the US base at Guantanamo Bay “continues to conduct safe, legal, and humane detention operations.” Earlier this year, UN human rights experts described it as “a place of arbitrariness and abuse, a site where torture and ill-treatment was rampant and remains institutionalised, where the rule of law is effectively suspended, and where justice is denied.”

Lastly, Faller criticizes Russia and China for their disinformation campaigns in the region. Such “fake news” efforts are a large and growing problem in Latin America, and one to which the US contributes. In recent years, US companies have engaged in large-scale disinformation campaigns across the region. Despite recent cuts, the US also continues to spend millions every year on an Office of Cuba Broadcasting, whose news programming has been described by a US government review as “ineffective propaganda.”

Faller’s analysis only makes sense through a lens of extreme US exceptionalism in which an action is good when the US does it, but bad when others do it. When Cuba sends doctors abroad to provide much-needed assistance, it’s because they are trying “to build international goodwill and gain back door access to undermine fragile democracies.” But when the US, which has an actual history of “undermin[ing] fragile democracies,” engages in largely identical medical diplomacy missions, it’s simply to provide “relevant and timely support to our partners and demonstrate our commitment to the region.”

Faller argues that “we must build OUR team to win this strategic competition.” How? “To put it simply, we outcompete bad guys by being the good guys. While our adversaries look for opportunities to extract, we look for ways to build up.” 

If the US wants to be the “good guys” in Latin America, it should start by putting the region’s interests first. This means pursuing a strategy of regional cooperation to provide hemispheric neighbors with support they actually want, without conditions — not by more funding for counterproductive operations by the military and other security agencies focused on reaffirming US hegemony.

In testimony earlier this month, Admiral Craig S. Faller told Congress: “This Hemisphere in which we live is under assault.… We are losing our positional advantage in this Hemisphere and immediate action is needed to reverse this trend.” Faller was appointed commander of the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM, responsible for overseeing US military activities in Latin America) by the Trump administration in 2018, despite his ties to a notoriously corrupt defense contractor. On March 16 of this year, he spoke at a Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing on the FY 2022 military budget. Hearings of this kind often serve as a platform for government officials to argue for larger budgets by highlighting both their agency’s successes and remaining challenges.

Given this context, the general thrust of Admiral Faller’s testimony is unsurprising: the US is under attack, and SOUTHCOM is defending it valiantly, but will need even more money to keep doing so. “The very democratic principles and values that bind us together,” he argues in the written version of his testimony, “are being actively undermined by violent transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and [China] and Russia.” Iran also aims to “take advantage of the nascent, fragile democracies in the region and look to exploit the region’s resources and proximity to the United States.” Finally, “malign regional actors” are “opening the door” to foreign influence and criminal organizations. However, Faller offered little evidence that these threats are really as dire as he made them out to be.

Despite describing Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela as “malign regional actors,” and Iran as one of several “threats,” these four countries take up just 2 of the 22 pages in Faller’s written testimony, filled mostly with details like an Iranian-run Spanish-language news channel in the region (the US runs one as well). Of the seven sentences in the Venezuela section, six describe the country’s humanitarian crisis and don’t even attempt to portray it as a threat. Though US-Venezuela sanctions policy relies on the White House officially describing Venezuela as “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” SOUTHCOM apparently has little to share about how this could be true.

According to Faller, “transnational criminal organizations” are a serious security threat in the region, but even here his analysis is misfocused. The role of Central American cartels in widespread violence and the forced displacement of nearly half a million people are barely unmentioned. But he does mention the minor regional footprint of Hezbollah, despite that the group is allegedly implanted in the Triple Frontier region of South America, more than 3,500 miles from US soil. Only two criminal groups based in the Western Hemisphere are mentioned by name: a pair of Colombian left-wing guerrilla groups which, Faller claims, have close ties to the Maduro government in Venezuela (though no strong evidence of this has yet emerged).

The real subjects of Faller’s testimony were China and Russia, which are viewed through a Cold War-era framing of great power competition to justify high levels of US defense spending. In the written version of his testimony, Faller mentions China 26 times (more than any nation actually in Latin America), and the Russian government 14 times. 

Faller’s spoken testimony was less restrained than his written one, arguing: “the Chinese Communist Party, with its insidious and corrupt influence, seeks regional and global economic dominance and its own version of a rules-based international order.” As Fareed Zakaria recently put it, we are in a “new age of bloated Pentagon budgets, all to be justified by the great Chinese threat.” Observers have noted that this sort of Cold War rhetoric fuels discrimination and violence against Asian Americans; it is also detached from reality.

Faller first claims that China and Russia “are taking advantage of the pandemic” to “gain more access, presence, and influence in the region.” The impacts of COVID-19, he says, “creates a more fragile region that serves as fertile ground for our competitors to advance their interests, both malign and legitimate…” This argument portrays ending the pandemic as a competitive endeavor rather than a cooperative one, and implies that China and Russia are acting aggressively against the US when they seek to address needs in Latin America that the US has neglected. As Faller acknowledges: “If the U.S. wants to be the partner of choice — that means being first to respond in a crisis.”

Though SOUTHCOM engaged in some humanitarian relief efforts during the pandemic, from field hospitals to the provision of PPE, the overall US response in Latin America has been poor. In the critical early months, the US government may have actually accelerated the pandemic’s spread throughout the region through frequent deportations of infected individuals. The US then withdrew funding for both the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization when these multilateral organizations most needed funds to help developing countries combat the pandemic. Though US policymakers have recently begun putting greater emphasis on international aid, US assistance to the region was slow in coming. From February to August 2020, the US pledged only $141.5 million to all of Latin America in COVID-related aid (equivalent to 2.3 percent of the total US annual military aid budget).

Once vaccines became available, the US hoarded global supplies and sided with Big Pharma in helping to block other countries from manufacturing their own generic vaccines. The US initially refused to share its stockpiles with even the neighboring nation of Mexico, and now appears to be using them as leverage in getting Mexico to stop migrants from reaching the US border. The US government also pressured Brazil not to accept the Russian vaccine, as doing so would be to the “detriment of U.S. safety and security.” 

The reason nations like Brazil are now turning to China for vaccines is not Chinese aggression, but the counterproductive “vaccine nationalism” of US policy. The same applies to matters of finance: when the US fails to step up and provide the region with the help needed, Chinese assistance becomes a logical substitute. Like many other national security threats, the problem here lies not in Beijing or Moscow, but in Washington.

Outside of COVID-19, Faller presents a long list of actions through which China and Russia are growing their influence in Latin America. But the United States is also doing most of the things on Faller’s list. The US is presumed to have rightful hegemony over Latin America, “our neighborhood,” a perspective that dates to the Monroe Doctrine and suggests that China and Russia’s actions are a threat not to Latin American sovereignty, but to US sovereignty over Latin America. 

Faller notes that China and Russia have moved to expand their limited military presence in Latin America. Russia has more than doubled its naval deployments in the region, to a total of 11 in the years 2015 to 2020. We lack precise numbers on SOUTHCOM’s naval deployments over this period, but there is reason to assume they were far greater. SOUTHCOM press releases mention at least five instances of US military ships deployed in the region in 2019 alone: in May, in June twice, and in September, twice, not including aircraft-based deployments. The year 2020 also featured many US naval deployments, including those aimed at pressuring Venezuela and deterring China and Russia.

We are told that China is seeking ways to “establish global logistics and basing infrastructure in our hemisphere.” (Emphasis added.) China and Russia combined have zero military bases in Latin America (unless we include a secretive space station built as a joint venture between China and Argentina). The US military, on the other hand, has some form of enduring presence in over a dozen Latin American nations. 

China’s trade with Latin America is growing at an impressive pace, and Faller points out that it “is now the region’s second-largest trading partner behind the U.S.” It isn’t clear why trade competition is inherently malevolent, but even with this aside, China’s second-place position doesn’t match even half the US trade with Latin America, in terms of total trade. China has three trade agreements in the region, and the US has 11. 

Faller describes China’s Belt and Road Initiative as “a concerted effort by Beijing to indebt fragile countries in the region, impinge on our partners’ and allies’ sovereignty, and use its influence to extract concessions when needed.” Aside from the fact that these claims are questionable, it’s worth noting that the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, where the US wields disproportionate influence, have been criticized for imposing harmful conditionalities on developing countries for decades.

Russia is selling weapons to Latin America, but the US is the world’s largest arms dealer by far; in fact, Russia and China’s arms sales are shrinking, while US sales are growing. Under Trump, it became even easier for US weapons to wind up in the hands of criminal organizations and human rights abusers in Latin America.

The US government has provided military assistance to Latin American security forces for decades longer than China has, and in far greater amounts. Though Faller contrasts Russian military training with (much-larger) US training programs that he says include “values like respect for human rights and the rule of law,” US-backed forces have committed human rights violations in the region for well over a century. Faller even mentions a US Army unit “currently training Colombian and Honduran forces” in counternarcotics operations, two countries that have received massive US security assistance and where security forces have long and ongoing records of committing human rights abuses. 

Faller’s credibility on human rights becomes particularly questionable when he claims that the US base at Guantanamo Bay “continues to conduct safe, legal, and humane detention operations.” Earlier this year, UN human rights experts described it as “a place of arbitrariness and abuse, a site where torture and ill-treatment was rampant and remains institutionalised, where the rule of law is effectively suspended, and where justice is denied.”

Lastly, Faller criticizes Russia and China for their disinformation campaigns in the region. Such “fake news” efforts are a large and growing problem in Latin America, and one to which the US contributes. In recent years, US companies have engaged in large-scale disinformation campaigns across the region. Despite recent cuts, the US also continues to spend millions every year on an Office of Cuba Broadcasting, whose news programming has been described by a US government review as “ineffective propaganda.”

Faller’s analysis only makes sense through a lens of extreme US exceptionalism in which an action is good when the US does it, but bad when others do it. When Cuba sends doctors abroad to provide much-needed assistance, it’s because they are trying “to build international goodwill and gain back door access to undermine fragile democracies.” But when the US, which has an actual history of “undermin[ing] fragile democracies,” engages in largely identical medical diplomacy missions, it’s simply to provide “relevant and timely support to our partners and demonstrate our commitment to the region.”

Faller argues that “we must build OUR team to win this strategic competition.” How? “To put it simply, we outcompete bad guys by being the good guys. While our adversaries look for opportunities to extract, we look for ways to build up.” 

If the US wants to be the “good guys” in Latin America, it should start by putting the region’s interests first. This means pursuing a strategy of regional cooperation to provide hemispheric neighbors with support they actually want, without conditions — not by more funding for counterproductive operations by the military and other security agencies focused on reaffirming US hegemony.

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See also Part I: “How a Colombian Ex-President Went to Bat for Trump in Florida” 

The previous piece in this series explored how key right-wing Colombian political figures, namely President Iván Duque, ex-president Álvaro Uribe, and several senators from the ruling Centro Democrático Party, acted to influence the US elections in Florida last year in favor of Donald Trump and the GOP. Just months after this interference in the US elections, the same political forces in Colombia are now attempting to affect the outcome of Ecuador’s presidential contest, which will be decided by a runoff scheduled for April 11. 

This latest example of Colombian political intervention began on January 30, a week before the first round of Ecuador’s presidential and legislative elections. That day, the right-wing Colombian magazine Semana, which is closely aligned with uribismo (the rightwing movement led by former president Uribe) and which models its journalism on Fox News, published an explosive article claiming that the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) — a guerrilla movement at war with the Colombian government — donated $80,000 to Andrés Arauz’s presidential campaign. Further, the magazine alleged that the transaction was facilitated by Ecuador’s former president Rafael Correa, who is currently exiled in Belgium. The claims are supposedly based on the private digital files of ELN leader Andrés Felipe Vanegas Londoño, known by the nom de guerre “Uriel,” which the military claims to have obtained in a Colombian military raid on an ELN encampment.

Problems emerged immediately, however, with the account published in Semana. According to the magazine’s sources, the ELN donation to Arauz’s campaign was coordinated during a September 2020 conference hosted by the Progressive International (PI), which counts Arauz and Correa among its council members, along with a number of other well-known left-leaning figures including Brazil’s former foreign minister Celso Amorim, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, intellectuals Naomi Klein, Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and actors Gael García Bernal and John Cusack. The event took place entirely online and can be viewed here. There is no plausible manner in which the alleged donation could have been coordinated during the event, which was at all times live-streamed. PI posted a statement categorically rejecting the allegations and noting that the group has no association of any kind with the ELN and that no ELN members were present at the event. 

If any additional proof were needed of the fabricated nature of the ELN funding narrative, a video showing supposed ELN members endorsing Arauz and then firing their weapons in the air was met with heavy skepticism when a bird non-native to Colombia was heard whistling in the video. According to the ornithologist who pointed out the inconsistency, “the video could not have been filmed in Colombia.” 

Despite their implausibility, the accusations of ELN funding have been heavily covered in Ecuadorian media, which is generally hostile toward Arauz’s candidacy. Likewise, Ecuador’s current president, Lenín Moreno, who has gone to great lengths to bar both Arauz and Correa from the ballot, recently sought to lend credence to the allegations. While the smears continue to be treated as serious “news” by the Ecuadorian press, even Semana’s director has admitted that they may be false, stating: “I want to make it absolutely clear, I am not saying that this information is absolutely certain.” Meanwhile, some independent media outlets have called attention to the conveniently timed nature of these revelations and pointed out that other left politicians in the region — including Correa — have been accused of connections to Colombian guerrillas based on similarly dubious “seized” computer files. It is conspicuous that, despite the initial media fervor around the Colombian government’s 2008 seizure of what has since been widely referred to as a “magic laptop,” even Correa’s most vociferous detractors in the US never mention the “evidence,” supposedly found in captured computer files, of his alleged connections to Colombian guerillas today. 

As in Florida ahead of the 2020 US elections, senior Colombian government officials are inserting themselves in Ecuador’s elections by promoting this smear campaign ahead of the upcoming second-round vote. It’s worth noting, first of all, that the alleged ELN files appear to have been leaked to Semana by Colombian government sources, though we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that Colombian officials quickly played proactive role in the smear campaign against Arauz. Colombia’s attorney general, Francisco Barbosa, traveled to Quito on February 12 to formally deliver “evidence” in the Uriel case to his Ecuadorian counterpart, Diana Salazar. The visit, taking place only days after the first round of Ecuador’s election, was condemned by many as an act of unjustified intervention, including Colombia’s ex-president Ernesto Samper, who called it a case of “foul play.”

Nevertheless, Salazar is conducting an official investigation that could potentially be used as a pretext to prosecute a future president Arauz and remove him from power were he to win the presidency; or perhaps even prevent him from running in the run-off election, despite having far more votes than the runner-up. Salazar’s short tenure as attorney general (she was appointed in April 2019) has been mired in controversy due to her decision to jail two high-profile Moreno opponents on dubious charges of “rebellion,” based on their support for the massive indigenous-led anti-government protests of October 2019.  Salazar also led efforts to prosecute former president Rafael Correa, resulting in an eight-year sentence against Correa based on charges of “psychic influence” over an alleged corruption ring. 

In spite of her controversial and seemingly politically-driven prosecutorial record, Salazar recently received an “anti-corruption” award from the US State Department. Were Salazar merely to announce charges against Arauz, it could undermine his candidacy, no matter how baseless the charges might be, and regardless of whether they lead to prosecution. 

Ecuador’s elections have also been rocked by allegations of fraud from the first round’s third-place finisher, Indigenous leader and Pachakutik party candidate, Yaku Pérez. Pérez, who finished with just 32,000 fewer votes than right-wing banker Guillermo Lasso, has spent weeks pushing for a recount while claiming massive fraud, to little success. Pérez’s allegations appear to stem from the fact that the early count put him in second place, but he finished third later in the vote count.  Therefore fraud must have taken place. This argument might sound familiar, and Ecuadorian political cartoonists have made the connection between Pérez’s “stop the steal” campaign and Donald Trump’s. Pérez’s third-place finish behind Lasso was predictable, and predicted, based on the geographic distribution of uncounted ballots following initial returns in the hours after polls closed on February 7. Nevertheless, Pérez has peddled an ill-conceived conspiracy theory that somehow the electoral authority, Arauz, Correa, and Lasso colluded to keep him from participating in the runoff. The CNE ultimately rejected Pérez’s appeal for an additional recount and an electoral court later rejected Pérez’s demand for a recount of 50 percent of the votes, noting that there was insufficient evidence to warrant the demand. 

Undeterred, Pérez appears to have endorsed one right-wing commentator’s call for the military to intervene in the elections in order to “prevent the return of Correísmo.” Pérez has shared, on social media, an El Comercio op-ed by Simón Espinosa Cordero, a member of Ecuador’s anti-corruption commission, calling for Ecuador’s armed forces to take control of the electoral process and force an immediate ruling on the alleged ELN financing of Arauz’s campaign. Espinosa’s op-ed cites the ELN allegation from Colombia as among the prime reasons for the military intervention, a point which Pérez reiterates in his own demands for the armed forces to intervene and force an immediate ruling on the alleged ELN financing. What is now clear is that multiple political forces in Colombia and Ecuador are making use of these smears to try and damage and even block the front-runner in his efforts to win the Ecuadorian presidency.

Colombia’s right-wing government has now intervened in both the 2020 US elections and in Ecuador’s 2021 elections, using red-baiting tactics to fear monger about “socialism” in Florida and to wage a smear campaign intended to tank the candidacy of the likely next president of Ecuador. This electoral interference could end up having significant implications for Ecuador’s relations with Colombia, and for the region more widely, which increasingly seems polarized between a resurgent “pink tide” and far-right governments and movements that appear to be continuing to receive support from the US government.

See also Part I: “How a Colombian Ex-President Went to Bat for Trump in Florida” 

The previous piece in this series explored how key right-wing Colombian political figures, namely President Iván Duque, ex-president Álvaro Uribe, and several senators from the ruling Centro Democrático Party, acted to influence the US elections in Florida last year in favor of Donald Trump and the GOP. Just months after this interference in the US elections, the same political forces in Colombia are now attempting to affect the outcome of Ecuador’s presidential contest, which will be decided by a runoff scheduled for April 11. 

This latest example of Colombian political intervention began on January 30, a week before the first round of Ecuador’s presidential and legislative elections. That day, the right-wing Colombian magazine Semana, which is closely aligned with uribismo (the rightwing movement led by former president Uribe) and which models its journalism on Fox News, published an explosive article claiming that the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) — a guerrilla movement at war with the Colombian government — donated $80,000 to Andrés Arauz’s presidential campaign. Further, the magazine alleged that the transaction was facilitated by Ecuador’s former president Rafael Correa, who is currently exiled in Belgium. The claims are supposedly based on the private digital files of ELN leader Andrés Felipe Vanegas Londoño, known by the nom de guerre “Uriel,” which the military claims to have obtained in a Colombian military raid on an ELN encampment.

Problems emerged immediately, however, with the account published in Semana. According to the magazine’s sources, the ELN donation to Arauz’s campaign was coordinated during a September 2020 conference hosted by the Progressive International (PI), which counts Arauz and Correa among its council members, along with a number of other well-known left-leaning figures including Brazil’s former foreign minister Celso Amorim, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, intellectuals Naomi Klein, Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and actors Gael García Bernal and John Cusack. The event took place entirely online and can be viewed here. There is no plausible manner in which the alleged donation could have been coordinated during the event, which was at all times live-streamed. PI posted a statement categorically rejecting the allegations and noting that the group has no association of any kind with the ELN and that no ELN members were present at the event. 

If any additional proof were needed of the fabricated nature of the ELN funding narrative, a video showing supposed ELN members endorsing Arauz and then firing their weapons in the air was met with heavy skepticism when a bird non-native to Colombia was heard whistling in the video. According to the ornithologist who pointed out the inconsistency, “the video could not have been filmed in Colombia.” 

Despite their implausibility, the accusations of ELN funding have been heavily covered in Ecuadorian media, which is generally hostile toward Arauz’s candidacy. Likewise, Ecuador’s current president, Lenín Moreno, who has gone to great lengths to bar both Arauz and Correa from the ballot, recently sought to lend credence to the allegations. While the smears continue to be treated as serious “news” by the Ecuadorian press, even Semana’s director has admitted that they may be false, stating: “I want to make it absolutely clear, I am not saying that this information is absolutely certain.” Meanwhile, some independent media outlets have called attention to the conveniently timed nature of these revelations and pointed out that other left politicians in the region — including Correa — have been accused of connections to Colombian guerrillas based on similarly dubious “seized” computer files. It is conspicuous that, despite the initial media fervor around the Colombian government’s 2008 seizure of what has since been widely referred to as a “magic laptop,” even Correa’s most vociferous detractors in the US never mention the “evidence,” supposedly found in captured computer files, of his alleged connections to Colombian guerillas today. 

As in Florida ahead of the 2020 US elections, senior Colombian government officials are inserting themselves in Ecuador’s elections by promoting this smear campaign ahead of the upcoming second-round vote. It’s worth noting, first of all, that the alleged ELN files appear to have been leaked to Semana by Colombian government sources, though we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that Colombian officials quickly played proactive role in the smear campaign against Arauz. Colombia’s attorney general, Francisco Barbosa, traveled to Quito on February 12 to formally deliver “evidence” in the Uriel case to his Ecuadorian counterpart, Diana Salazar. The visit, taking place only days after the first round of Ecuador’s election, was condemned by many as an act of unjustified intervention, including Colombia’s ex-president Ernesto Samper, who called it a case of “foul play.”

Nevertheless, Salazar is conducting an official investigation that could potentially be used as a pretext to prosecute a future president Arauz and remove him from power were he to win the presidency; or perhaps even prevent him from running in the run-off election, despite having far more votes than the runner-up. Salazar’s short tenure as attorney general (she was appointed in April 2019) has been mired in controversy due to her decision to jail two high-profile Moreno opponents on dubious charges of “rebellion,” based on their support for the massive indigenous-led anti-government protests of October 2019.  Salazar also led efforts to prosecute former president Rafael Correa, resulting in an eight-year sentence against Correa based on charges of “psychic influence” over an alleged corruption ring. 

In spite of her controversial and seemingly politically-driven prosecutorial record, Salazar recently received an “anti-corruption” award from the US State Department. Were Salazar merely to announce charges against Arauz, it could undermine his candidacy, no matter how baseless the charges might be, and regardless of whether they lead to prosecution. 

Ecuador’s elections have also been rocked by allegations of fraud from the first round’s third-place finisher, Indigenous leader and Pachakutik party candidate, Yaku Pérez. Pérez, who finished with just 32,000 fewer votes than right-wing banker Guillermo Lasso, has spent weeks pushing for a recount while claiming massive fraud, to little success. Pérez’s allegations appear to stem from the fact that the early count put him in second place, but he finished third later in the vote count.  Therefore fraud must have taken place. This argument might sound familiar, and Ecuadorian political cartoonists have made the connection between Pérez’s “stop the steal” campaign and Donald Trump’s. Pérez’s third-place finish behind Lasso was predictable, and predicted, based on the geographic distribution of uncounted ballots following initial returns in the hours after polls closed on February 7. Nevertheless, Pérez has peddled an ill-conceived conspiracy theory that somehow the electoral authority, Arauz, Correa, and Lasso colluded to keep him from participating in the runoff. The CNE ultimately rejected Pérez’s appeal for an additional recount and an electoral court later rejected Pérez’s demand for a recount of 50 percent of the votes, noting that there was insufficient evidence to warrant the demand. 

Undeterred, Pérez appears to have endorsed one right-wing commentator’s call for the military to intervene in the elections in order to “prevent the return of Correísmo.” Pérez has shared, on social media, an El Comercio op-ed by Simón Espinosa Cordero, a member of Ecuador’s anti-corruption commission, calling for Ecuador’s armed forces to take control of the electoral process and force an immediate ruling on the alleged ELN financing of Arauz’s campaign. Espinosa’s op-ed cites the ELN allegation from Colombia as among the prime reasons for the military intervention, a point which Pérez reiterates in his own demands for the armed forces to intervene and force an immediate ruling on the alleged ELN financing. What is now clear is that multiple political forces in Colombia and Ecuador are making use of these smears to try and damage and even block the front-runner in his efforts to win the Ecuadorian presidency.

Colombia’s right-wing government has now intervened in both the 2020 US elections and in Ecuador’s 2021 elections, using red-baiting tactics to fear monger about “socialism” in Florida and to wage a smear campaign intended to tank the candidacy of the likely next president of Ecuador. This electoral interference could end up having significant implications for Ecuador’s relations with Colombia, and for the region more widely, which increasingly seems polarized between a resurgent “pink tide” and far-right governments and movements that appear to be continuing to receive support from the US government.

Latin Americans are used to the US government interfering in their politics. Over the years, the US has helped orchestrate a number of coups throughout the hemisphere, most notoriously the 1954 ouster of Guatemala’s Jacobo Árbenz, and the 1973 military coup against Chile’s Salvador Allende. But there are far more recent examples of meddling, including US interference in Haiti’s 2010 election and State Department actions that helped a coup succeed in Honduras in 2009. 

Last year, the US got a small taste of its own medicine when several high-profile Colombian politicians from the ruling right-wing Centro Democrático party, including a former president, dipped their toes into the electoral waters of the Sunshine State. It has now been acknowledged in various US, Colombian, and international outlets that, both openly and behind the scenes, Colombian right-wing actors bet heavily on Trump’s campaign in Florida last year, and contributed to his victory in the state, despite Trump’s national loss. 

The seeds of this effort stretch back several years. Former president Álvaro Uribe (2002–2010), a right-wing leader who US officials believed had ties to Colombian paramilitary groups responsible for human rights atrocities, has spent years forming extensive contacts with various Repblican politicians in Florida, from Senator Marco Rubio to freshman Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar, whom Uribe endorsed during her congressional campaign last year. Senators from Uribe’s Centro Democrático party — including Juan David Vélez and María Fernanda Cabal — openly campaigned for Trump, while Trump’s advisors, including Cuban-American Mercedes Schlapp, took a page from Uribe’s campaign playbook by helping to engineer anti-socialist messaging in an attempt to garner votes for Trump from Cuban, Colombian, and Venezuelan diaspora communities in South Florida. These efforts represent an unprecedented level of intervention by the Colombian Right in US politics and an effort by the Colombian government to expand its foreign policy ambitions by influencing electoral outcomes in other countries throughout the Americas. 

Uribe himself is a highly polarizing figure in Colombia and the region. Though he left office with high approval ratings, his administration oversaw massive human rights abuses. Under Uribe, Colombian military and paramilitary groups, often working in tandem, were involved in numerous massacres of unarmed civilians. A number of Uribe’s family members and close allies have reportedly had close relations with paramilitary forces and Uribe himself allegedly helped create one of Colombia’s most brutal paramilitary groups in the 1990s. 

Uribe has continuously campaigned against the peace agreement with the FARC insurgency, and he and his allies have sought to block its implementation since its approval by Colombia’s congress in 2016. Hindered by term limits that prevented him from again seeking the presidency, Uribe chose former Inter-American Development Bank official Iván Duque as his standard-bearer for the 2018 election, and Duque — who won the election — is widely considered to be Uribe’s stand-in.  

Since leaving the presidency, Uribe has become embroiled in a variety of corruption scandals linked to his time in office, and was sentenced to house arrest in 2020. Within months he was released, reportedly due in part to strong pressure exerted by then US vice president Mike Pence and Florida Republicans. President Trump Tweeted a congratulatory message to Uribe when his arrest was suspended. 

It should come as no surprise then that Uribe, Duque, and the Colombian Right threw in their lot with Trump and Florida’s Republicans. They share the common goals of ousting Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, by nearly any means. Trump, in addition to implementing sweeping new economic sanctions against Venezuela, took a hard-line approach involving threats of military intervention and vigorous support for a possible coup against Maduro by Venezuela’s armed forces. Duque is likewise a Venezuela hawk who has called for more sanctions on Venezuela, and has been accused of allowing dissident Venezuelan military troops to train in Colombian territory and to launch an ill-fated invasion of Venezuela in early 2020. 

Given this close alignment of views on Venezuela, it isn’t surprising to see Republicans in South Florida embrace some of the charged rhetoric used by the Right in Colombia. Alongside allegations of “socialism” used against Florida Democrats, the charge of castrochavismo (“Castro-Chávism,” referring to a supposed joint political project linking the Castro brothers and Hugo Chávez) has become increasingly frequent. In October 2016, following the defeat of the peace deal in the 2016 referendum, Uribe campaigned against the peace agreement’s ratification by the Colombian Congress at the popular Colombian restaurant Mondongo’s in heavily Venezuelan and Colombian Doral, Florida. Flanked by Republican politicians including Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, Uribe whipped up a crowd of Colombian expats by warning that castrochavismo would come to Colombia were the agreement ratified. Several reports have suggested this was the moment when South Florida Republicans realized that the castrochavismo label might prove effective among Cuban, Colombian, and Venezuelan-Americans — ever more important voting blocs in Florida. As Colombian-American political analyst Juan Pablo Salas put it: “The lessons that Uribismo learned from the referendum in Colombia have been translated to Republicans, who have had no problem applying them in South Florida.”

It is no coincidence then that the 2018 campaigns in Florida and Colombia featured nearly identical red-baiting tactics: Republican candidate Ron DeSantis frequently referred to Democrat Andrew Gillum as a “socialist,” and warned that if elected Gillum would turn Florida into a “second Venezuela.” Uribe had himself used the same exact rhetoric before, warning in 2016 that the peace deal would transform Colombia into a “second Venezuela,” and fear mongering over left politicians seeking to turn their countries into “another Venezuela” has become a common right-wing political tactic throughout Latin America, employed against figures including Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico and Fernando Haddad in Brazil. Unsurprisingly, when left politician Gustavo Petro ran against Duque for the presidency in 2018, Colombians were told that Petro, if elected, would do the same. 

At the same time DeSantis was calling Gillum a dangerous “socialist,” Duque was using the same rhetoric against Petro, 1,500 miles away. DeSantis went on to narrowly defeat Gillum, while 70 percent of Colombian-Americans who voted in the Colombian election from abroad voted for Duque over Petro, as compared to 54 percent in Colombia. The supposed menace of Maduro’s (and before him Chávez’s) Venezuela has increasingly become a useful tool not only in Colombia, but in Florida and US politics as well. 

The red-baiting only grew more shrill in 2020, with the Trump campaign running multiple ads claiming that Joe Biden was the preferred candidate of the Venezuelan government. Trump likewise attacked Biden for supposedly being supported by Gustavo Petro, announcing: “Biden is weak on socialism and will betray Colombia,” in a transparent effort to attract pro-Duque Colombians living in Florida and elsewhere. Schlapp, the Trump advisor, released a video in which she claimed that Gustavo Petro supported Biden, and that “Biden has surrounded himself with socialists like [Petro], including Bernie Sanders and the communist [sic] Karen Bass.” 

At the same time, Trump received the endorsement of members of Uribe’s party, including Senator María Fernanda Cabal and Representative Juan David Vélez, who represents Colombians abroad, while Uribe himself weighed in to endorse the ultimately victorious Maria Elvira Salazar’s campaign for a congressional seat representing suburban Miami.

Donald Trump attacks Joseph Biden in a Tweet by saying Biden is supported by Colombia's Gustavo Petro.

By all accounts, these efforts worked well among Colombian, Venezuelan, and Cuban voters in Florida. Some of Trump’s largest gains in the entire country were in South Florida, and especially in heavy Colombian and Venezuelan towns like Doral and Weston (Trump improved in Doral by over 30 percent compared to his 2016 performance). Overall, Trump won Florida by 3.3 percentage points (compared to 1.2 percentage points in 2016), while the GOP picked up two House seats. Exit polls reported that Trump won 46 percent of the Latino vote in Florida, a much higher proportion than his national total (32 percent). It should also be emphasized that Trump’s overall margin in Florida expanded while he actually lost ground among white voters, as compared to 2016 (62 percent, vs. 64 percent in 2016). 

It is clear that the Colombian Right, led by Álvaro Uribe and Iván Duque,is prepared to go to significant lengths to bolster its allies abroad. As one Colombian analyst argued: “Duque has seriously compromised the privileged relationship he has with the United States.” Indeed, Democrats took notice of these efforts: two Democratic Congressmen, new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks, and Ruben Gallego penned an October 2020 op-ed calling on Vélez and Fernanda Cabal to refrain from further campaigning for Trump: “we have a very clear message for our Colombian counterparts: Show us the respect of staying out of our elections.” 

That was last year. This year, Duque and his right-wing allies are at it again: this time in neighboring Ecuador, where presidential elections are underway, and a left-leaning candidate is the front runner.  

Coming up next: “How the Colombian Right’s Smear Campaign has Rocked Ecuador’s Presidential Election”

Latin Americans are used to the US government interfering in their politics. Over the years, the US has helped orchestrate a number of coups throughout the hemisphere, most notoriously the 1954 ouster of Guatemala’s Jacobo Árbenz, and the 1973 military coup against Chile’s Salvador Allende. But there are far more recent examples of meddling, including US interference in Haiti’s 2010 election and State Department actions that helped a coup succeed in Honduras in 2009. 

Last year, the US got a small taste of its own medicine when several high-profile Colombian politicians from the ruling right-wing Centro Democrático party, including a former president, dipped their toes into the electoral waters of the Sunshine State. It has now been acknowledged in various US, Colombian, and international outlets that, both openly and behind the scenes, Colombian right-wing actors bet heavily on Trump’s campaign in Florida last year, and contributed to his victory in the state, despite Trump’s national loss. 

The seeds of this effort stretch back several years. Former president Álvaro Uribe (2002–2010), a right-wing leader who US officials believed had ties to Colombian paramilitary groups responsible for human rights atrocities, has spent years forming extensive contacts with various Repblican politicians in Florida, from Senator Marco Rubio to freshman Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar, whom Uribe endorsed during her congressional campaign last year. Senators from Uribe’s Centro Democrático party — including Juan David Vélez and María Fernanda Cabal — openly campaigned for Trump, while Trump’s advisors, including Cuban-American Mercedes Schlapp, took a page from Uribe’s campaign playbook by helping to engineer anti-socialist messaging in an attempt to garner votes for Trump from Cuban, Colombian, and Venezuelan diaspora communities in South Florida. These efforts represent an unprecedented level of intervention by the Colombian Right in US politics and an effort by the Colombian government to expand its foreign policy ambitions by influencing electoral outcomes in other countries throughout the Americas. 

Uribe himself is a highly polarizing figure in Colombia and the region. Though he left office with high approval ratings, his administration oversaw massive human rights abuses. Under Uribe, Colombian military and paramilitary groups, often working in tandem, were involved in numerous massacres of unarmed civilians. A number of Uribe’s family members and close allies have reportedly had close relations with paramilitary forces and Uribe himself allegedly helped create one of Colombia’s most brutal paramilitary groups in the 1990s. 

Uribe has continuously campaigned against the peace agreement with the FARC insurgency, and he and his allies have sought to block its implementation since its approval by Colombia’s congress in 2016. Hindered by term limits that prevented him from again seeking the presidency, Uribe chose former Inter-American Development Bank official Iván Duque as his standard-bearer for the 2018 election, and Duque — who won the election — is widely considered to be Uribe’s stand-in.  

Since leaving the presidency, Uribe has become embroiled in a variety of corruption scandals linked to his time in office, and was sentenced to house arrest in 2020. Within months he was released, reportedly due in part to strong pressure exerted by then US vice president Mike Pence and Florida Republicans. President Trump Tweeted a congratulatory message to Uribe when his arrest was suspended. 

It should come as no surprise then that Uribe, Duque, and the Colombian Right threw in their lot with Trump and Florida’s Republicans. They share the common goals of ousting Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, by nearly any means. Trump, in addition to implementing sweeping new economic sanctions against Venezuela, took a hard-line approach involving threats of military intervention and vigorous support for a possible coup against Maduro by Venezuela’s armed forces. Duque is likewise a Venezuela hawk who has called for more sanctions on Venezuela, and has been accused of allowing dissident Venezuelan military troops to train in Colombian territory and to launch an ill-fated invasion of Venezuela in early 2020. 

Given this close alignment of views on Venezuela, it isn’t surprising to see Republicans in South Florida embrace some of the charged rhetoric used by the Right in Colombia. Alongside allegations of “socialism” used against Florida Democrats, the charge of castrochavismo (“Castro-Chávism,” referring to a supposed joint political project linking the Castro brothers and Hugo Chávez) has become increasingly frequent. In October 2016, following the defeat of the peace deal in the 2016 referendum, Uribe campaigned against the peace agreement’s ratification by the Colombian Congress at the popular Colombian restaurant Mondongo’s in heavily Venezuelan and Colombian Doral, Florida. Flanked by Republican politicians including Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, Uribe whipped up a crowd of Colombian expats by warning that castrochavismo would come to Colombia were the agreement ratified. Several reports have suggested this was the moment when South Florida Republicans realized that the castrochavismo label might prove effective among Cuban, Colombian, and Venezuelan-Americans — ever more important voting blocs in Florida. As Colombian-American political analyst Juan Pablo Salas put it: “The lessons that Uribismo learned from the referendum in Colombia have been translated to Republicans, who have had no problem applying them in South Florida.”

It is no coincidence then that the 2018 campaigns in Florida and Colombia featured nearly identical red-baiting tactics: Republican candidate Ron DeSantis frequently referred to Democrat Andrew Gillum as a “socialist,” and warned that if elected Gillum would turn Florida into a “second Venezuela.” Uribe had himself used the same exact rhetoric before, warning in 2016 that the peace deal would transform Colombia into a “second Venezuela,” and fear mongering over left politicians seeking to turn their countries into “another Venezuela” has become a common right-wing political tactic throughout Latin America, employed against figures including Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico and Fernando Haddad in Brazil. Unsurprisingly, when left politician Gustavo Petro ran against Duque for the presidency in 2018, Colombians were told that Petro, if elected, would do the same. 

At the same time DeSantis was calling Gillum a dangerous “socialist,” Duque was using the same rhetoric against Petro, 1,500 miles away. DeSantis went on to narrowly defeat Gillum, while 70 percent of Colombian-Americans who voted in the Colombian election from abroad voted for Duque over Petro, as compared to 54 percent in Colombia. The supposed menace of Maduro’s (and before him Chávez’s) Venezuela has increasingly become a useful tool not only in Colombia, but in Florida and US politics as well. 

The red-baiting only grew more shrill in 2020, with the Trump campaign running multiple ads claiming that Joe Biden was the preferred candidate of the Venezuelan government. Trump likewise attacked Biden for supposedly being supported by Gustavo Petro, announcing: “Biden is weak on socialism and will betray Colombia,” in a transparent effort to attract pro-Duque Colombians living in Florida and elsewhere. Schlapp, the Trump advisor, released a video in which she claimed that Gustavo Petro supported Biden, and that “Biden has surrounded himself with socialists like [Petro], including Bernie Sanders and the communist [sic] Karen Bass.” 

At the same time, Trump received the endorsement of members of Uribe’s party, including Senator María Fernanda Cabal and Representative Juan David Vélez, who represents Colombians abroad, while Uribe himself weighed in to endorse the ultimately victorious Maria Elvira Salazar’s campaign for a congressional seat representing suburban Miami.

Donald Trump attacks Joseph Biden in a Tweet by saying Biden is supported by Colombia's Gustavo Petro.

By all accounts, these efforts worked well among Colombian, Venezuelan, and Cuban voters in Florida. Some of Trump’s largest gains in the entire country were in South Florida, and especially in heavy Colombian and Venezuelan towns like Doral and Weston (Trump improved in Doral by over 30 percent compared to his 2016 performance). Overall, Trump won Florida by 3.3 percentage points (compared to 1.2 percentage points in 2016), while the GOP picked up two House seats. Exit polls reported that Trump won 46 percent of the Latino vote in Florida, a much higher proportion than his national total (32 percent). It should also be emphasized that Trump’s overall margin in Florida expanded while he actually lost ground among white voters, as compared to 2016 (62 percent, vs. 64 percent in 2016). 

It is clear that the Colombian Right, led by Álvaro Uribe and Iván Duque,is prepared to go to significant lengths to bolster its allies abroad. As one Colombian analyst argued: “Duque has seriously compromised the privileged relationship he has with the United States.” Indeed, Democrats took notice of these efforts: two Democratic Congressmen, new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks, and Ruben Gallego penned an October 2020 op-ed calling on Vélez and Fernanda Cabal to refrain from further campaigning for Trump: “we have a very clear message for our Colombian counterparts: Show us the respect of staying out of our elections.” 

That was last year. This year, Duque and his right-wing allies are at it again: this time in neighboring Ecuador, where presidential elections are underway, and a left-leaning candidate is the front runner.  

Coming up next: “How the Colombian Right’s Smear Campaign has Rocked Ecuador’s Presidential Election”

Last week, the US Network for Democracy in Brazil (USNDB) delivered a white paper to the Biden White House, its “Recommendations on Brazil to President Biden and the New Administration.” The wide-ranging document, covering issues such as the environment, human rights, and the rule of law, urges the new administration to make a fundamental break with Trump-era policies toward the Bolsonaro government.

Dozens of academics from major American universities endorsed or contributed to the document, as did several prominent organizations, including Greenpeace USA, Amazon Watch, Friends of the Earth, Defend Democracy in Brazil, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Brown university professor and USNDB national coordinator James Green said a central message of the white paper is that “it is imperative that the United States ​prioritize respect for ​civil and human rights and the rule of law in its relations with Brazil.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked on Monday about recommendations made in the paper. “Just as is true in many of our relationships, we look for opportunities to work together on issues where there is joint national interest, and obviously there’s a significant economic relationship, and we will not hold back on areas where we disagree, whether it’s climate or human rights, or otherwise,” Psaki said. While Psaki’s comments centered the US economic relationship with Brazil, her vow that the Biden administration would be willing to criticize the Bolsonaro government on the environment and human rights nevertheless represents a change from the laudatory and hands-off approach the Trump administration had toward Latin America’s most controversial right-wing leader.

But Psaki’s reiteration of the White House’s strong support for the US-Brazilian relationship raises the question of to what extent the Biden administration will actually pressure the Bolsonaro government, and falls short of the fundamental reforms in US-Brazil policy that the USNDB seeks.

The white paper argues that it is imperative that the Biden administration set a new tone with Bolsonaro’s government, which has for years undermined the very values of environmental protection, human rights, and equality that Biden claims he is seeking to promote and defend. 

The paper details 10 areas where the new administration should change the US’s approach, with the most important relating to deforestation in the Amazon. Biden stated on the campaign trail that he would consider sanctions against Brazil if the Bolsonaro government did not make tangible and concrete commitments to reduce deforestation. While Biden has yet to make any pronouncements as president with regard to Brazil, the issue of the Amazon and the environment will no doubt gain in salience once the dry season in Brazil begins in June and intensifies in July and August. Notably, the paper recommends sanctions targeted to “restricting, via executive order on government procurement or legislation, imports of forest-risk commodities like timber, soy, and cattle products, unless it can be determined that the imports are not linked to deforestation or human rights abuses.” Wider, untargeted sanctions against Brazilian exports could produce unnecessary pain for everyday Brazilians, and could foster foreign resentment against a new US administration.

Policy with respect to the Amazon and deforestation intersects with a variety of human rights issues, namely the protection of Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian rights. Illegal deforestation has for years encroached upon federally protected Indigenous lands, and the number of Indigenous Brazilians killed by land-grabbers, private security forces, and other violent actors reportedly reached an 11-year high in 2019. Attacks on Indigenous Brazilians have increased notably just since Bolsonaro took office, as the president has egged on land-grabbers and arsonists seeking to turn protected rainforest to pastureland. Likewise, many quilombos (now-protected lands established by rebel and runaway slaves, where many of their descendants live today) have had their land encroached upon and usurped.

USNDB’s white paper calls on the Biden administration to address these threats to Indigenous Brazilians by engaging with civil society groups and social movements across Brazil, and to develop a comprehensive understanding of the Brazilian government’s impact on the Amazon and Indigenous peoples. Specifically, it recommends the new administration freeze bilateral trade negotiations with Brazil, withdraw support for Brazil’s ascension to the OECD, and suspend military aid and cooperation with Brazil pending a rigorous human rights review of security forces — only to resume military assistance once assurances have been made that the Leahy Law has been fully implemented and followed. The paper calls on the Biden administration to vigorously call attention to and denounce specific cases in which human rights and environmental defenders have been threatened and/or assassinated.

In addition to environmental issues, the white paper calls attention to wider concerns about the rule of law and the status of Brazilian democracy. It is no secret that President Bolsonaro has questioned the need for and sanctity of various Brazilian democratic institutions, suggesting at various points that the military ought to shut down Congress or establish a new dictatorship. In addition, violence among both state and non-state actors has increased since Bolsonaro took office, with increased paramilitary activity in Rio de Janeiro (carried out by crime syndicates known as milícias) and by large landowners committing arson and contributing to Amazonian wildfires, to mention a few examples.

On the critical issue of rule of law, this white paper, along with CEPR and various congressional representatives, has pointed out the poor legal treatment of ex-president Lula da Silva, after leaks published by The Intercept Brasil demonstrated that the former president was unfairly and likely illegally targeted, and subsequently imprisoned, by prosecutors working for the Car Wash (Lava Jato) investigation. The politically motivated targeting of Lula, a popular ex-president who intended to run in the 2018 elections before his incarceration that year, is endemic to the erosion of Brazilian democracy that has taken place since President Dilma Rousseff was ousted in a coup in 2016. The white paper encourages the Biden administration to put civil liberties, democratic rights, and the rule of law at the heart of its diplomacy, and in so doing help to prevent future politically motivated lawfare-style prosecutions that have weakened Brazilian democracy. 

The USNDB also recommends that Biden and his allies in the US trade union movement pressure the Bolsonaro government to end its assault on labor rights, and to restore labor protections that have been continually undermined since 2016. This follows particularly painful 2017 legislation that weakened the labor movement under Bolsonaro’s predecessor Michel Temer. The Bolsonaro administration has continued to undermine workers’ rights by abolishing the Labor Ministry, attacking various sources of union funding, and seeking to undermine agreements achieved through collective bargaining. The white paper recommends that “labor and trade union protections must be part of any future trade and investment agreements between both nations” while emphasizing that the Biden administration “should in no way, shape, or form pursue a free trade agreement with Brazil.”

Violence against women and LGBTQI+ individuals has surged during the Bolsonaro presidency, so much so that Brazil’s first openly gay congressman Jean Wyllys sought exile in January 2019 due to a constant barrage of credible death threats. Given these dangers to democracy and rule of law, as well as the history of US support for the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964–1985), the USNDB urges the Biden administration to break with Trump by centering respect for civil liberties, democratic rights, and the rule of law in its relations with Brazil. The Biden administration must be prepared to stand up for Brazilian democracy if and when it comes under strain, as it likely will in the coming years.

Last week, the US Network for Democracy in Brazil (USNDB) delivered a white paper to the Biden White House, its “Recommendations on Brazil to President Biden and the New Administration.” The wide-ranging document, covering issues such as the environment, human rights, and the rule of law, urges the new administration to make a fundamental break with Trump-era policies toward the Bolsonaro government.

Dozens of academics from major American universities endorsed or contributed to the document, as did several prominent organizations, including Greenpeace USA, Amazon Watch, Friends of the Earth, Defend Democracy in Brazil, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Brown university professor and USNDB national coordinator James Green said a central message of the white paper is that “it is imperative that the United States ​prioritize respect for ​civil and human rights and the rule of law in its relations with Brazil.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked on Monday about recommendations made in the paper. “Just as is true in many of our relationships, we look for opportunities to work together on issues where there is joint national interest, and obviously there’s a significant economic relationship, and we will not hold back on areas where we disagree, whether it’s climate or human rights, or otherwise,” Psaki said. While Psaki’s comments centered the US economic relationship with Brazil, her vow that the Biden administration would be willing to criticize the Bolsonaro government on the environment and human rights nevertheless represents a change from the laudatory and hands-off approach the Trump administration had toward Latin America’s most controversial right-wing leader.

But Psaki’s reiteration of the White House’s strong support for the US-Brazilian relationship raises the question of to what extent the Biden administration will actually pressure the Bolsonaro government, and falls short of the fundamental reforms in US-Brazil policy that the USNDB seeks.

The white paper argues that it is imperative that the Biden administration set a new tone with Bolsonaro’s government, which has for years undermined the very values of environmental protection, human rights, and equality that Biden claims he is seeking to promote and defend. 

The paper details 10 areas where the new administration should change the US’s approach, with the most important relating to deforestation in the Amazon. Biden stated on the campaign trail that he would consider sanctions against Brazil if the Bolsonaro government did not make tangible and concrete commitments to reduce deforestation. While Biden has yet to make any pronouncements as president with regard to Brazil, the issue of the Amazon and the environment will no doubt gain in salience once the dry season in Brazil begins in June and intensifies in July and August. Notably, the paper recommends sanctions targeted to “restricting, via executive order on government procurement or legislation, imports of forest-risk commodities like timber, soy, and cattle products, unless it can be determined that the imports are not linked to deforestation or human rights abuses.” Wider, untargeted sanctions against Brazilian exports could produce unnecessary pain for everyday Brazilians, and could foster foreign resentment against a new US administration.

Policy with respect to the Amazon and deforestation intersects with a variety of human rights issues, namely the protection of Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian rights. Illegal deforestation has for years encroached upon federally protected Indigenous lands, and the number of Indigenous Brazilians killed by land-grabbers, private security forces, and other violent actors reportedly reached an 11-year high in 2019. Attacks on Indigenous Brazilians have increased notably just since Bolsonaro took office, as the president has egged on land-grabbers and arsonists seeking to turn protected rainforest to pastureland. Likewise, many quilombos (now-protected lands established by rebel and runaway slaves, where many of their descendants live today) have had their land encroached upon and usurped.

USNDB’s white paper calls on the Biden administration to address these threats to Indigenous Brazilians by engaging with civil society groups and social movements across Brazil, and to develop a comprehensive understanding of the Brazilian government’s impact on the Amazon and Indigenous peoples. Specifically, it recommends the new administration freeze bilateral trade negotiations with Brazil, withdraw support for Brazil’s ascension to the OECD, and suspend military aid and cooperation with Brazil pending a rigorous human rights review of security forces — only to resume military assistance once assurances have been made that the Leahy Law has been fully implemented and followed. The paper calls on the Biden administration to vigorously call attention to and denounce specific cases in which human rights and environmental defenders have been threatened and/or assassinated.

In addition to environmental issues, the white paper calls attention to wider concerns about the rule of law and the status of Brazilian democracy. It is no secret that President Bolsonaro has questioned the need for and sanctity of various Brazilian democratic institutions, suggesting at various points that the military ought to shut down Congress or establish a new dictatorship. In addition, violence among both state and non-state actors has increased since Bolsonaro took office, with increased paramilitary activity in Rio de Janeiro (carried out by crime syndicates known as milícias) and by large landowners committing arson and contributing to Amazonian wildfires, to mention a few examples.

On the critical issue of rule of law, this white paper, along with CEPR and various congressional representatives, has pointed out the poor legal treatment of ex-president Lula da Silva, after leaks published by The Intercept Brasil demonstrated that the former president was unfairly and likely illegally targeted, and subsequently imprisoned, by prosecutors working for the Car Wash (Lava Jato) investigation. The politically motivated targeting of Lula, a popular ex-president who intended to run in the 2018 elections before his incarceration that year, is endemic to the erosion of Brazilian democracy that has taken place since President Dilma Rousseff was ousted in a coup in 2016. The white paper encourages the Biden administration to put civil liberties, democratic rights, and the rule of law at the heart of its diplomacy, and in so doing help to prevent future politically motivated lawfare-style prosecutions that have weakened Brazilian democracy. 

The USNDB also recommends that Biden and his allies in the US trade union movement pressure the Bolsonaro government to end its assault on labor rights, and to restore labor protections that have been continually undermined since 2016. This follows particularly painful 2017 legislation that weakened the labor movement under Bolsonaro’s predecessor Michel Temer. The Bolsonaro administration has continued to undermine workers’ rights by abolishing the Labor Ministry, attacking various sources of union funding, and seeking to undermine agreements achieved through collective bargaining. The white paper recommends that “labor and trade union protections must be part of any future trade and investment agreements between both nations” while emphasizing that the Biden administration “should in no way, shape, or form pursue a free trade agreement with Brazil.”

Violence against women and LGBTQI+ individuals has surged during the Bolsonaro presidency, so much so that Brazil’s first openly gay congressman Jean Wyllys sought exile in January 2019 due to a constant barrage of credible death threats. Given these dangers to democracy and rule of law, as well as the history of US support for the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964–1985), the USNDB urges the Biden administration to break with Trump by centering respect for civil liberties, democratic rights, and the rule of law in its relations with Brazil. The Biden administration must be prepared to stand up for Brazilian democracy if and when it comes under strain, as it likely will in the coming years.

President Biden is signing new executive orders today to enact reforms to US immigration policy. One that is sure to be a focus of much media discussion, and which has already emerged as a symbol of the differences between Biden’s and former president Trump’s respective approaches to migration from Latin America and elsewhere, is the order to create a task force to “reunify families.” While this and some of Biden’s other immigration damage-control measures ― such as ending the travel ban on people from various predominantly Islamic countries, and halting construction of the border “wall” between the US and Mexico ― are certainly welcome, other orders provide little assurance that the Biden administration will truly address “root causes” of displacement and migration from Central America (source of the “Migrant Caravans” that have become a focus of right-wing media coverage and xenophobic ire), and elsewhere.

Today’s order to “Develop a Strategy to Address Irregular Migration Across the Southern Border and Create a Humane Asylum System” is aimed at “roll[ing] back the most damaging policies adopted by the prior administration, while taking effective action to manage migration across the region.” But this worryingly states: “the Administration will collaborate with regional partners, including foreign governments, international organizations, and nonprofits to shore up other countries’ capacity to provide protection and opportunities to asylum seekers and migrants closer to home.” This sounds reminiscent of Plan Frontera Sur, “Third Safe Country” agreements, and other programs in which the US government has leaned on authorities in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and elsewhere to stop migrants from reaching the US-Mexico border. “Protection and opportunities” are not going to miraculously appear and offer people who are often fleeing violence, death threats, political repression, environmental disaster, and economic hardship viable alternatives to create new, happy lives in Guatemala or Mexico.

President Biden led US-Central America policy under the Obama administration, a period that saw the US government support a coup in Honduras and back the bloody and corrupt post-coup governments of Porfirio Lobo and then Juan Orlando Hernández (recently named by US prosecutors as involved in cocaine trafficking). US officials lied to Congress about US support for Honduran police death squads and US aid for and training of Honduran security forces ― even assisting them in shooting and killing innocent civilians in counternarcotics operations. This kind of blatant, unbridled support for antidemocratic, repressive, and corrupt governments in the region exacerbates previous factors pushing people to leave their homes and head north, and creates new ones.

In response to the “child migrant crisis” hyped up by right-wing media in 2014, Biden offered Central American governments a raft of US support in the form of possible corporate investment, public-private partnerships, multilateral development bank funds, and more backing for security forces. Decent paying jobs, environmental protections, Indigenous and community rights to the land and water, and worker safety were secondary concerns, at best.

Concerned that the Biden administration could repeat the mistakes of the Biden-led Central America policy under Obama, CEPR joined the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), Win Without War, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Justice Team, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), and the Central American Resource Center – Los Angeles (CARECEN-LA) in issuing a statement saying, in part:

… we fear that the Biden administration’s plans will not go far enough. To truly address the root causes of displacement in Central America and beyond, we must recognize the United States’ own role in fueling inequality, poverty, and violence.

The intersecting crises that millions in Central America face are the result of decades of brutal state repression of democratic movements by right-wing regimes and the implementation of economic models designed to benefit local oligarchs and transnational corporations. Far too often, the United States has been a major force behind these policies, which have impoverished the majority of the population and devastated the environment.

And CEPR was one of over 75 organizations to sign an open letter to the Biden administration urging a serious overhaul of US-Central America policy, including immigration policies that affect people from the region.

President Biden is signing new executive orders today to enact reforms to US immigration policy. One that is sure to be a focus of much media discussion, and which has already emerged as a symbol of the differences between Biden’s and former president Trump’s respective approaches to migration from Latin America and elsewhere, is the order to create a task force to “reunify families.” While this and some of Biden’s other immigration damage-control measures ― such as ending the travel ban on people from various predominantly Islamic countries, and halting construction of the border “wall” between the US and Mexico ― are certainly welcome, other orders provide little assurance that the Biden administration will truly address “root causes” of displacement and migration from Central America (source of the “Migrant Caravans” that have become a focus of right-wing media coverage and xenophobic ire), and elsewhere.

Today’s order to “Develop a Strategy to Address Irregular Migration Across the Southern Border and Create a Humane Asylum System” is aimed at “roll[ing] back the most damaging policies adopted by the prior administration, while taking effective action to manage migration across the region.” But this worryingly states: “the Administration will collaborate with regional partners, including foreign governments, international organizations, and nonprofits to shore up other countries’ capacity to provide protection and opportunities to asylum seekers and migrants closer to home.” This sounds reminiscent of Plan Frontera Sur, “Third Safe Country” agreements, and other programs in which the US government has leaned on authorities in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and elsewhere to stop migrants from reaching the US-Mexico border. “Protection and opportunities” are not going to miraculously appear and offer people who are often fleeing violence, death threats, political repression, environmental disaster, and economic hardship viable alternatives to create new, happy lives in Guatemala or Mexico.

President Biden led US-Central America policy under the Obama administration, a period that saw the US government support a coup in Honduras and back the bloody and corrupt post-coup governments of Porfirio Lobo and then Juan Orlando Hernández (recently named by US prosecutors as involved in cocaine trafficking). US officials lied to Congress about US support for Honduran police death squads and US aid for and training of Honduran security forces ― even assisting them in shooting and killing innocent civilians in counternarcotics operations. This kind of blatant, unbridled support for antidemocratic, repressive, and corrupt governments in the region exacerbates previous factors pushing people to leave their homes and head north, and creates new ones.

In response to the “child migrant crisis” hyped up by right-wing media in 2014, Biden offered Central American governments a raft of US support in the form of possible corporate investment, public-private partnerships, multilateral development bank funds, and more backing for security forces. Decent paying jobs, environmental protections, Indigenous and community rights to the land and water, and worker safety were secondary concerns, at best.

Concerned that the Biden administration could repeat the mistakes of the Biden-led Central America policy under Obama, CEPR joined the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), Win Without War, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Justice Team, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), and the Central American Resource Center – Los Angeles (CARECEN-LA) in issuing a statement saying, in part:

… we fear that the Biden administration’s plans will not go far enough. To truly address the root causes of displacement in Central America and beyond, we must recognize the United States’ own role in fueling inequality, poverty, and violence.

The intersecting crises that millions in Central America face are the result of decades of brutal state repression of democratic movements by right-wing regimes and the implementation of economic models designed to benefit local oligarchs and transnational corporations. Far too often, the United States has been a major force behind these policies, which have impoverished the majority of the population and devastated the environment.

And CEPR was one of over 75 organizations to sign an open letter to the Biden administration urging a serious overhaul of US-Central America policy, including immigration policies that affect people from the region.

As the New Year begins and Brazil officially passes 200,000 COVID deaths, far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro announced with his characteristic bluntness: “Brazil is broken. I can’t do anything.” While blaming the media for exaggerating the threat of the coronavirus, Bolsonaro complained that COVID had prevented him from further pursuing the structural adjustments and austerity policies that characterized the pre-COVID phase of his presidency. At the same time, Bolsonaro’s economic team, led by Chicago Boy economist Paulo Guedes, has been projecting optimism, claiming that the Brazilian economy will recover, thereby allowing the government to steam ahead with plans for further spending cuts and privatizations. The optimism coming from Guedes and his team is, however, fundamentally erroneous. Without a fundamental change in governing priorities, Brazil will enter into a very difficult period in the coming months and years. Indeed, the economic policy “solutions” that Bolsonaro and Guedes are determined to implement are no cause for optimism. Rather, they are likely to lead to far greater levels of suffering for ordinary Brazilians. 

The Bolsonaro-Guedes spate of neoliberal economic measures is not unique to this government. Brazil’s recent return to austerity, after more than a decade of relatively robust public sector investment, began decidedly in 2015, following the tight and contested reelection of Workers’ Party (PT) President Dilma Rousseff. Facing a recession and attempting to accommodate her increasingly aggressive opposition, Dilma embarked on “belt-tightening” and wide-ranging austerity programs, by, for instance, cutting unemployment benefits, raising taxes, and postponing a major government housing initiative, leading to an overall and significant decline in public spending. These efforts failed to lift Brazil out of recession before the opposition — unmoved — impeached and removed Rousseff on minor charges of budget tampering, actions which themselves were not of a criminal nature and were widely viewed as spurious and politically motivated (several of her predecessors used the same budget maneuvers without impeachment charges ever having been considered). Even the impeachment’s greatest beneficiary, her successor Michel Temer, later referred to the process as a “coup.” Indeed, those who sought to remove Rousseff did so in part to advance a series of far deeper, significant, and painful series of neoliberal reforms, as well as to try to reverse anti-corruption efforts that Rousseff had allowed to move forward.

Following Rousseff’s removal, Temer launched a significantly more substantial and profound austerity push, freezing Brazil’s discretionary spending levels for 20 years with a constitutional amendment (PEC 241), while enacting sweeping labor reforms that seriously weakened both the labor movement and workers’ rights across Brazil. Bolsonaro and Guedes have only continued this process, accelerating privatizations and enacting a major cut to public pensions. Both have announced their intention to go further: Bolsonaro wants to go so far as to achieve the total privatization of the publicly held oil company Petrobras, not long ago an unthinkable move for any Brazilian leader. 

These plans were largely put on hold, however, due to COVID. In fact, Bolsonaro and the Brazilian Congress actually went in the opposite direction fiscally, enacting a monthly payment to the unemployed known as the auxílio emergencial (“emergency aid”), which in its original form paid out R$600 per month (roughly $115 in a country where the minimum wage is about $200 a month). Originally, the auxílio was even more generous than the widely praised Bolsa Familia program instituted by President Lula da Silva in the early 2000s, as it provided over 67 million people with over R$1 trillion ($200 billion) in less than nine months. But, though it was hailed as one of the most generous economic responses to COVID employed by any country, and even referred to as Bolsonaro’s “greatest success,” it has just been allowed to expire. 

Bolsonaro’s announcement that “Brazil is broken” comes as Brazil’s debt-to-GDP ratio has jumped over 10 percentage points in 2020 alone, the single largest annual increase in recent memory. Despite calls from legislators within his own party to renew the auxílio, Bolsonaro has said he has no plans to do so, announcing “they want us to renew the auxílio, but our debt levels have reached their limit.” This resistance from Bolsonaro comes at a time when Brazilian interest rates and the cost of borrowing are at their lowest level in decades, while Brazil has roughly $340 billion in foreign exchange reserves. Brazil is not, in fact, literally broken or broke, fiscally speaking, but Brazilian voters will nonetheless be told that redoubling austerity is a solemn and unavoidable imperative.

This ominous change in economic policy comes at a time when the Brazilian government has yet to approve any COVID vaccine nationally (although there are talks to soon begin imports of the Oxford vaccine, and the Sinovac vaccine, despite having lower efficacy rates, has the potential to help fight the pandemic). COVID deaths have just surpassed 200,000 — second only to the US. The lack of a strong and coordinated response to the pandemic by Brazilian authorities has proven nothing short of catastrophic. While the scale of the tragedy is astonishing, it is perhaps unsurprising given that Bolsonaro has downplayed the severity of the pandemic (calling it a “little flu”) from the earliest days of its arrival in Brazil. With the intense international competition that exists for a still very limited supply of vaccine doses, and Brazil being outbid by wealthier countries as well as large developing nations like India, widespread vaccination of the population is a long way off. This comes after months of Bolsonaro casting doubt over both the necessity and efficacy of the vaccines, mocking the use of face masks, and downplaying the severity of the virus at every turn (despite catching it in July of 2020). 

Likewise, Bolsonaro has repeatedly claimed that any vaccines from China will be ineffective, casting doubt on the only currently in-use vaccine in Brazil. Just recently, Bolsonaro made a great show of diving into the water at a popular beach on the coast of São Paulo State to wade into throngs of maskless supporters. The fact that Bolsonaro has repeatedly rejected the use of vaccines to combat the pandemic may well have contributed to a huge rise in the number of Brazilians unwilling to take a COVID vaccine, from 9 to 22 percent between August and December 2020. 

The Bolsonaro government’s inability to manage the pandemic along with a renewed push to return to austerity together mean that Brazil could soon enter a severe economic, humanitarian, social, and political crisis, one that goes well beyond the economic crisis Brazil has experienced since 2014. If this were to occur, it seems highly unlikely that Bolsonaro could be elected to a second term in 2022. His poll numbers have risen recently — seemingly thanks primarily to the auxilió — but the continued recession, austerity, and vaccine mismanagement can be expected to significantly dampen his popularity. 

But, while the prospect of Bolsonaro’s electoral ouster may represent a glimmer of hope for both his domestic and international opponents, there are signs that the incumbent, with inspiration from his ally Donald Trump, may cast doubt on the integrity of the upcoming vote. Bolsonaro is now claiming that “fraud exists” in Brazil’s voting system, and that “without printed ballots … we’re going to have bigger problems than the United States.” These comments, taken in context with Bolsonaro’s prior calls for the military to establish a new dictatorship and shut down Congress, suggest that he is not committed to democracy (to put it lightly), especially if an electoral defeat appears likely. In the face of a protracted and perhaps unprecedented crisis, as well as a leader with authoritarian aspirations, allies of Brazilian democracy — domestic and international — must remain vigilant in the years to come.  

As the New Year begins and Brazil officially passes 200,000 COVID deaths, far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro announced with his characteristic bluntness: “Brazil is broken. I can’t do anything.” While blaming the media for exaggerating the threat of the coronavirus, Bolsonaro complained that COVID had prevented him from further pursuing the structural adjustments and austerity policies that characterized the pre-COVID phase of his presidency. At the same time, Bolsonaro’s economic team, led by Chicago Boy economist Paulo Guedes, has been projecting optimism, claiming that the Brazilian economy will recover, thereby allowing the government to steam ahead with plans for further spending cuts and privatizations. The optimism coming from Guedes and his team is, however, fundamentally erroneous. Without a fundamental change in governing priorities, Brazil will enter into a very difficult period in the coming months and years. Indeed, the economic policy “solutions” that Bolsonaro and Guedes are determined to implement are no cause for optimism. Rather, they are likely to lead to far greater levels of suffering for ordinary Brazilians. 

The Bolsonaro-Guedes spate of neoliberal economic measures is not unique to this government. Brazil’s recent return to austerity, after more than a decade of relatively robust public sector investment, began decidedly in 2015, following the tight and contested reelection of Workers’ Party (PT) President Dilma Rousseff. Facing a recession and attempting to accommodate her increasingly aggressive opposition, Dilma embarked on “belt-tightening” and wide-ranging austerity programs, by, for instance, cutting unemployment benefits, raising taxes, and postponing a major government housing initiative, leading to an overall and significant decline in public spending. These efforts failed to lift Brazil out of recession before the opposition — unmoved — impeached and removed Rousseff on minor charges of budget tampering, actions which themselves were not of a criminal nature and were widely viewed as spurious and politically motivated (several of her predecessors used the same budget maneuvers without impeachment charges ever having been considered). Even the impeachment’s greatest beneficiary, her successor Michel Temer, later referred to the process as a “coup.” Indeed, those who sought to remove Rousseff did so in part to advance a series of far deeper, significant, and painful series of neoliberal reforms, as well as to try to reverse anti-corruption efforts that Rousseff had allowed to move forward.

Following Rousseff’s removal, Temer launched a significantly more substantial and profound austerity push, freezing Brazil’s discretionary spending levels for 20 years with a constitutional amendment (PEC 241), while enacting sweeping labor reforms that seriously weakened both the labor movement and workers’ rights across Brazil. Bolsonaro and Guedes have only continued this process, accelerating privatizations and enacting a major cut to public pensions. Both have announced their intention to go further: Bolsonaro wants to go so far as to achieve the total privatization of the publicly held oil company Petrobras, not long ago an unthinkable move for any Brazilian leader. 

These plans were largely put on hold, however, due to COVID. In fact, Bolsonaro and the Brazilian Congress actually went in the opposite direction fiscally, enacting a monthly payment to the unemployed known as the auxílio emergencial (“emergency aid”), which in its original form paid out R$600 per month (roughly $115 in a country where the minimum wage is about $200 a month). Originally, the auxílio was even more generous than the widely praised Bolsa Familia program instituted by President Lula da Silva in the early 2000s, as it provided over 67 million people with over R$1 trillion ($200 billion) in less than nine months. But, though it was hailed as one of the most generous economic responses to COVID employed by any country, and even referred to as Bolsonaro’s “greatest success,” it has just been allowed to expire. 

Bolsonaro’s announcement that “Brazil is broken” comes as Brazil’s debt-to-GDP ratio has jumped over 10 percentage points in 2020 alone, the single largest annual increase in recent memory. Despite calls from legislators within his own party to renew the auxílio, Bolsonaro has said he has no plans to do so, announcing “they want us to renew the auxílio, but our debt levels have reached their limit.” This resistance from Bolsonaro comes at a time when Brazilian interest rates and the cost of borrowing are at their lowest level in decades, while Brazil has roughly $340 billion in foreign exchange reserves. Brazil is not, in fact, literally broken or broke, fiscally speaking, but Brazilian voters will nonetheless be told that redoubling austerity is a solemn and unavoidable imperative.

This ominous change in economic policy comes at a time when the Brazilian government has yet to approve any COVID vaccine nationally (although there are talks to soon begin imports of the Oxford vaccine, and the Sinovac vaccine, despite having lower efficacy rates, has the potential to help fight the pandemic). COVID deaths have just surpassed 200,000 — second only to the US. The lack of a strong and coordinated response to the pandemic by Brazilian authorities has proven nothing short of catastrophic. While the scale of the tragedy is astonishing, it is perhaps unsurprising given that Bolsonaro has downplayed the severity of the pandemic (calling it a “little flu”) from the earliest days of its arrival in Brazil. With the intense international competition that exists for a still very limited supply of vaccine doses, and Brazil being outbid by wealthier countries as well as large developing nations like India, widespread vaccination of the population is a long way off. This comes after months of Bolsonaro casting doubt over both the necessity and efficacy of the vaccines, mocking the use of face masks, and downplaying the severity of the virus at every turn (despite catching it in July of 2020). 

Likewise, Bolsonaro has repeatedly claimed that any vaccines from China will be ineffective, casting doubt on the only currently in-use vaccine in Brazil. Just recently, Bolsonaro made a great show of diving into the water at a popular beach on the coast of São Paulo State to wade into throngs of maskless supporters. The fact that Bolsonaro has repeatedly rejected the use of vaccines to combat the pandemic may well have contributed to a huge rise in the number of Brazilians unwilling to take a COVID vaccine, from 9 to 22 percent between August and December 2020. 

The Bolsonaro government’s inability to manage the pandemic along with a renewed push to return to austerity together mean that Brazil could soon enter a severe economic, humanitarian, social, and political crisis, one that goes well beyond the economic crisis Brazil has experienced since 2014. If this were to occur, it seems highly unlikely that Bolsonaro could be elected to a second term in 2022. His poll numbers have risen recently — seemingly thanks primarily to the auxilió — but the continued recession, austerity, and vaccine mismanagement can be expected to significantly dampen his popularity. 

But, while the prospect of Bolsonaro’s electoral ouster may represent a glimmer of hope for both his domestic and international opponents, there are signs that the incumbent, with inspiration from his ally Donald Trump, may cast doubt on the integrity of the upcoming vote. Bolsonaro is now claiming that “fraud exists” in Brazil’s voting system, and that “without printed ballots … we’re going to have bigger problems than the United States.” These comments, taken in context with Bolsonaro’s prior calls for the military to establish a new dictatorship and shut down Congress, suggest that he is not committed to democracy (to put it lightly), especially if an electoral defeat appears likely. In the face of a protracted and perhaps unprecedented crisis, as well as a leader with authoritarian aspirations, allies of Brazilian democracy — domestic and international — must remain vigilant in the years to come.  

Guest post by Beth Geglia

Efforts to develop semi-privately governed jurisdictions called Economic Development and Employment Zones (ZEDEs) in Honduras have recently emerged anew. ZEDEs, first legislated as Special Development Regions (REDs) and informally known as “charter cities,” “model cities,” or “startup cities,” are a flexible territorial concession that can be used for city-scale real estate and tourism development, resource extraction, energy production, manufacturing, banking, and the expansion of deregulated digital markets.

ZEDEs provide investors with the opportunity to establish their own independent laws and governing structures, judicial systems based in common law and arbitration, regulatory frameworks, and security forces. An international governing body called the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices, comprised of former members of Ronald Reagan’s Outreach Working Group on Central America and other ideologues from leading neoliberal think tanks, controls the approval process and parts of the internal governance of the ZEDEs nationally.

But for years the future of ZEDEs has been a question mark. National opposition to the project on the grounds that it violated national sovereignty and threatened mass displacement peaked after the passage of constitutional reforms for Special Development Regions (or RED, by their Spanish initials) in 2011. Resistance from community-based organizations like the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) and the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), as well as the work done by Honduran lawyers and journalists helped lead to a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that the RED reforms were unconstitutional.

The Honduran Congress, under the leadership of Juan Orlando Hernández, the current president of Honduras, un-seated the four magistrates who had voted against the REDs in an overnight, irregular proceeding. The maneuver was deemed by some a “technical coup” — one that allowed legislators to go back to the drawing board and pass a new ZEDE Law in 2013. However, the earlier court ruling had already stopped a few initial city-ventures in their tracks and cast doubt on the feasibility of the project.

Additionally, constant governance crises have characterized the Juan Orlando Hernández administration since it came to office in 2014. In 2015, Hernández faced a national pro-democracy movement that called for his removal following revelations of embezzlement and fraud in the Honduran National Social Security Institute. In 2017, following elections mired by credible reports of fraud,  Hernández imposed a months-long curfew and suspension of constitutional rights in order to quell protests. Protests throughout the country were violently repressed by state security forces, who  killed over thirty people in the weeks before Hernández was sworn in. Since then, his administration – which has received strong backing from the U.S. government – has been further marred by corruption investigations as well as allegations of direct links to drug trafficking and organized crime. Hernández’s own brother, Antonio “Tony” Hernández was found guilty of illegal cocaine trafficking in a Manhattan Federal court in 2019. These numerous controversies, as well as the dysfunction and criminality undergirding them, have made it difficult for the Honduran government to secure large-scale investment for ZEDEs.

Given all of this, even ZEDE advocate Mark Lutter of the Charter City Institute based in Washington DC was surprised to see the first ZEDE publicly launched in May of this year. The Próspera ZEDE, a 58-acre land purchase located in Crawfish Rock on the Caribbean island of Roatán, had been in the works behind the scenes since 2017. It was founded with investment from NeWay Capital and support from former German mining executive Titus Gebel, founder of the Free Private Cities Foundation, among others. The same group hopes to develop a constellation of ZEDEs in La Ceiba, Puerto Cortés, Cuyamel, and Amapala, Honduras. A second ZEDE called “Ciudad Morázan” launched in Choloma, Cortés just months after Próspera.

Today we see both renewed interest in, and opposition to, the ZEDE project. Despite restrictions put in place for Covid-19 prevention, Hondurans in Crawfish Rock have come out to confront NeWay investors in their own community. The issue has received major coverage on national news networks, which have hosted debates on the issue of sovereignty and privatization. In an unprecedented move, the National Lawyers Association of Honduras held a press conference on October 13, adopting an official position that the ZEDE law is unconstitutional and calling for it to be overturned legislatively.

On October 19th, the Bay Islands of Honduras made a similarly unequivocal statement of opposition to the ZEDE. Despite generally being friendly to foreign investment, the Roatán Municipal government signed a declaration alongside the Mayors of Santos Guardiola, Utila, and Guanaja, the Bay Islands Chamber of Tourism, and the Bay Islands Chamber of Commerce. The declaration demands that Congress carry out a popular referendum on ZEDE development in the Department of the Bay Islands in accordance with the right to prior consultation guaranteed under Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, which Honduras has ratified. It calls for an investigation into the approval of the Próspera ZEDE, and states: “We are energetically opposed to the installation of ZEDE projects inside our territory and to the government expropriating ancestral lands through the ZEDE Law to be handed over to foreigners for their benefit and profit.” The Federation of Patronatos (local governing councils) of the Bay Islands, the Islander Alliance for Social Justice, and the Native Bay Islanders Professional Labor Association signed a similar statement in August. These and other local organizations have formed the Coordinating Board for Territorial Defense of the Bay Islands in order to challenge ZEDE development. 

In Amapala, a municipality in the southern department of Valle (where the government has been planning ZEDE development with the help of the South Korean aid agency KOICA since 2014), local organizations have organized a new round of demonstrations at the doors of the municipal government. As a result, the mayor, Alberto Cruz, recently stated publicly that he is “categorically, emphatically” against a ZEDE in the municipality, noting that Amapala does not meet the high-population density requirement in the ZEDE Law to trigger a popular referendum on the matter. Cruz’s statements come years after the Association for Holistic Development in the Peninsula of Zacate Grande (ADEPZA) and other organizations in Amapala campaigned against ZEDE development, arguing that it would exacerbate a process of land dispossession that is already underway.

Around Choloma and San Pedro Sula, teachers’ groups that formed during the 2019 national strikes against education restructuring reforms – seen as a move to weaken the public education system  – have organized virtual forums to share information on the ZEDE law and its implications for Honduras. New organizations have sprung up on a national level, like Movimiento Patria (The Homeland Movement), comprised primarily of Honduran business owners and politicians. The organization formed over the Hernández administration’s mishandling of Covid-19 funds and has now opposed the ZEDE model of investment.

Will we see disaster capitalism in Honduras after Hurricanes Eta and Iota? 

In Naomi Klein’s classic The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Klein discusses the capitalization of crisis in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch. Mitch changed the course of history in Central America in 1998, but its most lasting impacts were not the destruction wrought by the hurricane itself. Domestic elites and foreign interests used the state of crisis and the need for reconstruction to pass sweeping reforms. The reforms allowed for the privatization of key trade and transportation infrastructure, the state telephone company, and other key sectors. The Honduran government overturned land reform laws and swiftly passed a pro-business mining law that expanded resource extraction throughout the country.

The ZEDEs themselves seem to follow disaster around. They were proposed in Honduras following the 2009 military coup that left the country  economically depressed, militarized,  and in the hands of concessionist right-wing leaders with ties to drug trafficking and money laundering. Since then, deteriorating conditions in Honduras and the “failed state” narrative have been used to justify the ZEDE’s outsourced governments as being better than the alternative. 

After years of stagnation, ZEDEs were once again proposed as a solution to crisis in 2018 when tens of thousands of Hondurans fled to the US-Mexico border in migrant caravans. After Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017, startup city enthusiasts and would-be investors convened in Washington DC to discuss using private cities run on blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies to rebuild the island. They subsequently gathered in Puerto Rico to try to move forward with their city-ventures, but were met with local opposition. 

Last month, northern Honduras was ravaged by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. Both hurricanes, which hit less than two weeks apart, are among the strongest in recorded history.  The Orlando Hernández administration has blocked aid from entering ports unless it goes directly through government agencies. Many Hondurans accuse the government of having embezzled aid funds and supplies for the Covid-19 pandemic, and hope to channel hurricane relief directly to local organizations. Like in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch, however, the humanitarian crisis may be used to accelerate long-term, structural reforms. In the absence of political will and capacity to care for the needs of newly devastated communities, and with just one year left of Hernández’s second term, it is likely that ZEDEs will again be promoted as a method of reconstruction and negotiated behind closed doors. Hondurans will have to act fast in nearly impossible conditions if they want to resist them.

Guest post by Beth Geglia

Efforts to develop semi-privately governed jurisdictions called Economic Development and Employment Zones (ZEDEs) in Honduras have recently emerged anew. ZEDEs, first legislated as Special Development Regions (REDs) and informally known as “charter cities,” “model cities,” or “startup cities,” are a flexible territorial concession that can be used for city-scale real estate and tourism development, resource extraction, energy production, manufacturing, banking, and the expansion of deregulated digital markets.

ZEDEs provide investors with the opportunity to establish their own independent laws and governing structures, judicial systems based in common law and arbitration, regulatory frameworks, and security forces. An international governing body called the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices, comprised of former members of Ronald Reagan’s Outreach Working Group on Central America and other ideologues from leading neoliberal think tanks, controls the approval process and parts of the internal governance of the ZEDEs nationally.

But for years the future of ZEDEs has been a question mark. National opposition to the project on the grounds that it violated national sovereignty and threatened mass displacement peaked after the passage of constitutional reforms for Special Development Regions (or RED, by their Spanish initials) in 2011. Resistance from community-based organizations like the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) and the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), as well as the work done by Honduran lawyers and journalists helped lead to a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that the RED reforms were unconstitutional.

The Honduran Congress, under the leadership of Juan Orlando Hernández, the current president of Honduras, un-seated the four magistrates who had voted against the REDs in an overnight, irregular proceeding. The maneuver was deemed by some a “technical coup” — one that allowed legislators to go back to the drawing board and pass a new ZEDE Law in 2013. However, the earlier court ruling had already stopped a few initial city-ventures in their tracks and cast doubt on the feasibility of the project.

Additionally, constant governance crises have characterized the Juan Orlando Hernández administration since it came to office in 2014. In 2015, Hernández faced a national pro-democracy movement that called for his removal following revelations of embezzlement and fraud in the Honduran National Social Security Institute. In 2017, following elections mired by credible reports of fraud,  Hernández imposed a months-long curfew and suspension of constitutional rights in order to quell protests. Protests throughout the country were violently repressed by state security forces, who  killed over thirty people in the weeks before Hernández was sworn in. Since then, his administration – which has received strong backing from the U.S. government – has been further marred by corruption investigations as well as allegations of direct links to drug trafficking and organized crime. Hernández’s own brother, Antonio “Tony” Hernández was found guilty of illegal cocaine trafficking in a Manhattan Federal court in 2019. These numerous controversies, as well as the dysfunction and criminality undergirding them, have made it difficult for the Honduran government to secure large-scale investment for ZEDEs.

Given all of this, even ZEDE advocate Mark Lutter of the Charter City Institute based in Washington DC was surprised to see the first ZEDE publicly launched in May of this year. The Próspera ZEDE, a 58-acre land purchase located in Crawfish Rock on the Caribbean island of Roatán, had been in the works behind the scenes since 2017. It was founded with investment from NeWay Capital and support from former German mining executive Titus Gebel, founder of the Free Private Cities Foundation, among others. The same group hopes to develop a constellation of ZEDEs in La Ceiba, Puerto Cortés, Cuyamel, and Amapala, Honduras. A second ZEDE called “Ciudad Morázan” launched in Choloma, Cortés just months after Próspera.

Today we see both renewed interest in, and opposition to, the ZEDE project. Despite restrictions put in place for Covid-19 prevention, Hondurans in Crawfish Rock have come out to confront NeWay investors in their own community. The issue has received major coverage on national news networks, which have hosted debates on the issue of sovereignty and privatization. In an unprecedented move, the National Lawyers Association of Honduras held a press conference on October 13, adopting an official position that the ZEDE law is unconstitutional and calling for it to be overturned legislatively.

On October 19th, the Bay Islands of Honduras made a similarly unequivocal statement of opposition to the ZEDE. Despite generally being friendly to foreign investment, the Roatán Municipal government signed a declaration alongside the Mayors of Santos Guardiola, Utila, and Guanaja, the Bay Islands Chamber of Tourism, and the Bay Islands Chamber of Commerce. The declaration demands that Congress carry out a popular referendum on ZEDE development in the Department of the Bay Islands in accordance with the right to prior consultation guaranteed under Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, which Honduras has ratified. It calls for an investigation into the approval of the Próspera ZEDE, and states: “We are energetically opposed to the installation of ZEDE projects inside our territory and to the government expropriating ancestral lands through the ZEDE Law to be handed over to foreigners for their benefit and profit.” The Federation of Patronatos (local governing councils) of the Bay Islands, the Islander Alliance for Social Justice, and the Native Bay Islanders Professional Labor Association signed a similar statement in August. These and other local organizations have formed the Coordinating Board for Territorial Defense of the Bay Islands in order to challenge ZEDE development. 

In Amapala, a municipality in the southern department of Valle (where the government has been planning ZEDE development with the help of the South Korean aid agency KOICA since 2014), local organizations have organized a new round of demonstrations at the doors of the municipal government. As a result, the mayor, Alberto Cruz, recently stated publicly that he is “categorically, emphatically” against a ZEDE in the municipality, noting that Amapala does not meet the high-population density requirement in the ZEDE Law to trigger a popular referendum on the matter. Cruz’s statements come years after the Association for Holistic Development in the Peninsula of Zacate Grande (ADEPZA) and other organizations in Amapala campaigned against ZEDE development, arguing that it would exacerbate a process of land dispossession that is already underway.

Around Choloma and San Pedro Sula, teachers’ groups that formed during the 2019 national strikes against education restructuring reforms – seen as a move to weaken the public education system  – have organized virtual forums to share information on the ZEDE law and its implications for Honduras. New organizations have sprung up on a national level, like Movimiento Patria (The Homeland Movement), comprised primarily of Honduran business owners and politicians. The organization formed over the Hernández administration’s mishandling of Covid-19 funds and has now opposed the ZEDE model of investment.

Will we see disaster capitalism in Honduras after Hurricanes Eta and Iota? 

In Naomi Klein’s classic The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Klein discusses the capitalization of crisis in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch. Mitch changed the course of history in Central America in 1998, but its most lasting impacts were not the destruction wrought by the hurricane itself. Domestic elites and foreign interests used the state of crisis and the need for reconstruction to pass sweeping reforms. The reforms allowed for the privatization of key trade and transportation infrastructure, the state telephone company, and other key sectors. The Honduran government overturned land reform laws and swiftly passed a pro-business mining law that expanded resource extraction throughout the country.

The ZEDEs themselves seem to follow disaster around. They were proposed in Honduras following the 2009 military coup that left the country  economically depressed, militarized,  and in the hands of concessionist right-wing leaders with ties to drug trafficking and money laundering. Since then, deteriorating conditions in Honduras and the “failed state” narrative have been used to justify the ZEDE’s outsourced governments as being better than the alternative. 

After years of stagnation, ZEDEs were once again proposed as a solution to crisis in 2018 when tens of thousands of Hondurans fled to the US-Mexico border in migrant caravans. After Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017, startup city enthusiasts and would-be investors convened in Washington DC to discuss using private cities run on blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies to rebuild the island. They subsequently gathered in Puerto Rico to try to move forward with their city-ventures, but were met with local opposition. 

Last month, northern Honduras was ravaged by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. Both hurricanes, which hit less than two weeks apart, are among the strongest in recorded history.  The Orlando Hernández administration has blocked aid from entering ports unless it goes directly through government agencies. Many Hondurans accuse the government of having embezzled aid funds and supplies for the Covid-19 pandemic, and hope to channel hurricane relief directly to local organizations. Like in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch, however, the humanitarian crisis may be used to accelerate long-term, structural reforms. In the absence of political will and capacity to care for the needs of newly devastated communities, and with just one year left of Hernández’s second term, it is likely that ZEDEs will again be promoted as a method of reconstruction and negotiated behind closed doors. Hondurans will have to act fast in nearly impossible conditions if they want to resist them.

This week in Washington, D.C. the Organization of American States (OAS) held their 50th Regular Session of the General Assembly. In these meetings the General Assembly, the highest decision-making body of the OAS, is tasked with debating the organization’s course of action for the next year, as well as setting the standards of governance for the General Secretariat — the OAS’s central executive body. This is headed by Luis Almagro, a former Uruguayan diplomat who has been the Secretary General of the OAS since 2015. 

The session arrives on the heels of another important political event for the Americas: Bolivia’s general election, which took place almost a year after President Evo Morales was ousted in a military coup d’etat. The justification for the coup was based primarily on allegations of electoral fraud that were promoted by an OAS Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) and Secretary General Almagro. Though the Center for Economic and Policy Research and others published studies showing that there was no evidence to support the OAS fraud allegations, the organization stuck to its claims and Secretary General Almagro threw his support behind Bolivia’s de facto government, even as it engaged in violent repression of protests and persecuted leaders and supporters of Morales’s political party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). In spite of this repression, MAS presidential candidate Luis Arce swept the first round of the October 18 elections with around 55% of the vote

Given the central role of the OAS in Bolivia’s 2019 coup, and other controversial actions, such as jeopardizing the independence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and unilaterally appointing officials to key positions, some diplomats attending this year’s General Assembly have strongly criticized Almagro’s leadership and questioned whether he should continue to head the organization.

The most scathing public indictment of Almagro’s actions has come from Mexico, whose  Subsecretary for Latin America and the Caribbean delivered a scathing indictment of the current General Secretary for his unilateral decision-making, support for harmful economic sanctions in the region, and for undermining the principles of non-intervention and self-determination in the case of Bolivia. 

In his prepared remarks to the assembly on October 20, Undersecretary Maximiliano Reyes Zúñiga asserted that Secretary Almagro’s use of the 2019 electoral observation mission in Bolivia has de-legitimized the EOM as an institution. He recommended that “Mr. Luis Almagro submit to a process of self-criticism based on his actions against the OAS Charter and the harm that he has done to Bolivia’s democracy, to determine if he still has the necessary moral authority to lead this organization.”

 

These criticisms have been accompanied by calls for Almagro to resign from regional actors such as the Grupo de Puebla

When asked about these remarks by reporters, General Secretary Almagro evaded a direct response, instead criticizing the media for not focussing on his support from other countries, and doubling down on his defense for the electoral mission’s 2019 audit, which he claimed was “irrefutable.”

Here is an English translation of Undersecretary Reyes’s full speech at the OAS General Assembly on October 21 (emphasis from original document):

Esteemed Ministers,

Esteemed representatives,

It is an honor for me to participate in this 50th regular session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States on behalf of my country, as well as that of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

We meet in unusual circumstances because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has posed a great challenge to the world, and in particular to our hemisphere.

That is why Mexico participates in this event to reaffirm its multilateralist vocation. We believe that cooperation is an essential pillar of peaceful coexistence among nations and of the search for solutions to the common challenges we face.

Mexico is well acquainted with the difficulties of political dialogue in the hemisphere that have halted important progress on many issues.

In the face of these difficulties, the Fourth Transformation of public life in Mexico, led by President López Obrador, will always uphold the principles of non-intervention, self-determination of peoples, peaceful settlement of disputes, and respect, protection and promotion of human rights.

We therefore reaffirm Mexico’s historical stance against unilateral economic and financial sanctions implemented as means of pressure. The greatest victims of these are always the most in need, which makes [these sanctions] unacceptable.

Furthermore, Mexico has on several occasions expressed the desire that the peoples of Nicaragua and Venezuela will soon find a peaceful and democratic way out of the situation that these countries are experiencing, preserving at all times their legitimate right to shape their own destiny. Mexico opposes any measure that seeks to exclude a Member State of our Organization from political dialogue.

Mexico is also concerned about the recent trend of reaching beyond the technical nature of Electoral Observation Missions. We emphasize that the actions of the EOMs must be impartial in nature, limited to logistical and institutional accompaniment and that they are conducted under the principles of rationality, transparency, austerity and accountability.

Democracy is also strengthened by eliminating corruption. Mexico renews its commitment to combating this scourge by incorporating an active citizenry that is vigilant of government actions.

In terms of human rights, Mexico maintains its strong support for the rights of indigenous peoples, LGBT people and for gender equality.

Mexico also reaffirms its full support for the Inter-American System of Human Rights and stresses the importance of respecting its autonomy. My country will remain committed to strengthening the work of the Commission and the Court.

In the area of comprehensive development, we must continue to work on strengthening measures for comprehensive disaster risk management to address climate change threats.

However, in terms of cooperation, attention must be drawn to the indifference with which the OAS has behaved in this pandemic.

We note with concern the lack of concrete action by the General Secretariat during this health emergency.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My country reiterates that the OAS General Secretariat must always act within its own institutional framework and move away from making any pronouncement on behalf of membership. It is the Member States, not the General Secretariat, that determines the direction that the Organization takes.

In this regard, we note the configuration of a pattern of worrying behavior by the General Secretariat, which consists in using its administrative powers to make political decisions affecting the direction of the Organization, without prior consideration by Members.

Such decisions lack a legal basis and the necessary information that would allow us to understand their motivation and objectives. This is the case with the appointment of a special adviser on the responsibility to protect. This issue should have been consulted and discussed in a comprehensive manner within the Organization. Mexico views this appointment with great concern.

We note the same pattern in regards to the refusal of the General Secretariat to renew the mandate of the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We strongly reiterate that these actions undermine the autonomy and independence of the Commission.

Similarly, we see the same sort of behavior in Bolivia’s in 2019 elections, where the General Secretariat used an Electoral Observation Mission in a contentious manner to prematurely denounce alleged fraud that has never been proven to have taken place. In the elections of last Sunday in that country we saw the same electoral trend as in 2019.  

This contentious use [of the EOM] generated instability, violence and constitutional disorder in Bolivia, and fomented regional confrontation. It is not the General Secretariat’s job to qualify elections or governments. Given the aforementioned issues, Mexico recommends that Mr. Luis Almagro submit to a process of self-criticism based on his actions against the OAS Charter and the harm that he has done to Bolivia’s democracy, to determine if he still has the necessary moral authority to lead this organization.

My country denounces the Secretary General’s desire to intervene in the internal affairs of our States and to cause harm to our democracies. What happened in Bolivia must never be repeated.

Yesterday marked a year since the Bolivian elections in which Evo Morales was the winner. One year later, the MAS party won again and Luis Arce was elected President in a peaceful and democratic election day – an example for the whole world, and very much despite you, Mr. Secretary General, and your electoral observation mission. The Bolivian people have given you a historic lesson, let’s hope that you will learn it.

As long as you continue to lead the Organization, the memory of what happened in Bolivia will always be present. You have de-legitimized the EOMs and led the Organization to clash with the current democratic reality of the region.

Mexico, in accordance with its strong multilateralist tradition and its constitutional foreign policy principles, will continue to promote dialogue and diplomacy as the best way to seek common and consensual solutions. We have done so at the helm of CELAC, and we deeply appreciate the vote of confidence of all Latin American and Caribbean countries to continue to lead it next year.

We reiterate Mexico’s call to prioritize the unity of the peoples of America.

Thank you very much.

This week in Washington, D.C. the Organization of American States (OAS) held their 50th Regular Session of the General Assembly. In these meetings the General Assembly, the highest decision-making body of the OAS, is tasked with debating the organization’s course of action for the next year, as well as setting the standards of governance for the General Secretariat — the OAS’s central executive body. This is headed by Luis Almagro, a former Uruguayan diplomat who has been the Secretary General of the OAS since 2015. 

The session arrives on the heels of another important political event for the Americas: Bolivia’s general election, which took place almost a year after President Evo Morales was ousted in a military coup d’etat. The justification for the coup was based primarily on allegations of electoral fraud that were promoted by an OAS Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) and Secretary General Almagro. Though the Center for Economic and Policy Research and others published studies showing that there was no evidence to support the OAS fraud allegations, the organization stuck to its claims and Secretary General Almagro threw his support behind Bolivia’s de facto government, even as it engaged in violent repression of protests and persecuted leaders and supporters of Morales’s political party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). In spite of this repression, MAS presidential candidate Luis Arce swept the first round of the October 18 elections with around 55% of the vote

Given the central role of the OAS in Bolivia’s 2019 coup, and other controversial actions, such as jeopardizing the independence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and unilaterally appointing officials to key positions, some diplomats attending this year’s General Assembly have strongly criticized Almagro’s leadership and questioned whether he should continue to head the organization.

The most scathing public indictment of Almagro’s actions has come from Mexico, whose  Subsecretary for Latin America and the Caribbean delivered a scathing indictment of the current General Secretary for his unilateral decision-making, support for harmful economic sanctions in the region, and for undermining the principles of non-intervention and self-determination in the case of Bolivia. 

In his prepared remarks to the assembly on October 20, Undersecretary Maximiliano Reyes Zúñiga asserted that Secretary Almagro’s use of the 2019 electoral observation mission in Bolivia has de-legitimized the EOM as an institution. He recommended that “Mr. Luis Almagro submit to a process of self-criticism based on his actions against the OAS Charter and the harm that he has done to Bolivia’s democracy, to determine if he still has the necessary moral authority to lead this organization.”

 

These criticisms have been accompanied by calls for Almagro to resign from regional actors such as the Grupo de Puebla

When asked about these remarks by reporters, General Secretary Almagro evaded a direct response, instead criticizing the media for not focussing on his support from other countries, and doubling down on his defense for the electoral mission’s 2019 audit, which he claimed was “irrefutable.”

Here is an English translation of Undersecretary Reyes’s full speech at the OAS General Assembly on October 21 (emphasis from original document):

Esteemed Ministers,

Esteemed representatives,

It is an honor for me to participate in this 50th regular session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States on behalf of my country, as well as that of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

We meet in unusual circumstances because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has posed a great challenge to the world, and in particular to our hemisphere.

That is why Mexico participates in this event to reaffirm its multilateralist vocation. We believe that cooperation is an essential pillar of peaceful coexistence among nations and of the search for solutions to the common challenges we face.

Mexico is well acquainted with the difficulties of political dialogue in the hemisphere that have halted important progress on many issues.

In the face of these difficulties, the Fourth Transformation of public life in Mexico, led by President López Obrador, will always uphold the principles of non-intervention, self-determination of peoples, peaceful settlement of disputes, and respect, protection and promotion of human rights.

We therefore reaffirm Mexico’s historical stance against unilateral economic and financial sanctions implemented as means of pressure. The greatest victims of these are always the most in need, which makes [these sanctions] unacceptable.

Furthermore, Mexico has on several occasions expressed the desire that the peoples of Nicaragua and Venezuela will soon find a peaceful and democratic way out of the situation that these countries are experiencing, preserving at all times their legitimate right to shape their own destiny. Mexico opposes any measure that seeks to exclude a Member State of our Organization from political dialogue.

Mexico is also concerned about the recent trend of reaching beyond the technical nature of Electoral Observation Missions. We emphasize that the actions of the EOMs must be impartial in nature, limited to logistical and institutional accompaniment and that they are conducted under the principles of rationality, transparency, austerity and accountability.

Democracy is also strengthened by eliminating corruption. Mexico renews its commitment to combating this scourge by incorporating an active citizenry that is vigilant of government actions.

In terms of human rights, Mexico maintains its strong support for the rights of indigenous peoples, LGBT people and for gender equality.

Mexico also reaffirms its full support for the Inter-American System of Human Rights and stresses the importance of respecting its autonomy. My country will remain committed to strengthening the work of the Commission and the Court.

In the area of comprehensive development, we must continue to work on strengthening measures for comprehensive disaster risk management to address climate change threats.

However, in terms of cooperation, attention must be drawn to the indifference with which the OAS has behaved in this pandemic.

We note with concern the lack of concrete action by the General Secretariat during this health emergency.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My country reiterates that the OAS General Secretariat must always act within its own institutional framework and move away from making any pronouncement on behalf of membership. It is the Member States, not the General Secretariat, that determines the direction that the Organization takes.

In this regard, we note the configuration of a pattern of worrying behavior by the General Secretariat, which consists in using its administrative powers to make political decisions affecting the direction of the Organization, without prior consideration by Members.

Such decisions lack a legal basis and the necessary information that would allow us to understand their motivation and objectives. This is the case with the appointment of a special adviser on the responsibility to protect. This issue should have been consulted and discussed in a comprehensive manner within the Organization. Mexico views this appointment with great concern.

We note the same pattern in regards to the refusal of the General Secretariat to renew the mandate of the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We strongly reiterate that these actions undermine the autonomy and independence of the Commission.

Similarly, we see the same sort of behavior in Bolivia’s in 2019 elections, where the General Secretariat used an Electoral Observation Mission in a contentious manner to prematurely denounce alleged fraud that has never been proven to have taken place. In the elections of last Sunday in that country we saw the same electoral trend as in 2019.  

This contentious use [of the EOM] generated instability, violence and constitutional disorder in Bolivia, and fomented regional confrontation. It is not the General Secretariat’s job to qualify elections or governments. Given the aforementioned issues, Mexico recommends that Mr. Luis Almagro submit to a process of self-criticism based on his actions against the OAS Charter and the harm that he has done to Bolivia’s democracy, to determine if he still has the necessary moral authority to lead this organization.

My country denounces the Secretary General’s desire to intervene in the internal affairs of our States and to cause harm to our democracies. What happened in Bolivia must never be repeated.

Yesterday marked a year since the Bolivian elections in which Evo Morales was the winner. One year later, the MAS party won again and Luis Arce was elected President in a peaceful and democratic election day – an example for the whole world, and very much despite you, Mr. Secretary General, and your electoral observation mission. The Bolivian people have given you a historic lesson, let’s hope that you will learn it.

As long as you continue to lead the Organization, the memory of what happened in Bolivia will always be present. You have de-legitimized the EOMs and led the Organization to clash with the current democratic reality of the region.

Mexico, in accordance with its strong multilateralist tradition and its constitutional foreign policy principles, will continue to promote dialogue and diplomacy as the best way to seek common and consensual solutions. We have done so at the helm of CELAC, and we deeply appreciate the vote of confidence of all Latin American and Caribbean countries to continue to lead it next year.

We reiterate Mexico’s call to prioritize the unity of the peoples of America.

Thank you very much.

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