Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

National Intelligence Threat Assessment and Latin America

By Ludovico Feoli

On January 31st the Director of National Intelligence presented his assessment of worldwide threats faced by the US to the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence. As it regards Latin America, the assessment is interesting for what is says as much as for what it omits. The main threats identified are from the drug trade and its derivative violence, but little is said about the strategic implications of waning US regional influence and environmental challenges.

While not stated explicitly, the threat level assessed for the region does not seem particularly significant. Progress is recognized in terms of the region’s stability, both economic and political. While democracy is seen as having advanced regionally, reversions are attributed to “populist, authoritarian leaders” in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. The implications of such reversions are not considered, with the partial exception of Venezuela, where it is suggested that Chavez’ inability or unwillingness to deal with succession despite his uncertain cancer prognosis may lead to a power vacuum. Also implied is the potential for instability given the “country’s 25 percent inflation, widespread food and energy shortages, and soaring crime and homicide rates.” Venezuela has the second largest level of proven oil reserves in the world, on which the US still depends for a large, albeit declining, percentage of its imports.

The drug threat to the US is seen as central, mainly due to its effect on violence and corruption in the region, which are undermining governance and the rule of law along the drug corridor of Central America. In turn, this is seen as fostering a “permissive environment for gang and criminal activity to thrive”. Mexico is described as the primary front of the war on drugs and its progress in degrading cartels and disrupting criminal operations is recognized. The heavy toll in terms of violence is also recognized, with over 28,000 deaths in 2010 and 2011 alone. Yet, the security implications are seen as largely confined to Mexico: “We assess traffickers are weary of more effective law enforcement in the United States. Moreover, the factor that drives most of the bloodshed in Mexico—competition for control of trafficking routes and networks of corrupt officials—is not widely applicable to the small retail drug trafficking activities on the US side of the border”. This view seems at best sanguine. It ignores the broad-ranging social implications of repressive anti-drug policies and the strains they create for law enforcement and the judiciary system. It also underestimates the consequences of a militarized policy that places the onus of enforcement on regional governments. As the dead pile up those governments will be less willing to pay the human costs of US drug consumption, and inter-regional relations will become increasingly strained.

The assessment is remarkably scant about the consequences of waning American influence in the region. While it notes the region’s accommodation of “outside actors”, such as Iran, Russia, and China, it says nothing of the implications. While Iran’s influence is limited to the Bolivarian Alternative partners, the reach of Russia and, especially China, is much broader. China has become the largest trade partner to Brazil, Chile, and Peru and has engaged in direct investment and joint ventures throughout the entire region. It has also sought to increase its soft power with good will gestures like the construction of high-visibility public works, soft loans and donations. The strategic significance of these inroads for the US should merit attention. At issue is competition for scarce natural and energy resources that will become increasingly vital for future economic growth. But also the clout in international affairs that comes with these types of economic and political relations.

Also absent in the assessment is consideration of environmental challenges with regard to Latin America, although elsewhere the report comments on the risks of water security and natural disasters. Environmental degradation and resource scarcity are potential contributors to international conflict. Global warming and climate change can also pose considerable risks for Americans at home. Deforestation and other forms of environmental degradation can intensify the impact of natural disasters creating humanitarian and refugee crises that bear upon the US, as was illustrated by hurricane Mitch in Central America and the Haitian earthquake, among others. The US has a key security interest in partnering with Latin America for the pursuit of environmental goals. The region concentrates a large portion of the world’s biodiversity and forested areas and is therefore an indispensable partner for the control of global emissions and natural conservation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Ludovico Feoli

    Permanent Researcher and CEO, CIAPA, Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane University

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Join us for a live bilingual reading of their book Qué Vola, Nola?. From the vibrant jazz scenes and Spanish-colonial architecture to the food and weather, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Havana, Cuba, have much in common. And they are both home to anole lizards who love jazz! After a jazz song lures Ramito through a hotel window in Havana, he crawls into in a convenient, comfy suitcase for a nap. When he awakens, Ramito can’t quite find the way back to his tree. His new friend Bernard, an American anole lizard, unsuccessfully tries to convince Ramito that he’s in New Orleans. Is he? Readers of all ages will find the lush, tropical illustrations and the frustrated refrain of “but that is something we have in Havana” endlessly entertaining. In fact, they just might agree that the cities, and their inhabitants, share a lot! We are honored to welcome local author, Abigail Isaacoff and illustrator originally from Cuba, Ramiro Díaz for a bilingual story time at both Pebbles Center locations. Check below and make sure to join us at one of these events. Families will explore this unique story and learn to create their own craft based on the book.

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In honor of Teach Central America Week (October 4 – 10, 2021), Tulane University presents in collaboration with Vanderbilt University and the University of Georgia an educator workshop exploring the diversity of Central America. Over the course of three years, we have produced annual summer teacher institutes to enhance the teaching of Central America at the K-16 level. We are excited to continue the professional development series by providing this online panel open to K-16 educators of any subject area.

There are currently over 600,000 Garifuna around the world. Central America has the highest population; 100,000 in Honduras and 8,000 in Nicaragua, which was one of the last settlements in 1912. Guatemala has a small, isolated population which has retained much of the original culture. The United States has the second highest population, with about 100,000 residing in New York City. There are also populations in Chicago, Louisiana, and California. The number in the US increases every year as more people leave Central America. The Carib populations in Central America have almost entirely vanished, so the Garifuna are now considered the last descendants of the Amer-Indian tribes in South America.

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Janel Martinez is a writer and the founder of the award-winning blog, Ain’t I Latina? an online destination celebrating Afro-Latinx womanhood. The Bronx, NY native is a frequent public speaker discussing media, culture and identity, as well as diversity at conferences and events for Bloomberg, NBCU, SXSW, Harvard University and more. She’s appeared as a featured guest on national shows and outlets, such as BuzzFeed, ESSENCE, NPR and Sirius XM, and her work has appeared in Adweek, Univision Communications, Oprah Magazine, Remezcla and The New York Times. The Honduran-American has been nominated for the 20th Annual Rosoff Award in the 20-Something Category and won the Afro-Latino Festival of New York’s Digital Empowerment Award and, in 2018, was recognized at City Hall by the New York City Council, the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and the Bronx Delegation to the NYC Council for her contributions as a woman of Garifuna descent. Her work will be included in the forthcoming YA anthology, WILD TONGUES CAN’T BE TAMED, which will be published in November 2021 by Flatiron Books.

Isha Sumner immigrated to the US at the age of 15, the foundation of her Garifuna ethnicity and culture remains central to her identity and sharing that has been a major part of her life for the past 25 years. As a professional Garifuna dancer, Isha was a member of the International Folkloric Garifuna Ballet of Honduras, which toured throughout Honduras & Europe in the early 1990s. From 1995-2000, she was a member of Wanichagu, a Garifuna dance company based in NYC, and performed at the likes of Lincoln Center and Harvard University. Isha’s passion to perform onstage transitioned to more formal acting and included a featured appearance speaking Garifuna in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit in 2007. In 2016 she completed her Associate‘€™s Degree in acting at William Esper School in Manhattan. With a continued passion to share and preserve her own Garifuna culture, Isha has dedicated much of the past 5 years to documenting Garifuna cuisine in Weiga, Let’s Eat.

Saraceia Fennell is a Brooklyn born Black, Honduran writer from the Bronx and the founder of The Bronx is Reading, and Honduran Garifuna Writers and Friends. She is also a publicist who has worked with many award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors. Fennell is board chair of Latinx in Publishing, and on the Advisory Board for People of Color in Publishing. Her forthcoming anthology WILD TONGUES CAN’T BE TAMED will be published by Flatiron Books in November 2021. For more information visit SaracieaFennell.com and follow her on social @sj_fennell.

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