Latin America Policy Initiative

Building on its years of work advocating for a modern approach to America's growing Latino community, NDN developed a robust inter-American policy program to focus on issues affecting countries in Latin America. The Latin America Policy Initiative (LAPI) has three parts: the Latin America Policy Seminar, the Latin America Policy Studies Program and the Latin America Policy Forum.

LAPI is a product of the work conducted at NDN and the New Policy Institute, and it educates and empowers leaders in policy, politics, and social and economic development to take on the challenges of Inter-American policy by providing a forum to discuss modern issues affecting Latin American countries. The program also aims to give its participants an enriching cross cultural experience, immersing them in a selected Latin American country, which will help guide their future leadership decisions.

2010 Highlights

Event Video: Colombian Ambassador Barco Addresses NDN on US-Colombian Relations

Event: Panamanian Ambassador and Congressman Engel discuss Bilateral Relations

Debrief on Obama's meeting with President Mauricio Funes by Sarah Sanchez

2009 Highlights

Flu Crisis Brought U.S., Mexico Together By Nelson Cunningham in the Houston Chronicle

Event Video: Preview of the Summit of the Americas Ambassador Carolina Barco

Event Video: Preview of the Summit of the Americas Former VP of Panama, Samuel Lewis Navarro

Video: Nelson Cunningham on the State of US-Latin American Relations

Hearing 'Friend' in Trinidad By Nelson Cunningham in the Chicago Tribune

Update on the Situation in Honduras by Zuraya Tapia-Alfaro

Zelaya's Return to Honduras by Zuraya Tapia-Alfaro

2008 Highlights

Announcing LAPI

Joe Garcia Gets a Job in the Obama Administration

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Latin America Policy Initiative
Miami New Times

"Garcia landed a job in the Obama administration as director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity in the Department of Energy. Garcia has previously been executive VP and director of the Hispanic Project for NDN."

Hearing Room Clashes Could Alter Political Environment

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Other Related Programs: 
Hispanic Programs
Latin America Policy Initiative
The Washington Post

"Rosenberg argued in an e-mail message Monday that his party has been more deft at capitalizing on the nation's changing demographics and called the Sotomayor nomination another recognition that America will soon be a majority-minority nation."

Hispanics Have a Wild Card to Play

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Other Related Programs: 
Latin America Policy Initiative
New People & New Map

"The elephant has left the room Arizona so you’d better get used to it,” emphasized the new Independent voter well as the increase in the Hispanic vote. NDN believes Hispanic voters could turn Arizona into a Blue state."

Update on the Situation in Honduras

Yesterday in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, interim leader Roberto Micheletti made comments offering to step down as long as ousted President Manuel Zelaya is not allowed to return to power.  

According to the AP, Micheletti says he is "willing to leave office if at some point that decision is needed to bring peace and tranquility to the country, but without any return, and I stress that, of former President Zelaya."

It was unclear if the U.S. government had received the proposal to end the standoff over the country's June 28 coup.

On the one hand, it is reported that pro-Zelaya walkouts planned.  Labor leader Israel Salinas, one of the main figures in the pro-Zelaya movement, said protest organizers were talking with union leaders at private companies to see if they could mount a general strike against interim President Roberto Micheletti, who has threatened to jail Zelaya if he tries to return.  In a statement that is indeed worrisome, Salinas said sympathetic unions in neighboring Nicaragua and El Salvador would try to block border crossings later this week "in solidarity with our struggle."

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is mediating talks aimed at resolving the impasse, but Zelaya has grown frustrated by the lack of progress.

On Monday, Zelaya announced that if the interim government did not agree to reinstate him at the next round of negotiations, "the mediation effort will be considered failed and other measures will be taken." He did not say what those measures would be.

The talks are scheduled to resume this Saturday after two earlier rounds failed to produce a breakthrough. Arias, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in ending Central America's wars, has urged Zelaya to "be patient."

Micheletti's administration insists Zelaya was ousted legally because he violated the constitution by pushing for a referendum on retooling the charter. It has refused to bend on reinstating him despite international condemnation of the coup, including from the United States.

Regardless, the United States and other governments have now been put in an impossible position.  A responsible democratic government cannot, under any circumstances, stand by a government that took power by military insurrection - a degradation of all the democratic advancements that have been achieved over the past few decades in the Latin America region.  On the other hand, it is difficult to be forced to defend an individual that was similarly acting in a threatening manner to democracy, attempting to institute constitutional changes and referendums that had already been deemed unconstitutional by that country’s own judiciary and its internal system of checks and balances.  

Honduras update: Zelaya turned away from country, Costa Rican president mediates dispute

Government forces blockaded the runways of Tegucigalpa's airport on July 5, foiling ousted President Manuel Zelaya's bold attempt to return to Honduras and reclaim the presidency.  Zelaya's plane made repeated passes over the airport as police and pro-Zelaya protestors clashed below, resulting in the deaths of two people and dozens more wounded. Thousands of Zelaya supporters stormed the police cordon as the plane neared the capital, initally breaking through before being driven back by a second deployment of police arrayed around the airport.

International outcry over the since the June 28 coup, led by the military and spearheaded by interim President Roberto Micheletti, has not diminished.  The Organization of American States voted unanimously on July 4 to suspend Honduras's membership until Zelaya is reinstated as president.  The OAS suspension resulted in a "pause" of nearly $200 million in loans from the Inter-American Development Bank, which said last week that it would, "decide its future course of action depending on actions taken by the OAS," and the U.S. has suspended more than $20 million of primarily military aid.

President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica -- the 1987 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize -- has agreed to mediate sit-down meetings between Zelaya and Micheletti that began July 9 in San Jose. Hopes of a quick resolution have been dashed, however, as both parties refused to meet face-to-face and left negotiations just hours after they had begun. 

Flu crisis brought U.S., Mexico together

This was originally published as an op-ed in the June 7 Houston Chronicle.

Presidential summits have a well-deserved reputation for being much talk and much less action. President Barack Obama’s April 16 summit in Mexico City with that country’s president, Felipe Calderon, certainly had its share of high-flown, friendly sounding rhetoric.

“Today … we have confirmed the determination of both governments to consolidate the very, very close contacts and links that join and bring together Mexico and the United States,” President Calderon offered. “I see this visit … as an opportunity to launch a new era of cooperation and partnership between our two countries,” President Obama responded.

And then, just seven days later, that rhetoric was put to a real test. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Mexican citizens were thought to be sick with a new epidemic flu, and dozens or even hundreds were thought to be already dead. The disease seemed to have almost immediately spread to the United States — including at least one member of President Obama’s traveling party in Mexico. Within days, Mexico City was effectively shut down and newspapers in both countries — and around the world — blared the possible arrival of a major new pandemic influenza with the potential to kill millions around the world.

And in the face of mounting hysteria, the response of both Mexico and the United States was an almost perfect display of the cooperation and partnership the presidents had loftily promised.

As the H1N1 virus broke out, some countries hastily canceled flights to Mexico and some halted trade. Not the United States. When some in this country called for shutting the border, President Obama forcefully rejected the idea and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called it “pointless.” This decision not only made practical sense — since the virus had already jumped to the United States, closing the border would have done nothing more than wreak economic havoc on both economies — but the symbolism carried great weight in Mexico. After all, just a year ago the United States was talking about building a wall between the countries. All three Mexican political parties, in a rare demonstration of agreement, applauded the Obama administration’s response.

Mexico did its part to act responsibly. Rather than hiding its problem or refusing to accept outside help out of a misplaced sense of “dignidad,” or the fear of exposing holes in its public health system, Mexico did not hesitate to immediately ask the United States for material support. The Mexican authorities worked closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and their Canadian counterparts, sending them suspected samples for testing that went beyond Mexico’s capabilities. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the United States would send 400,000 regimens of antivirals to Mexico. Dr. Richard Besser of the CDC reported that 34 CDC staff were in the field in five locations in Mexico. The CDC helped Mexico build a lab capability to do diagnosis and confirmation of the H1N1 virus in Mexico itself — a major step that allowed faster confirmation and response, and a shorter path to identifying risk factors.

In short, officials in both countries cooperated closely without the crippling lack of trust that has frustrated our joint efforts in the past, and that we still find to an extent in law enforcement and narcotics matters.

Now that the immediate threat of a killer pandemic has receded (the CDC recently dropped the advisory against unnecessary travel to Mexico, though a recent death and more infections and school closings in New York and elsewhere suggest the danger is not past), it is possible to look back on these events of the past month and see true signs of a new, stable and confident relationship between the United States and Mexico.

In fairness, of course, Obama and Calderon did not wave a wand and create this new relationship. They have benefited from nearly 20 years of close cooperation — from Bush 41 and Carlos Salinas to Clinton and Ernesto Zedillo, and then to Bush 43 and Vicente Fox — that started with the negotiation of NAFTA. Setting aside the lingering public unease over NAFTA’s economic impact, it’s plain that NAFTA did one thing very well: It helped cement a mindset of shared responsibility and institutional frameworks that promote open exchanges between our governments. Notably, of course, President Obama is no longer talking of renegotiating NAFTA.

Presidents Obama and Calderon are both mature, thoughtful leaders, and they have fully embraced this 20-year evolution and may yet bring it to a new level — truly a “new era of cooperation and partnership.” How they and their governments handled the brief but intense H1N1 public hysteria tells us a lot about how we can expect them to develop their own personal relationship, and that of our countries, in the years ahead.

Next up, perhaps, is an issue that touches deep emotional chords in both nations: immigration, and the fate of the millions of Mexican “illegals” living in the United States. Comprehensive immigration reform is an urgent political need; but maneuvering through the political backlash that progress will unleash will require the skilled management and cooperation we showed during the H1N1 scare.

In August, the three leaders of North America — Mexico, Canada, United States — will meet in what has now become a once-yearly North American Summit. President Obama deserves credit for seeing the value of these meetings, which started during the time of his predecessor George Bush. The flu tested our relationships — and found them strong. Now, on to new challenges.

Hearing 'Friend' in Trinidad

Chicago Tribune

How does Hugo Chavez say "amigo," at least when he's talking to Barack Obama?

He says "friend." As in "I want to be your friend." In English. True, as he "friended" President Barack Obama at the 34-nation Summit of the Americas last weekend in Trinidad, he handed him a book about 500 years of neo-colonialist exploitation of Latin America by Europe and the United States. But the gesture was clear, as was the broad grin on Chavez's face as he shook Obama's hand on the summit's first day. So was Chavez's announcement that he would send a new ambassador to Washington, seven months after pulling out his last envoy in the waning days of the Bush administration.

And Chavez was hardly the only "anti-American" leader to soften his stance against the U.S. Evo Morales of Bolivia, who had announced he would boycott the summit, came after all. He also was caught on camera shaking Obama's hand. And, of course, Cuba's Raul Castro announced he was prepared "to discuss everything" with the new administration—"human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners—everything."

In a trip that began in Mexico City and concluded in Trinidad, Obama showed that he has indeed found the "reset button" for the Americas.

To be sure, there was plenty of criticism at the summit of U.S. policies. But after years of often unnecessary contentiousness, the ability to establish a dialogue across-the-board in Latin America is a huge step forward, as is America's willingness to acknowledge a shared responsibility for common ills.

Candidate Obama promised a year ago in Miami that as president he would bring about a new relationship with Latin America. That promise—conveniently delivered in a majority-Latino city in a battleground state—was met with skepticism. After all, the last president had promised the same thing while campaigning in the same city, and many in the region had found themselves sorely disappointed. Moreover, with the host of domestic and international problems facing the new administration, how much attention could the White House really be expected to pay to Latin America?

But in the past month, the administration has showed it can walk and chew gum simultaneously. In early April, even as much of the administration focused on the financial crisis and the G-20, European and NATO summits, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Mexico and acknowledged that on two frontline issues for Mexico, guns and drugs, the U.S. shared complicity and responsibility. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also traveled to Mexico to reinforce that message. And Vice President Joseph Biden was dispatched to Chile to attend a leaders' summit and to Costa Rica to meet with Central American presidents.

For his own part, Obama invited Mexican President Felipe Calderon and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil to Washington to his first bilateral meetings. Finally, before embarking for Mexico and Trinidad, Obama announced a modest but symbolically powerful softening of travel and financial restrictions with Cuba.

Viewed together, these steps illuminate a carefully thought-out and sustained plan of U.S. engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean. Obviously, Obama and his advisers did not view the Summit of the Americas as a check-the-box mandatory appearance. Rather, they used it to anchor a monthlong orchestrated diplomatic campaign to set new benchmarks for the region that are based on mutual respect, a shared responsibility for illegal narcotics and violence and a desire to get beyond old debates of the left versus the right.

Now comes the hard part. How to turn rhetoric into action along the troubled border with Mexico. How to restore strained relations with Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador—without backing down on key U.S. priorities such as respect for rule of law, investment security, and in the case of Venezuela, democratic principles. How to move forward on liberalized trade. And how to proceed with some kind of dialogue with Cuba that does not dissolve into backlash, as Gerald Ford's and Bill Clinton's prior efforts did.

Despite the challenges ahead, it certainly was refreshing to end a Summit of the Americas without rallies and bonfires ranged against the American president and with the word "friend" ringing in our ears.

Nelson W. Cunningham advised Barack Obama's presidential campaign on Latin America and served on his transition team. Cunningham also was special adviser to President Bill Clinton for Western Hemisphere affairs and is chair of the Latin America Policy Initiative at NDN, a Washington-based think tank formerly known as the New Democrat Network.

Despite the challenges ahead, it certainly was refreshing to end a Summit of the Americas without rallies and bonfires ranged against the American president and with the word "friend" ringing in our ears.

Cinco de Mayo! And Moving Past the Pandemic

I thought I would share this piece in honor of today.  A nice window into what is happening as we speak in the city of Puebla, heart of 5 de Mayo celebrations.

Little swine flu concern in Cinco de Mayo city
By Kerry Sanders, NBC News correspondent
PUEBLA, MEXICO –  It’s difficult to spot any evidence folks here are concerned about the swine flu.

In this city, about 60 miles southeast of Mexico City, few residents are wearing masks.  Stores and restaurants are open.  The town center, called el zocalo, is awash with families, children holding balloons. Lovers are in clutches on city benches, smooching.

In Mexico City, streets are empty, restaurants are closed and it’s so quiet you can hear the birds chirping. But Puebla is alive.

Double decker buses giving city tours are filled – mind you, there are few tourists. Most of those taking the tour, learning the history that dates back to the 16th century, are locals, or families who fled the boredom of the rules in Mexico City.

Puebla is famous for the Battle of Puebla in 1862, when the Mexican Army was victorious over the French occupying forces. It was considered an unlikely victory. While most Americans may know little about that war, it’s become a popular celebration of sorts North of the border. The victory was on May 5, or as it’s better known: Cinco de Mayo.

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