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Corruption and narcotrafficking are gradually dismantling democratic institutions in certain Central American and Caribbean countries. In view of upcoming elections in Honduras, El Salvador, and elsewhere in Latin America, AEI's Roger Noriega moderated a discussion on Wednesday morning among José Cárdenas of VisionAmericas, Carl Meacham of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, and Carlos Ponce of the Center for Strategic and International Studies to address the multifaceted issues plaguing these countries.
Comparing El Salvador's current political environment to the 2006 Nicaragua elections in which the Sandinista National Liberation Front's candidate won the presidency, Cárdenas articulated fears of increasing nepotism and human-rights violations. Ponce continued by highlighting former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya's complicity in the transatlantic drug trade, and cited Zelaya's attempt to install his politically inexperienced wife as his successor as evidence of mounting corruption. Meacham then emphasized the importance of stepping up counternarcotics operations in the Dominican Republic to restore faith in public institutions.
For his part, Noriega faulted the US for its lack of strategic engagement in the region. He concluded that absent strong leadership from the White House, widespread corruption will continue to sap American influence and darken the prospects of freedom and opportunity across Latin America.
As the US spends billions of dollars on antidrug enforcement and border security, several small Central American and Caribbean countries are attempting to counter deadly narcotraffickers who smuggle cocaine and other drugs to the voracious US market. These nations’ best defenses are the rule of law, strong democratic institutions, political stability, professional security forces, and economic growth. Unfortunately, when corrupt local leaders undermine democratic institutions to maintain power, they create a permissive environment for narcotrafficking and other dangerous activities.
With elections approaching in Honduras, El Salvador, and elsewhere in Latin America, self-interested candidates from the left and the right — some with well-known ties to criminals — seek to wield power at their countries’ expense. AEI has convened a panel to expose this problem and to propose remedies.
If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.
José Cárdenas, VisionAmericas
Carl Meacham, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Carlos Ponce, Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy
Roger F. Noriega, AEI
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José Cárdenas has more than two decades of experience in the Washington political process and inter-American relations. He has served in senior positions in the US Department of State, the National Security Council, and the US Agency for International Development, where he was acting assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean and oversaw nearly $1 billion in US development assistance to the region. He has served as a senior adviser to the secretary general of the Organization of American States (2003) and as a senior professional staff member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee (2002), where he authored a well-received trip report on Colombia and America’s heavy investment in the Plan Colombia security and counternarcotics initiative. He has written and spoken widely on hemispheric issues and has been a strong advocate of open political and economic systems. He began his career advocating on behalf of a free and democratic Cuba for the Cuban American National Foundation, working his way up from staff assistant to the group’s Washington, DC, director.
Carl Meacham is director of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) Americas Program. He joined CSIS from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), where he served on the professional staff of former Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) for more than a decade. He served on the committee as the senior adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean, the most senior Republican Senate staff position for that region. In that capacity, he travelled extensively to the region to work with foreign governments, private-sector organizations, and civil-society groups. He was also responsible for managing the committee’s relationship with the State Department regarding the Western Hemisphere and overseeing its $2 billion budget. Before he joined SFRC, Meacham worked on the staff of two Democratic senators. Before his Senate work, he served at the Department of Commerce as special assistant to the deputy secretary, at the Cuban Affairs Bureau of the Department of State, and at the US embassy in Madrid.
Roger F. Noriega is a visiting fellow at AEI and the founder and managing director of Visión Américas LLC, which advises US and foreign clients on international business issues. He served as the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs (Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean) from July 2003 to October 2005 and as the US ambassador to the Organization of American States from August 2001 to July 2003. Noriega is currently vice chairman of the board of directors of the Congressional Award Foundation and a member of the advisory boards of the Canadian American Border Trade Partnership and the Americano, an online forum for Latino voters.
Carlos Ponce has played an important role as social, political, and economic consultant to countless national and international nonprofits, government agencies, private companies, and institutions. He is also political adviser to several Latin American and Caribbean presidential candidates. He was a lecturer and researcher at Tufts University, professor at the Universidad Central de Venezuela and the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello. He is the coeditor of the Nueva Politica (New Policy) magazine and writes op-eds and articles for several newspapers in the US and Latin America, and has published several books. He is a member of the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy, the International Steering Committee of the Community of Democracies, and is the general coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, a platform of more than 490 organizations in the Americas.