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The United States’ Foreign Policy and Elections

Director Cynthia Arnson spoke with El Espectador about how Obama’s re-election has given him more power for his second term. The interview was published in Colombia on the day of Obama’s second inauguration. Arnson’s policy brief on the major issues in the hemisphere for President Obama to tackle as he enters his second term was linked by the Pan-American Post. She also previously weighed in on the third U.S. Presidential debate on foreign policy in an interview with CNN en Español.

Following President Obama’s reelection, Eric Olson told CNN México Obama would “continue to seek a close relationship with Mexico,” particularly in terms of security cooperation. Commenting on Enrique Peña Nieto’s change in strategy against organized crime, Eric Olson told The Christian Science Monitor that while the new Mexican president will continue to confront drug traffickers, he also wishes “to add the economic relationship with the world and the U.S. in particular to the priority list.”

Associate Director Eric Olson spoke to International Business Times on the connection between easy access to weapons in the U.S. and how this “has been exploited by organized crime in Mexico and used in some of the most gruesome violence you can imagine.”

Responding to the Obama administration’s pivot towards Asia, Andrew Selee told The Washington Times that “if things in Mexico get exciting, we may see a pivot towards the Western Hemisphere, which has much more tangible consequences.”  He added that closer economic integration with Mexico and Canada can “make the U.S. much more competitive globally.”

In an op-ed for El Universal  following President Obama’s reelection, Andrew Selee discussed the most pressing issues in Obama’s agenda for 2013 and how they are relevant to Mexico. Contributing to Reforma, Selee argued that Obama’s reelection highlights the importance of the Latino vote and will force politicians to moderate their tone on immigration and seek out closer ties with Mexico and Latin America. 

In an op-ed written for CNN, Andrew Selee and Christopher Wilson argued that while “trade, security and migration” continue to be topics that define the bilateral relationship, “relations between the nations might one day resemble those between the United States and Canada, in which global issues can be equally important.” Selee reiterated these comments in an interview with Excelsior, in which he said that “the decrease in unauthorized migration and the stabilization of [drug] violence means we will see a shift towards economic and global issues.”

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U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation

On the eve of a binational review of the Mérida Initiative, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Mexican Interior Secretary Alejandro Poiré visited the Woodrow Wilson Center to discuss the extensive cooperation between the United States and Mexico in dealing with drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and human smuggling. Napolitano said that while cooperation between both countries has reached unprecedented levels, “We should never be comfortable leaning back in our chairs and saying we’re done.” Poiré acknowledged the importance of transforming and improving local police officers, prosecutors and the courts. El Universal, Reforma and The Houston Chronicle commented on the event.

The Mexico Institute’s work on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation Reforma highlighted a study published by the Migration Policy Institute and the Woodrow Wilson Center which discusses institutional weaknesses in dealing with complex challenges such as organized crime. “Rather than drugs or criminal organizations, the real problem lies in the weakness of the institutions that are supposed to prevent and control crime,” commented Luis Rubio, author of the study.

Eric Olson spoke to The Wall Street Journal about the bilateral efforts to improve Mexico’s legal system, and said one problem was “both sides have always had difficulty defining what the criteria for success are.”

Responding to an incident in which two CIA employees were shot by Mexican federal police, Andrew Selee told AP that both Mexico and the United States have gone to great lengths to build a previously non-existent security partnership. “They don't want to see that undermined by the malfeasance or stupidity of individuals,” he said.

When asked to comment on the constantly negative press portraying Mexico as a violent-ridden country, Duncan Wood told NPR Morning Edition “Something definitely needs to be done about that because it impacts upon so many other elements in the [U.S.-Mexico] relationship.”

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Colombia’s Peace Process

Following his visit to the Wilson Center to discuss the ongoing peace process, respected Colombian journalist Enrique Santos Calderón, brother of current president Juan Manuel Santos and key player in the preliminary peace negotiations between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was interviewed in CONTEXT. Santos Calderón’s remarks were featured in El País, El Tiempo, and a number of other news outlets.

Director Cynthia Arnson spoke with the Miami Herald on the start of the Colombian peace talks between the government and the FARC, noting that the “question is how to both maximize the chances for peace and maximize the chances for justice.” This story also appeared in ArcaMax and McClatchy.

Fellow Steven Dudley discussed with LA Times how “Colombia is not what it was in the past” and his optimism about what a peace accord could mean for Colombia’s future, especially pertaining to violence levels. 

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Politics and Economy in Brazil

Brazil Institute Director Paulo Sotero spoke to the Financial Times regarding the October 2012 municipal elections throughout Brazil and the ongoing mensalão corruption trial. He also contributed an essay in Encyclopedia Britannica online which gives an overview of Brazil in 2012.

On Brazil’s economy, Paulo Sotero spoke to CCTV News. He also wrote a post for CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS regarding the Brazilian economy under President Rousseff, Brazil-U.S. relations and the upcoming 2014 presidential elections.

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Venezuela’s Elections and Future

Director Cynthia Arnson told PBS that Capriles will likely lead those who want to end the Chávez era, but the sympathy vote and fervor would give Chávez’s publically desired successor,  current Vice President Nicolas Maduro, a strong advantage and sets him up to “carry forward the mantle of chavismo.”  Arnson also commented in an interview with CNN en Español on Chávez’s health and his absence at the presidential inauguration in Venezuela, and also on what government officials were doing to postpone the inauguration and what others believed the Constitutions stipulates. She was interviewed about the continuing uncertainty facing the country by Latin Trade, explaining that although Chavez's selection of Maduro as his successor aims to reduce competition with chavismo, his critics site weaknesses such as a lack of charmisa and a poor relationship with the government. On U.S.-Venezuelan relations, Arnson told AFP  a transition from Chávez has “opened up the possibility of resetting the relationship and putting it not necessarily on a friendly course, but on a correct course.” Arnson commented to El Diario about Chávez’s charisma, internal fissures within chavismo, and corruption and citizen security challenges.

Fellow Margarita López Maya spoke with El Universal about how the reification of Chávez aims to legitimize Maduro as his successor.

Associate Director Eric Olson explained to EuroNews the U.S. interest in a possible change in the relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela in a post-Chávez era, noting “there is engagement and intense interest in what goes on there and overall a desire to remain engaged and to see that Venezuela’s democratic transition be preserved and built upon.”

On Venezuela’s elections, Director Cynthia Arnson explained to Bloomberg Business that a Capriles victory would alter Venezuela’s international relations and “could further isolate the small number of countries that have considered themselves part of that alternative political vision.” Arnson told the Washington Post that the Capriles would be the toughest challenger Chávez has faced in a while.

Genaro Arriaga, ex-Minister of State and the Chilean Ambassador to the U.S., and Jose Woldenberg, ex-President of the Instituto Federal Electoral published a report on the elections through the Wilson Center and the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Infolatam and Aristegui Noticias highlighted the report.

Former fellow Margarita López Maya told the Washington Post that opposition candidate Capriles stands a good chance of winning in a future post-Chavez election, and it would be “a grave error for him to think that this was a defeat.” He had a stronger showing than previous opposition candidates, and Chávez’s unstable health situation could lead to new elections in the next four years.

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Crime, Violence, and Security in Mexico

A comprehensive study by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute on anti-money laundering efforts to combat transnational organized crime was featured in Forbes Magazine. The study recommends tight integration and coordination with the United States in the areas of legal framework, financial institution regulation, intelligence on cross-border currency flows, and non-conviction based asset forfeiture.

In The Wall Street Journal , Eric Olson commented on the shortcomings of Mexico’s federal police, mentioning their lack of a robust internal affairs department and their weak anti-corruption campaigns. Olson appeared on CNN to discuss the human toll of Mexico’s drug war, and said much of the gruesome violence “is mostly felt on the local level.” Olson spoke to AP regarding the arrest of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s daughter in San Diego. He also spoke to Bloomberg regarding the disappearance of a Zetas leader’s corpse from a funeral home, saying the bizarre event would “raise questions in some people’s minds about what really happened.” In comments made to Infosur Hoy, Olson drew parallels between drug traffickers in Costa Rica and in Mexico, and suggested family ties and loyalty are a powerful reason why relatives often become entangled in such operations.

Steven Dudley, a research fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin American Program was quoted by Fox News Latino regarding Mexican prison population issues. “Mexico is living through a prison boom not unlike that seen in the United States,” he said.

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Gun Control and U.S. Policy

Commenting on the push toward more stringent gun control in the United States, Christopher Wilson told Inter Press Service, “With so many victims of organized crime in Mexico killed by assault rifles bought in the United States, Mexico would, I think, welcome any efforts to increase controls on those weapons.” Wilson also spoke to Fox News Latino about corruption in Mexico’s federal prison system, saying, “Many high-level people get away without a serious conviction.”

Eric Olson, Associate Director of the Wilson Center’s Latin American Program, spoke to Fronteras about President Obama’s proposed gun legislation, saying such laws would give the United States “a more direct tool for attacking the problem of trafficking.” He also told International Business Times that “easy and ready access to weapons in the U.S. has been exploited by organized crime in Mexico and used in some of the most gruesome violence you can imagine.” He added, “We’re not taking a position on the Second Amendment – that’s just what we’ve observed from the data.”

Commenting on Operation Fast and Furious, Andrew Selee, Vice President for Programs and Senior Advisor to the Mexico Institute, told Univision News that the Mexican government was aware of the gun-walking, in spite of releasing a statement saying they were not. In an interview with Reforma, Selee said it is likely that the current push toward strengthening gun control in the United States will result in gradual and long-term policies – and added that these may never be as comprehensive as Mexico would like them to be.

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Drug Legalization

Following the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington states, Eric Olson’s assessment of the reaction in Mexico was quoted by several media outlets. “There is a sense of frustration throughout Latin America about the steep costs of confronting drug trafficking. And these votes in the United States, and the reaction to them, might signal a willingness for the countries to think outside of the box on drug policy,” he told The Examiner. Olson also told The Washington Post that while marijuana sales represent approximately 20 percent of the cartels’ revenue, “two small U.S. states legalizing marijuana won’t really impact their market share much.”  In an interview with CNN México, Olson explained the these ballot measures should not be interpreted as U.S. policy changes, and said the American public was far from reaching a national consensus on the topic. Following a petition by four Latin American presidents requesting the Organization of American States to review the implications of the Colorado and Washington marijuana votes, Olson told Bloomberg the leaders’ statement signaled “an important indicator of the desire to engage in a more robust discussion of policy.”

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Peña Nieto and the New PRI Government

In comments made to The New York Times, Eric Olson praised Enrique Peña Nieto’s new approach to curbing drug violence, and recognized the government’s efforts to improve coordination between agencies. When interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, however, Olson did point out that Peña Nieto’s call for a 10,000-troop gendarmerie was a far cry from the 80,000-member corps he promoted on the campaign trail. Olso was also quoted by the Washington Post, saying that Peña Nieto is “walking a fine line” by seeking to redefine Mexico’s relationship with the U.S., questioning whether “the urgency of dealing with security issues fall off the agenda?” He told the New York Times, that the new PRI administration “could go either way…Let’s not assume it’s all going to go south. And there are things that are happening that give me hope. But the longer it goes without some clarity, the more doubts creep in.”

Speaking to El Universal, Andrew Selee said Pena Nieto’s meeting with Obama as president-elect of Mexico marked an important first encounter, and that the meeting would help set the tone for the bilateral relationship during Pena Nieto’s administration.

Commenting on rumors that Eduardo Medina-Mora would succeed Arturo Sarukhán as Mexican ambassador to the United States, Andrew Selee told Reforma that Medina-Mora’s business background, combined with his security expertise would make him a great candidate for the post.

Duncan Wood was quoted in Excélsior saying, “Effectiveness is the name of the game for Peña Nieto; getting things done is his number one priority.” In an interview with World Politics Review, Wood commented on the deterioration of Mexico-Canada relations under President Felipe Calderon. Mexico’s damaged image as a result of catastrophic drug violence, coupled with Canada’s handling of visa applications for Mexican citizens and the Harper government’s cancelling of Canadian studies funding globally, he said, made it difficult to re-establish strong and active relations. 

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Migration and the U.S. – Mexico Border

Andrew Selee spoke to Texas Public Radio about the dangers facing maquiladora activists caught in drug war crossfire, saying, “This is a very dangerous time to raise your voice on almost any issue.” Following the death of a border patrol agent in October 2012, Selee spoke to KPCC about security along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In an op-ed for The New York Times’ Room for Debate, Eric Olson critiqued U.S. border security priorities, saying, “the most important thing we can do to help with border security is to adopt a strategy of risk segregation, separating the legitimate from the potentially dangers,” which is “best handled through preclearance” procedures.

Christopher Wilson told the Los Angeles Times that a U.S. pilot program to deport illegal immigrants by flying them to Mexico City “is an effective way to deal with this humanitarian crisis, in which migrants are dumped in parts of northern Mexico that are not all safe.”

Christopher Wilson told The Daily Beast that deadly encounters between Border Patrol agents and rock throwers on the Mexican side of the border had sparked meaningful “conversations” between both countries to prevent future incidents. Commenting on the negative impact of border crossing delays, Wilson told Fronteras that such problems hinder “the competitiveness of manufacturing in North America.” He told Marketplace that border delays create “a $6 billion deficit between where we are now and where we need to be to keep up with all the people and goods that are flowing across the border every day.”

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Mexico’s Economy and Integration

An editorial in The Dallas Morning News highlighted Mexico: A Middle Class Society, Poor No More, Developed Not Yet, a publication by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute on Mexico’s ongoing transformation into a middle class society. Luis de la Calle and Luis Rubio, the book’s co-authors, make the case for considering Mexico’s rising middle class the country’s most relevant development of the last decade.

Marking NAFTA’s 20th anniversary, Christopher Wilson provided commentary on the changing nature of global trade, citing the fact that U.S. imports from Mexico contain, on average, 40% U.S. content. “That means imports from Mexico, not just exports, strongly support U.S. jobs and industry,” he said. Pointing out that some six million American jobs depend in some way on trade with Mexico, Wilson told Marketplace that rather than being competitors, “[the U.S. and Mexico] are really partners in the global economy.” These statistics were picked up by The Washington Times,  ABC News/Univision, and others.

Wilson told The New York Times that a way for Mexico to shift the media narrative away from drug violence “is to talk about other things that are going well, and the economy is a good story now.” In an interview with Fronteras, Wilson said, “Mexico is moving up the value-added chain,” and added that while textiles and the shoe industry used to be important, “we are now seeing growth in sectors like automotive industry and aerospace.”

When asked by CNBC to comment on Mexico’s paradox – well-publicized drug killings that would seem to discourage foreign investment on the one hand, and an economic juggernaut, on the other – Andrew Selee said, “It’s like the Mexican economy is driving with the emergency brake on. […] You can only imagine if the violence weren’t going on, its growth could be extraordinary. You can’t help think they could sustain 5 to 6 percent growth in one year.”

In an op-ed contribution for CNN, Andrew Selee and Christopher Wilson wrote, “Trade and jobs should once again top the U.S. agenda with Mexico.” Remarking on the tight economic integration between both nations, Selee and Wilson pointed out that rather than selling products to each other, the United States and Mexico.In a separate CNN piece, Selee and Wilson argued that while “trade, security and migration” continue to be topics that define the bilateral relationship, “relations between the nations might one day resemble those between the United States and Canada, in which global issues can be equally important.”

Commenting on the economic successes of the Calderon administration, Duncan Wood told USA Today that the incoming administration “inherits a very strong economy,” and told Bloomberg that “if Pena Nieto can continue to follow those conservative approaches, he’ll have a huge benefit over the next six years.” He added, “Mexico has every possibility of really booming as an economy.” Commenting on Luis Videgaray’s selection as the new Mexican Finance Minister, Wood also told Bloomberg that his appointment is “recognition for all the hard work and it gives him a very powerful position in Mexico. I think markets are going to see that as a very positive step forward.”

A study published by the Woodrow Wilson Center concluded that Mexico could soon become self-sufficient in terms of corn production. Tierramérica highlighted the report, which concludes the country could produce 33 million tons of grain within 10 to 15 years, closing the current deficit of 10 million tons, and even add another 24 million per year to meet the projected demand of 39 million tons by 2025. 

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Governance and Transparency

Speaking to Marketplace about corruption in Mexico, Duncan Wood said many U.S. firms think twice about investing in Mexico. “They come in and they want to invest but it's just too difficult because you have to bribe too many people or you have to grease too many palms,” he said, while adding that Mexico’s economy is still virtually closed to foreign investment in many industries.

Publimetro reported on the ‘Meeting of Experts on Access to Information and Accountability: Perspectives in a Global Context,’ in which speakers Andrew Selee, Jacqueline Peschard and Catalina Botero, among others, concluded that Mexico’s Transparency Act must be ‘socialized’ by the Mexican citizenry in order to have a significant impact.

Dossier Politico quoted Jacqueline Peschard, a former scholar at the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, following her participation in a meeting titled “The Right of Access to Information: A Cross-Border Perspective.”Peschard discussed citizens’ free access to information concerning the government should be considered “a simple universal principle.” The meeting was organized by the Federal Institute of Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI), the Wilson Center, the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) and Citizens' Initiative for the Promotion of a Culture of Dialogue.

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Energy and Education

Cynthia Arnson spoke to Bloomberg following President Rafael Correa's re-election in Ecuador, saying "Ecuador needs outside capital to continue to develop the oil industry and remain competitive. They need outside capital but whether they will be able to attract private capital is a huge question mark.”

Duncan Wood, an energy policy expert and Director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute wrote an op-ed piece for El Universal in which he summarized the findings of ‘A New Beginning for Mexican Oil,’ a study co-sponsored by the Wilson Center and the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM). The document was also featured on Energía a Debate’s discussion of Pemex’s budget for 2013. In a video interview available on, Dr. Wood explained that while “Mexico’s economy has done incredibly well over the last thirty years,” the oil and gas sector has lagged behind. “Lack of investment in the sector because of the monopolistic control by the national company” has prevented Pemex from accessing the funds it needs to fully develop the oil sector in the country.

The Brazil Institute’s ongoing partnership with the São Paulo Science Foundation (FAPESP) to explore scientific research opportunities between the U.S. and Brazil was featured by the University of West Virginia.

Commenting on the shortcomings of education in Mexico, Andrew Selee told Marketplace, “It’s particularly difficult when you get outside of major metropolitan areas to get an outstanding education that would take you to a top college and maybe to an international graduate program.” He also told The Dallas Morning News that in singling out unions and monopolies, Pena Nieto may be “letting some of the major interest groups know in Mexico they are not above the law.”

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