It was Fourth of July recess week in Washington, D.C. this week. A good time of the year to catch up with colleagues, especially those working on Capitol Hill. One of the many meetings I had this week focused on recent developments in the Western Hemisphere, especially Latin America and the Caribbean.
Frankly, some of the people I met were many years my junior, but they were extremely knowledgeable of the problems, of the old policy battles and actors, and most importantly, energized to find new, thoughtful ways to tackle festering issues that undermine U.S. national interests and security in the Americas. They are squarely focused on a liberty, America first agenda. That is good. It is long overdue.
Can U.S. taxpayer dollars, in the form of foreign assistance, be invested in a more mindful way, not spent? Are we repeating the same mistakes, year after year? Can we do better? The answer to these and related questions was, yes.
A region with great promise and opportunities, a majority of nations in Latin America and the Caribbean are plagued, yes plagued, by a disease that is dragging down millions of people: corruption. If U.S. taxpayer monies are put into that environment, I don’t care how much we spend, it is money wasted and will do absolutely nothing to advance a liberty agenda for the Americas.
Coincidentally, also this week, a publication cobbled together in the U.K. with writers the world over, the Trade Security Journal, published its latest edition. It includes a piece I wrote about corruption in Latin America. The Odebrecht Contagion outlines the legal, policy, and political impact of one of the largest corruption cases in history, at least for the region. The lawyers and investigators from the U.S., and other nations, should be commended for their efforts. This was not an easy project. The region is still reeling from it and, I think, the clean up will take years.
The Washington, DC Latin America policy community has been rather quiet on the Odebrecht story. I think that is because, in part, the Odrebrecht case is also a reflection that foreign aid programs, at least the ones the U.S. has used in the region, have failed to live up to all the hype. All U.S. foreign assistance programs, including Cuba programs, need a good old fashioned audit, one done to forensic audit standards. While they are it, audit the entire Organization of American States (OAS) system.
Frankly, and there are exceptions, but the D.C. Latin America think tank and policy community, at times, operates as an information cartel, where the lines between the left and right are blurred. The squishy, curiously ambivalent middle thinking dominates. A lot. That sort of groupthink, muddled further by diplomats from nations that are mostly from center-left, or hard left governments, is a huge part of the problem. There is a lack of original thinking. Individual liberty and sovereignty? Not part of the program.
The D.C. Latin America policy cartel has tried to monopolize the solution market. They are kings and queens of the status quo. They’ve worked hard to paint a rosy picture of the Americas, hiding problems such as, well, the Odebrecht fiasco. Why? Part of the reason is ideological. It is very liberal, in some cases leftist. Back in their home countries, they like big government and crony capitalism. The other part of it, is money right here in the U.S.
A constellation or, if you prefer, web, of D.C. think tanks, non-profits, and foreign assistance businesses are competing for limited amounts of your money from Uncle Sam, such as USAID programs as well as private foundations. Why rock the boat with big, different ideas when we, if go along and get along, can all secure millions of U.S. taxpayer monies to do programs?
The United States needs a liberty agenda for the Americas, one that puts individual rights above group rights and collectivism, capitalism over socialism, and deregulation over regulation. If we really want to make a dent on poverty, free markets and investment by U.S. companies, not more foreign aid, is the way to make it so. Indeed, sovereignty and individual liberty should trump all else. As President Donald Trump has said many times over, and he is right, Mexico will pay for the wall and, I’ll add, other nations in the region need to do more to earn our trust. Access to the U.S. market is a privilege, not a right. Stop talking U.S. taxpayers for granted.
U.S. taxpayer monies should not be wasted on failed USAID development programs that, year after year for example, go to the same broken political movements, especially in Central America. U.S. tax dollars should not be used to politically legitimize terrorist groups in South America or prop up fake peace talks. Or for rule of law programs that do not work, in some nations, at all. If there were truly a rule of law culture in the Americas, the Odebrecht scandal would’ve been contained before it spreading to close to a dozen Latin American nations.
More to come on this subject, including the D.C. Latin America policy cartel, in future posts.