CSIS Americas Program Newsletter April 28, 2022


CSIS Americas Program


CSIS Americas Program Newsletter 
April 28, 2022


We are pleased to share the most recent edition of our newsletter highlighting the work of the CSIS Americas Program in March.

The CSIS Americas Program seeks to be a leading source of ideas defining the future of national security in the region.



Parsing Fact and Fiction in the Maduro Regime's Narrative of Economic Recovery ¿Venezuela se arregló?

Ryan C. Berg

The commentary examines the Maduro regime’s narrative of Venezuela’s recent economic recovery. Nicolas Maduro argues the economy’s recovery is owed to a series of reforms intended to selectively liberalize the country’s economy. The economic recovery has been deeply uneven, and ordinary Venezuelans have largely been left behind by the “new economy,” while well-connected Venezuelans, regime loyalists, and sycophants likely stand to gain the most. Berg suggests an effective economic reform would feature a dismantling of the Maduro regime’s mafia state, tackling the insecurity, violence, and economic predation driven by criminal groups that plague so much of Venezuela.


What are the Zones for Employment and Economic Development in Honduras

Ryan C. Berg and Henry Ziemer

The Critical Questions unpack the operation and current challenges faced by the Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDEs, by their Spanish acronym) in Honduras. Notable for the high level of regulatory autonomy, the ZEDEs have attracted significant investments and harbor the potential to generate substantial economic growth. However, they have also been the target of fiery political rhetoric and claims that they erode Honduran sovereignty. Berg and Ziemer unpack these claims and what lies ahead for the ZEDEs, and Honduras as a whole.


The Caribbean in the Crossfire: Between Covid-19, Narcotics, China, and Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

R. Evan Ellis, Senior Associate, CSIS Americas

The United States relies on good governance in the Caribbean and partnership on a range of national security issues, including the entry of illegal narcotics (principally moving north from Colombia and Venezuela) and other contraband goods.

An analysis of the growing strategic importance of the Caribbean and the multiple ways it has alternately contributed to and threatened U.S. security. Ellis outlines the economic, criminal, and fiscal challenges Caribbean continue facing. The war in Ukraine adds even more stresses to the socioeconomic and political dynamics of the Caribbean, due to substantial increases in the price of petroleum and foodstuffs, both of which Caribbean nations must import in significant quantities. Additionally, highlights the People’s Republics of China’s interest in the region. Ellis provides recommendations on how the United States can expand its response to the region’s challenges.



Senior Adviser Martha Bárcena analyzes the new global environment caused by the pandemic and the Russia's invasion of Ukraine for El Heraldo.

Senior Associate Antonio de la Cruz argues Putin's war is no longer just against Ukraine for El Nacional.


Senior Adviser Martha Bárcena examines the fundamental role of the US Congress in the relationship with Mexico for El Heraldo.

Senior Associate Antonio de la Cruz analyzes the current situation in Ukraine for El Nacional.


Senior Adviser Martha Bárcena explores the US Congress' pressure on the Biden Administration and criticism of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for El Heraldo.

Senior Associate Antonio de la Cruz analyzes the impact sanctions on Russia has had on Venezuela's economy for El Nacional.


Senior Adviser Martha Bárcena explains migration is a central issue in political campaigns ahead of the US elections and analyzes Title 42 for El Heraldo.

Senior Associate Evan Ellis analyzes the world transitioning away from the institutional, economic, and ideological order that has prevailed since the end of World War II and the implications it will have on Latin America and the Caribbean for Centro de Estudios Estratégicos del Ejército del Perú.


Senior Fellow Ryan C. Berg explores the current control of Nicaragua's authoritarian government and suggests the US can do more to confront the government for the Hill.

Senior Associate Evan Ellis argues that democratic elements and authoritarian populist elements are dominant but a diverse Latin American left will define the future of the region for Center for a Secure Free Society.


Senior Fellow Ryan C. Berg spoke about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Russia's relationship with Latin America with PERFIL.

Senior Associate Evan Ellis examines the risks of Chinese engagement in the Americas for Newsmax. Spanish and Portuguese translations on Diálogo Américas.


Senior Fellow Ryan C. Berg contributes to a report studying the US-Mexico bilateral relationship through the institutional lens for the Center for Binational Institutions.

Senior Associate Georges A. Fauriol highlights the emerging global geo-strategic importance of Guyana and Suriname as major oil producers, an 'energy matrix' made even more salient with market pressures on gas prices, war in Ukraine, and continuing debates worldwide about climate change for Global Americans.


Senior Adviser William Brownfield spoke on Russia expanding its presence in Latin America for NTN24.

Senior Associate Frank Kelly analyzes the current challenges of global indebtedness for CSIS.


Senior Adviser Todd Chapman and SVP Daniel F. Runde suggest the Biden Administration create a focused and pragmatic agenda for the Summit of the Americas and provide recommendations for the Miami Herald.

SVP Daniel F. Runde esuggests the US should build a deeper partnership with Uruguay for the Hill.


Senior Adviser Juan O. Cruz writes about the miscommunication between Argentina and the United States over China for Infobae.



Upcoming Event:

Responses to the Challenges Faced by Women Migrants in the Northern Triangle

May 4, 2022, 8:00-9:30 AM, Zoom

Please join Ryan C. Berg of the CSIS Americas Program for a virtual conversation on the security, economic, and social factors that impact the migration of women from the Northern Triangle.

The panelists will sketch possible solutions to address root causes of migration and their impact on women and girls. The panel will feature global development experts and voices from the field that work to further empowerment of women and girls in the Northern Triangle.

Register Here
Past Events:

Brazil's Economic Future in Times of Change

Daniel F. Runde and H.E. Paulo Guedes, Minister of the Economy of Brazil have a conversation highlighting how Brazil is addressing the challenges created by major global trends, and what opportunities lie ahead for the country. It will also discuss possible future directions for Brazil and the United States to cooperate on issues of shared economic interest.

Watch Here


El Futuro del Chavismo en Venezuela / The Future of Chavismo in Venezuela


In this special Spanish-Language episode, Ryan C. Berg sits down with Indira Urbaneja, a political analyst and the CEO of Reunificados, a Venezuelan non-profit dedicated to supporting democracy, inclusion, and human rights.They discussed some of the important factions within the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and the rise of a group within the party that is looking to revitalize chavismo through campaigns and legitimate elections.

Listen Here

Best of 35 West: Forced Labor & Environmental Degradation in the Mining Industry


In this special Spanish-language episode, Margarita sits down with Pilar Velasquez of the Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking in the Bureau of International Labor Affairs at the United States Department of Labor (USDOL). They discuss artisanal and small-scale mining and its connection to environmental degradation, forced labor, and child labor in the Andean region.

Listen Here

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The Latest on Southeast Asia

President Joe Biden will host most of his counterparts from Southeast Asia for a U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Washington, D.C. on May 12-13. This assembly will likely tackle a range of pressing political and economic challenges, including post-pandemic recovery, the wars in Ukraine and Myanmar, and their economic repercussions. The administration will seek to underscore the importance of the U.S.-ASEAN relationship as part of its broader Indo-Pacific strategy. To that end, it will likely announce new initiatives to build on the more than $100 million in efforts that Biden announced during the October 2021 virtual U.S.-ASEAN Summit. The United States will also likely to seek to elevate its relationship with ASEAN to a “comprehensive strategic partnership”—the same symbolic level attained by Australia and China last year.  

Eight ASEAN leaders, representing every country except Myanmar and the Philippines, are expected to attend the summit. With the Philippine presidential election taking place on May 9, President Rodrigo Duterte has turned down the invitation to travel to Washington, saying that he would not be able to represent his successor’s strategy toward the United States and ASEAN. Following ASEAN’s own precedent, the United States has refused to invite any member of Myanmar’s junta, but may be open to participation by a non-political representative. Since the February 2021 coup, more than 1,770 people have been killed, 13,000 arrested, and 55,000 displaced by fighting in Myanmar. Summit members are likely to review current policy toward Myanmar, which has failed to make any meaningful progress in implementing the ASEAN “Five Point Consensus” despite the controversial diplomatic outreach by current ASEAN chair Cambodia.

The ongoing invasion of Ukraine directly affects Southeast Asia’s economic recovery and is likely to take up a part of the agenda during the summit. Regional reactions to the Russian invasion have varied considerably. As leader of the Group of 20 this year, Indonesia’s president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo faces calls from the United States and other members to disinvite Russia from the fall summit. Instead, Jakarta has reportedly invited Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky to attend as a special guest. Cambodia as ASEAN chair and Thailand as APEC chair this year are likely to face similar pressures. The Biden administration will undoubtedly raise its concerns and seek further support from ASEAN countries in denouncing Russia and limiting further engagement.

The Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy seeks to leverage bilateral alliances and partnerships, multilateral cooperation through ASEAN, and new mechanisms like the Quad to greatest advantage in the region. The summit and a slew of bilateral meetings on its sidelines will reinforce this multi-track approach to regional diplomacy, as will President Biden’s trip to South Korea and to a Quad summit in Japan a week later.  This busy diplomatic calendar shows, in part, that the crisis in Ukraine has not distracted the administration from its long-term focus on the Indo-Pacific as the priority theater of strategic competition. To that end, the coming weeks are also expected to feature a speech by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the contours of the administration’s China strategy and the public launch of talks on the much-anticipated Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

A recent poll from Gallup shows that the Biden administration’s efforts in the region are being positively received. U.S. leadership is rated more highly across the region than at any time since 2013, with especially notable increases among publics in the Philippines, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. The success of U.S.-led economic efforts in the month ahead will go a long way in determining whether that support for American leadership continues to advance or recedes.

For more political, economic, and security analysis on the region, check out our blog series, The Latest on Southeast Asia.

New Podcast Episode: Indonesia and the G20 with Dino Patti Djalal

Greg and Elina sit down with Dino Patti Djalal, chairman of the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia and former Indonesian ambassador to the United States. They discuss how Indonesia, as president of the G-20 this year, is navigating tensions between member states after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Simon is joined by Drake Tien, research intern for the Southeast Asia Program at CSIS to cover the latest from the region, including the ASEAN Summit as well as leadership changes in Singapore and Timor-Leste.

Listen to the new episode here, and join us for Southeast Asia Radio every other Thursday, wherever you get your podcasts. Questions? Comments? Reach us at SEARadio@csis.org.

Spotlight: Malaysia

by Sophie Lemière, Adjunct Fellow (Non-resident), Southeast Asia Program

The 1MDB case, the largest (known) financial scandal in Malaysia’s history, is taking another turn with accusations of corruption and conflicts of interest against Nazlan Ghazali, the judge who sentenced former prime minister Najib Razak. While the controversy could be another attempt by Najib’s circle to delay the case, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has opened an investigation against Nazlan. Despite all controversies, Najib’s popularity in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party is steady. While UMNO leadership announced that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob will be the party’s candidate for the next general elections, a positive outcome in Najib’s trial and the confirmation of his eligibility to stand in the elections would be a game changer.
Meanwhile, elections will be held next month to (re-)elect the party leadership of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat. While Anwar Ibrahim is the only contestant for the party president post, Rafizi Ramli and Saifuddin Nasution Ismail are waging a war against each other for the deputy president position. Tian Chua, one of the most senior leaders in the party and early companion of Anwar’s Reformasi movement, has decided that he will not seek another term as vice president. Tian has been accused of being part of the Azmin Ali faction that left the party in January 2020 following Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation as prime minister, and he and his team have faced several attempts of expulsion from the party and harsh criticism from other factions. However, Tian has remained in Keadilan and never joined Bersatu, the party where the Azmin faction landed. Tian has thrown his support to Saifuddin to block Rafizi’s way. Rafizi left politics in 2019 in a dramatic announcement but returned to the party earlier this year. Now omnipresent in the media, Rafizi is leading an aggressive campaign. In his move to become deputy president of Keadilan, he hopes to push Anwar into retirement and ultimately take over the party.
Early general elections are expected this year, and all intra-party tensions and maneuvers have intensified. Realignment and new alliances are to be expected in coming months. Though, for now, the former ruling coalition Barisan Nasional is in the most favorable position to reconquer the country.
Sophie Lemière is an adjunct fellow (non-resident) with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.​

Spotlight: Vietnam's Missing in Action

by Michael Martin, Adjunct Fellow (Non-resident), Southeast Asia Program

April 30 is Reunification Day in Vietnam, a national holiday commemorating the capture of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) in 1975 and the end of the country’s civil war. While most of the people will be celebrating, tens of thousands of families will be reminded that another year has passed without them being able to provide a proper burial for their loved ones who died in the conflict.
An estimated 3 million Vietnamese died during the Vietnam War. Over 300,000 of those killed are still classified as missing in action (MIA). For five decades, the families of Vietnam’s MIAs have dealt with the heartache not knowing where to find the remains of their deceased sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, or fathers and mothers.
The Vietnamese government continues in its search to locate and identify the remains of its MIAs. It has received some support from the U.S. government in DNA identification techniques over the last 40 years, but not as much assistance in locating possible burial locations. In July 2021, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with Vietnam’s President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and National Defense Minister Phan Van Giang to discuss, among other topics, a searchable database of U.S. Department of Defense records to help Vietnam select possible burial sites.
The U.S. Congress has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up dioxin “hot spots” created by the spraying of over 10 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides over much of southern Vietnam, as well as to provide medical and health assistance to Vietnamese suffering from diseases related to dioxin exposure. In addition, Congress has appropriated tens of millions of dollars to assist Vietnam in removing unexploded ordnance (UXO) and provide medical treatment to people who have been injured by UXO. To date, the U.S. government has provided only a few million dollars to help Vietnam find and identify its MIAs.
Vietnam’s generous offer to help the United States locate and repatriate its MIAs was a critical factor in the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two nations. The U.S. government in recent years has shown a willingness to address two of the three War Legacy issues: Agent Orange/dioxin and UXO. Perhaps it is time the U.S. government step up its efforts regarding Vietnam’s MIAs and provide some of the tens of thousands of Vietnamese families some peace.

Michael F. Martin is an adjunct fellow (non-resident) with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C

Commentary: Japan’s Crucial Role in Southeast Asia amid the Ukraine War

Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a moment of reckoning for many international bodies. The implications of the crisis range from questioning the viability of the rules-based order and the fitness of the United Nations system to challenging the concepts of war and defense. And these debates are unfolding as countries face the trickle-down economic effects of sanctions on Russia and other disruptions. As the international community takes different positions on this conflict, the role of influential actors is even more critical. And Japan—both capable and willing to bridge the growing fissure—is increasingly taking on that role.

Read the latest by Huong Le Thu (adjunct fellow, non-resident, Southeast Asia Program) here.​​​

ICYMI: Book Event: Dr. Prashanth Parameswaran's "Elusive Balances: Shaping U.S.-Southeast Asia Strategy"

The latest release from Dr. Prashanth Parameswaran, Elusive Balances: Shaping U.S.-Southeast Asia Strategy, undertakes an in-depth examination of the dynamics of commitment in U.S.-Southeast Asia strategy since the end of the Vietnam War to current times. The CSIS Southeast Asia Program was pleased to host a moderated discussion with Dr. Parameswaran and Gregory Poling on key findings from the book. Based on hundreds of conversations with policymakers and experts across the United States and Southeast Asia, it applies a new and original “balance of commitment” foreign policy model across administrations. 

Watch the event on-demand here.