Academic Webinar: Democracy in Latin America
Patrick Dennis Duddy, director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and senior visiting scholar at Duke University, leads a conversation on democracy in Latin America.
This meeting is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy.
FASKIANOS: Welcome to today’s session of the Winter/Spring 2022 CFR Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR.
Today’s discussion is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We’re delighted to have Patrick Dennis Duddy with us today to talk about democracy in Latin America. Ambassador Patrick Duddy is the director of Duke University’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and teaches in both Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and Sanford School of Public Policy.
From 2007 to 2010, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela under both the Bush and Obama administrations. Prior to his assignment to Venezuela, Ambassador Duddy served as deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and he’s also held positions at embassies in Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Panama, and has worked closely with Haiti.
So it is my pleasure to have him with us today. He has served nearly three decades in the Foreign Service. He’s taught at the National War College, lectured at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, and is a member of CFR.
So, Ambassador Duddy, you bring all of your experience to this conversation to talk about this very small question of the state of democracy in Latin America and what U.S. policy should be. It’s a broad topic, but I’m going to turn it over to you to give us your insight and analysis.
DUDDY: Well, good afternoon, or morning, to all of those who have tuned in, and, Irina, thank you to you and the other folks at the Council for giving me this opportunity.
I thought I would begin with a brief introduction, partially rooted in my own experience in the region, and then leave as much time as possible for questions.
To start with, let us remember that President Biden held a Democracy Summit in early December, and in opening that summit he emphasized that for the current American administration, in particular, the defense of democracy is, I believe he said, a defining challenge, going ahead.
Now, I, certainly, subscribe to that assertion, and I’d also like to start by reminding folks how far the region has come in recent decades. I flew down to Chile during the Pinochet regime to join the embassy in the very early 1980s, and I recall that the Braniff Airlines flight that took me to Santiago, essentially, stopped in every burg and dorf with an airport from Miami to Santiago. It used to be called the milk run. And in virtually every country in which we landed there was a military dictatorship and human rights were honored more in the breach than in fact.
Things have really changed quite substantially since then, and during much of the ’80s we saw a pretty constant move in the direction of democracy and somewhat later in the ’80s also, in many parts of Latin America, an embrace of a market-oriented economic policy.
There was some slippage even in the early part of the new millennium. But, nevertheless, the millennium opened on 9-11-2001 with the signature in Lima, Peru, of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Secretary Powell was, in fact, in Lima for the signing of that agreement, which was endorsed by every country in the region except Cuba. This was a major step forward for a region that had been synonymous with strongman politics, military government, and repression.
The slippage since then has been significant and, indeed, as recently as a year or two ago during the pandemic the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Management or Electoral Administration—I believe it’s called IDEA—noted that across much of the region, publics were losing faith in democracy as the preferred form of government.
I would say, rather more pointedly, of real significance in recent years has been the deterioration of democracy in a series of countries and the inability of the rest of the hemisphere to do anything about it, notwithstanding the fact that the hemisphere as a whole had indicated that full participation in the inter-American system required democratic governance and respect for human rights.
Venezuela now is pretty unapologetically an authoritarian government. So is Nicaragua, and there has been real slippage in a number of other countries in the region as well.
I think it would be appropriate to ask, given the progress made from, say, the early ’80s through the year 2000, what accounts for this, and I would say there are a number of key factors.
By and large, I would note, the factors are internal. That is to say they derive from circumstances within the region and are not necessarily a consequence of external subversion. Poverty, inequality, crony capitalism in some cases, criminality, drug trafficking—these things continue to bedevil a range of countries within the region.
Endemic corruption is something that individual countries have struggled with and, by and large, been unsuccessful in significantly reducing. In effect, governability, as a general heading, probably explains or is the heading under which we should investigate just why it is that some publics have lost faith in democracy.
You know, we’ve had several really interesting elections lately. Let’s set aside just for the moment the reality that, particularly since 2013, Venezuela has deteriorated dramatically in virtually every respect—politically, economically—in terms of, you know, quality of life indicators, et cetera, as has Nicaragua, and look, for instance, at Peru.
Peru has held a free, fair—recently held a free, fair election, one that brought a significant change to the government in that the new president, a teacher, is a figure on the left. Now, I don’t think we, collectively or hemisphere, there’s, certainly, no problem with that.
But what accounts for the fact that a place like Peru has seen wild swings between figures of the left and of the right, and has most recently, notwithstanding a decade of mostly sustained significant macroeconomic growth, why have they embraced a figure who so—at least in his campaign so profoundly challenged the existing system?
I would argue it’s because macroeconomic growth was not accompanied by microeconomic change—that, basically, the poor remained poor and the gap between rich and poor was, largely, undiminished.
Arguably, much the same thing has happened recently in Chile, the country which was for decades the yardstick by which the quality of democracy everywhere else in the hemisphere was frequently judged.
The new president or the president—I guess he’s just taken office here—president-elect in Chile is a young political activist of the left who has, in the past, articulated an enthusiasm for figures like Hugo Chavez or even Fidel Castro, and now, as the elected president, has begun to use a more moderate rhetoric.
But, again, the country which, arguably, has had the greatest success in reducing poverty has, nevertheless, seen a dramatic swing away from a more conventional political figure to someone who is advocating radical change and the country is on the verge of—and in the process of revising its constitution.
How do we explain that? I think in both cases it has to do with frustration of the electorate with the ability of the conventional systemic parties, we might say, to deliver significant improvement to the quality of life and a significant reduction of both poverty and income inequality, and I note that income inequality persists even when at times poverty has been reduced and is a particularly difficult problem to resolve.
Now, we’ve also seen, just to cite a third example, just recently this past weekend an election in Costa Rica, which was well administered and the results of which have been accepted unquestionably by virtually all of the political figures, and I point to Costa Rica, in part, because I’ve spent a good deal of time there. I’ve witnessed elections on the ground. But what is the reality?
The reality is over decades, indeed, certainly, beginning in the late ’40s during the administration of the first “Pepe” Figueres, the country has been successful in delivering quality services to the public. As a result, though, notwithstanding the fact that there have been changes, there’s been no serious deterioration in the country’s embrace of democracy or its enthusiasm for its own political institutions. This makes it not entirely unique but very closely unique in the Central American context.
A number of other things that I’d like to just leave with you or suggest that we should consider today. So we—throughout much of Latin America we’re seeing sort of plausibly well-administered elections but we are seeing often sort of dramatic challenges, sometimes to political institutions but often to economic policy, and those challenges have resulted in tremendous pendulum swings in terms of public policy from one administration to the next, which, at times, has undermined stability and limited the attractiveness of the region for foreign direct investment.
Beyond that, though, we’re also seeing a kind of fracturing of the region. In 2001, when the Inter-American Democratic Charter was embraced—was signed in Lima—an event that would have, perhaps, attracted a good deal more attention had other things not happened on that very same day—much of the region, I think, we would understand, was, largely, on the same page politically and even to some degree economically, and much of the region embraced the idea of—I’m sorry, I’m losing my signal here—much of the region embraced a deeper and productive relationship with the United States.
The situation in Venezuela, which has generated over—right around 6 million refugees—it’s the largest refugee problem in the world after Syria—has, to some degree, highlighted some of the changes with respect to democracy.
The first—and I’m going to end very shortly, Irina, and give folks an opportunity to ask questions—the first is the frustration and the inability of the region to enforce, you know, its own mandates, its own requirement that democracy be—and democratic governance and respect for human rights be a condition for participation in the inter-American system. And further to that, what we’ve seen is a breakup of the one larger group of countries in the region which had been attempting to encourage the return to democracy in Venezuela, known as the Lima Group.
So what we’ve seen is that the commitment to democracy as a hemispheric reality has, to some degree, eroded. At the same time, we are increasingly seeing the region as a theater for big power competition.
You know, it was only within the last few days that President Fernández, for instance, of Argentina traveled to meet with both the Russian leadership and the Chinese. This is not inherently problematical but it probably does underscore the degree to which the United States is not the only major power active in the region. We may still have the largest investment stock in the region, but China is now the largest trading partner for Brazil, for Chile, for Peru, the largest creditor for Venezuela.
I haven’t yet touched on Central America and that’s a particularly difficult set of problems. But what I would note is while we, in the United States, are wrestling with a range of issues, from refugees to drug trafficking, we are also simultaneously trying to deepen our trade relationships with the region, relationships which are already very important to the United States.
And, unfortunately, our political influence in the region, I believe, has become diluted over time by inattention at certain moments and because of the rise or the introduction of new and different players, players who are frequently not particularly interested in local political systems much less democracy, per se.
So, if I may, I’ll stop there. As Irina has pointed out, I served extensively around the region for thirty years and I’d be happy to try and answer questions on virtually any of the countries, certainly, those in which I have served.
FASKIANOS: So I’m going to go first to Babak Salimitari. If you could unmute yourself and give us your affiliation, Babak.
Q: Good morning, Ambassador. My name is Babak. I am a third-year student at UCI and my question—you mentioned the far-left leaders who have gained a lot of traction and power in different parts of Latin America. Another guy that comes to mind is the socialist in Honduras. But, simultaneously, you’ve also seen a drift to the far right with presidents like President AMLO—you have President Bolsonaro—all who are, basically, the opposite of the people in Honduras and, I’d say, Chile.
So what is—these are countries that—I know they’re very different from one another, but the problems that they face like poverty, income inequality, I guess, drug trafficking, they exist there and they also exist there. Why have these two different sort of polarities—political polarities arose—arisen, arose—
DUDDY: Risen. (Laughs.)
Q: —in these countries?
DUDDY: That’s a great question. I would note, first of all, I don’t see President Lόpez Obrador of Mexico as a leader of the right. He is, certainly—he, largely, comes from the left, in many respects, and is, essentially, a populist, and I would say populism rather than sort of a right/left orientation is often a key consideration.
Returning to my earlier comment in that what I see is popular frustration with governments around the region, often, President Bolsonaro was elected in the—in a period in which public support for government institutions in Brazil, particularly, the traditional political parties, was at an especially low level, right.
There had been a number of major corruption scandals and his candidacy appeared to be—to some, at least—to offer a kind of tonic to the problems which had beset the earlier governments from the Workers’ Party.
He, clearly, is a figure of the right but I think the key thing is he represented change. I think, you know, my own experience is that while some leaders in Latin America draw their policy prescriptions from a particular ideology, the voters, essentially, are looking at very practical considerations. Has the government in power been able to deliver on its promises? Has life gotten better or worse?
President Piñera in Chile was a figure of the right, widely viewed as a conservative pro-market figure. The PT in Brazil—the Workers’ Party—came from the left. Both were succeeded by figures from the other end of the political spectrum and I think it was more a matter of frustration than ideology. I hope that answers your question.
FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next written question from Terron Adlam, who’s an undergraduate student at Delaware State University. Essentially, can you discuss the relationship between climate change and the future of democracy in Latin America?
DUDDY: Well, that’s just a small matter but it’s an important one, actually. The fact is that especially in certain places climate change appears to be spurring migration and poverty, and there are people here at Duke—some of my colleagues—and elsewhere around the country looking very specifically at the links between, especially, drought and other forms of climate change, the, you know, recovery from hurricanes, et cetera, and instability, unemployment, decline in the quality of services.
Overburdened countries, for instance, in Central America have sometimes not recovered from one hurricane before another one hits, and this has effects internally but it has also tended to complicate and possibly accelerate the movement of populations from affected areas to other areas. Sometimes that migration is internal and sometimes it’s cross-border.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to a raised hand, Arnold Vela. If you—there you go.
Q: Good afternoon, Ambassador Duddy.
DUDDY: Good afternoon.
Q: I’m Arnold Vela. I served in the Foreign Service for a couple of years and I’m now retired teaching government at Northwest Vista College.
I think you put your finger on a very important point, which is that of the economic inequality and poverty that exists in Latin America, and, you know, with that being the case, I think Shannon O’Neil makes a good case about focusing on economic policy. And I was wondering what your thoughts were on ways in which we could do that in terms of, for example, foreign development investment, which may be decreasing because of a tendency to look inward for economic development in the United States.
But are there other mechanisms, such as through the U.S. Treasury Department, financial ways to cut corruption? And also what about the Inter-American Development Bank? Should it be expanded in its role for not just infrastructure development but for such things as microeconomic development that you mentioned? Thank you.
DUDDY: You know, as deputy assistant secretary, I, actually had the economic portfolio for the Western Hemisphere for a couple of years within the State Department. Clearly, trade is important. Foreign direct investment is, I think, critical.
One of the things that we need to remember when we talk about foreign direct investment is that, typically, it’s private money, right—it’s private money—and that means governments and communities need to understand that in order to attract private money they need to establish conditions in which investors can see a reasonable return and in which they can enjoy a reasonable measure of security.
That can be very, very difficult in the—Arnold, as you probably will recall, in much of Latin America, for instance, in the energy sector—and Latin America has immense energy resources—but the energy resources are frequently subject to a kind of resource nationalism.
And so my experience is that in some parts of Latin America it’s difficult to attract the kind of investment that could make a very substantial difference in part because local politics, largely, preclude extending either ownership or profit participation in the development of some resources.
The fact that those things were not initially permitted in Mexico led to a constitutional change in order to permit both profit sharing and foreign ownership to some degree of certain resources. Investors need a certain measure of security and that involves, among other things, making sure that there is a reasonable expectation of equal treatment under the law, right.
So legal provisions as well as a determination to attract foreign investment. Places like—little places, if you will, like Costa Rica have been very, very successful at attracting foreign investment, in part because they’ve worked hard to create the conditions necessary to attract private money.
I would note—let me just add one further thought, and that is part of the problem in—I think, in some places has been something that we in the United States have often called crony capitalism. We need to make sure that competition for contracts, et cetera, is, in fact, transparent and fair.
As for international institutions, there are many in the United States that are sometimes with which the region is unfamiliar like, for instance, the Trade and Development Agency, which promotes, among other things, feasibility studies, and the only condition for assistance from the TDA is that subsequent contracts be fairly and openly competed and that American companies be allowed to compete.
So there are resources out there and I, certainly, would endorse a greater concentration on Latin America and I think it can have a real impact.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question—a written question—from Chaney Howard, who is a business major at Howard University. You spoke about the erosion of democratic push in Latin America growth, specifically with the Lima Group. What do you feel would need to happen for a new power to be established or encouraged to help nations band together and improve democratic growth?
DUDDY: Well, the Lima Group was—which was organized in 2017 for the express purpose of advocating for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela, fell apart, essentially, as countries began to look more internally, struggling, in particular, with the early economic consequences of the pandemic.
Some of you will remember that, particularly, early on, for instance, cruise ships in the Caribbean, essentially, stopped sailing. Well, much of the Caribbean depends absolutely on tourism, right. So the pandemic, effectively, turned people’s attention to their own internal challenges.
I think that we have good institutions still. But I think that we need to find ways other than just sanctions to encourage support for democracy. The U.S. has been particularly inclined in recent years not to interventionism but to sanctioning other countries.
While sometimes—and I’ve sometimes advocated for sanctions myself, including to the Congress, in very limited circumstances—my sense is that we need to not only be prepared to sanction but also to encourage.
We need to have a policy that offers as many carrots as sticks, and we need to be prepared to engage more actively than we have in the last fifteen years on this. Some of these problems date back some time.
Now, one particularly important source of development assistance has always been the Millennium Challenge account, and there is a key issue there, which, I think, largely, limits the degree to which the Millennium Challenge Corporation can engage and that is middle income countries aren’t eligible for their large assistance programs.
I think we should revisit that because while some countries qualify as middle income, when you only calculate per capita income using GDP, countries with serious problems of income inequality as well as poverty are not eligible and I think that we should consider formulae that would allow us to channel more assistance into some of those economies.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Kennedy Himmel, who does not have access to a mic, a student at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
There seems to be surmounting evidence that suggests that U.S. imperialism has waged both covert warfare and regime change itself in Central American countries through the last century and our current one. The most notable cases was Operation Condor, which peaked during Reagan’s administration.
You suggested the problems plaguing these countries’ embrace of primarily right-wing dictatorships is a product of crony capitalism, poverty, and corruption, which are all internal problems. Do you think some of these problems of these countries are a byproduct of U.S. and Western meddling, economic warfare, the imposition of Western neoliberalism?
DUDDY: Well, that’s a good question. My own experience in the region dates from the early ’80s. I mean, certainly, during the Cold War the United States tended to support virtually any government that we perceived or that insisted that they were resolutely anti-communist.
For decades now the U.S. has made support for democracy a pillar of its policies in the region and I think we have, largely, evolved out of the—you know, our earlier, you know, period of either interventionism or, in a sense, sometimes even when we were not entirely—when we were not active we were complicit in that we applied no standard other than anti-communism with the countries we were willing to work with. That was a real problem.
I note, by the way, for any who are interested that several years ago—about five years ago now, if I’m not mistaken, Irina—the Foreign Affairs, which is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, ran a series of articles in one issue called “What Really Happened?”, and for those interested in what really happened in Chile during the Allende government, there is a piece in there by a man named Devine, who was actually in the embassy during the coup and was working, as he now acknowledges, for the CIA. So I refer you to that.
My sense in recent decades is that the U.S. has, certainly, tried to advance its own interests but has not been in the business of undermining governments, and much of the economic growth which some countries have sustained has derived very directly from the fact that we’ve negotiated free trade agreements with more countries in Latin America than any other part of the world.
I remember very distinctly about five years into the agreement with Chile that the volume of trading both directions—and as a consequence, not just employment, but also kind of gross income—hence, had very substantially increased; you know, more than a hundred percent. The same has been true with Mexico.
So, you know, we have a history in the region. I think it is, largely, explained by looking at U.S. policy and understanding that it was—almost everything was refracted through the optic of the Cold War. But, you know, it’s now many decades since that was the case.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go to Elizabeth McDowell, who has a raised hand.
Q: Hi. I’m Elizabeth McDowell. I’m a graduate student in public policy at Duke University.
Ambassador Duddy, thanks for your talk. I want to ask a question about a potential tradeoff between good governance and—
DUDDY: I lost your audio. Please repeat.
Q: How’s my audio now? OK. My—
DUDDY: You’ll have to repeat the question.
Q: My question is about critical minerals and metals in the region and, essentially, these metals and minerals, including lithium, cobalt, and nickel, copper, others, are essential for clean energy transition, and there are a lot of countries that have instituted new policies in order to gain financially from the stores since these minerals are very prevalent in the region.
And my question is do you think that there’s a tradeoff between sustainable development and having the minerals that we need at low cost and countries being able to benefit economically from their natural resource stores?
DUDDY: Yeah. I’m not quite sure how I would characterize the tradeoffs. But, you know, as I mentioned with respect, for instance, to oil and gas but the same applies to lithium, cobalt, et cetera, in much of Latin America the resources that are below the surface of the Earth belong to the nation, right. They belong to the nation.
And in some places—I very vividly remember in Bolivia—there was tremendous resistance at a certain point to the building of a pipeline by a foreign entity which would take Bolivian gas out of the country. And that resistance was rooted in Bolivia’s history in the sense that much of the population had—that the country had been exploited for five hundred years and they just didn’t trust the developers to make sure that the country shared appropriately in the exploitation of the country’s gas resources.
Just a few years ago, another—a major company, I think, based in—headquartered in India, opened and then closed a major operation that was going to develop—I think it was also lithium mining—in Bolivia because of difficulties imposed by the government.
I understand why those difficulties are imposed in countries which have been exploited but note that the exploitation of many of these resources is capital intensive and in many of these countries is going to require capital from outside the country. And so countries have to find a way to both assure a reasonable level of compensation to the companies as well as income to the country. So that’s the challenge, right. That is the challenge.
For the time being, in some places the Chinese have been able to not just exploit but have been able to do business, in part, because they have a virtually insatiable appetite for these minerals and as well as for other commodities.
But long-term development has to be vertically integrated and that—and I think that’s going to take a lot of external money and, again, certain countries are going to have to figure out how to do that when we’re talking about resources which, to a very large degree, are viewed as patrimony of the nation.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Leah Parrott, who’s a sophomore at NYU. Do you find that globalization itself, the competitive global markets, vying for influence in the region are a cause of the rise in the populist frustration that you have been talking about?
DUDDY: Hmm. Interesting question. I suppose it has—you know, there is a connection. Just to give sort of a visceral response, the fact is that there are cultural differences in certain markets and regions of the world. Some countries have—you know, have taken a different approach to the development of their own labor markets as well as trade policy.
I would say that, today, the reality is we can’t avoid globalization so—and no one country controls it. So countries that have heretofore been unsuccessful in inserting themselves and seeing the same kind of growth that other countries have experienced are going to have to adapt.
What we do know from earlier experiences in Latin America is that high tariff barriers are not the way to go, right—that that resulted in weak domestic industries, endemic corruption, and, ultimately, very, very fragile macroeconomic indicators.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Alberto Najarro, who’s a graduate student at Duke Kunshan University.
Q: Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you for your time.
My question is about El Salvador. I’m from El Salvador, and I’ll just provide a brief overview. Since assuming the presidency and, particularly, over the last six months, President Bukele and the National Assembly dominated by Bukele’s allies have moved quickly to weaken checks and balances, undermine the rule of law, and co-opt the country’s judiciary, consolidating power in the executive.
What do you think should be the United States’ role, if any, in reversing trends of democratic backsliding in El Salvador? Given the recent events like the abrupt exit of the United States interim ambassador Jean Manes from the country, can the United States continue to engage with El Salvador, particularly, as Bukele strengthens relationship with leaders like Xi Jinping and Erdoğan?
DUDDY: Well, first, my recollection is that Ambassador Jean Manes, who, by the way, is an old friend of mine, had returned to El Salvador as chargé, and I’m not sure that the Biden administration has, in fact, nominated a new ambassador yet.
I tend to think that it’s important to remember that we have embassies in capitals to advance U.S. interests and that when we withdraw those embassies or cease talking to a host government it hurts us as often—as much as it does them.
To some degree, what we, I think, collectively, worry about is that Salvador is, essentially, on the path to authoritarianism. I note that Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, none of those three, along with Nicaragua, were invited to President Biden’s Democracy Summit in December, and, you know, it may well be that the U.S. should explore a range of inducements to the government there to restore independence to the judiciary and respect for the separation of powers.
I, certainly, think that it is in the interest of the United States but it’s also interest—in the interest of the region. That’s why the whole region came together in 2001 to sign the Inter-American Democratic Charter. How exactly that should be effected—how we should implement the—you know, the will of the region is something that, I think, that governments should work out collectively because it is my sense that collective action is better than unilateral action. Certainly, the U.S. is not going to intervene, and there are many American companies already active in El Salvador.
You know, the region has found the restoration of democracy—defense of democracy, restoration of democracy—a very, very difficult job in recent years and that is in no small measure because—it’s not just the United States, it’s the rest of the region—even sanctions are only effective if they are broadly respected by other key players. And I’m not always sure that sanctions are the way to go.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take two written questions together since we have so many. The first is from Molly Todd from Virginia Tech. She’s a PhD candidate there.
When thinking of the U.S. role in democracy promotion in Latin America, how do you account for U.S. support of dictators in the region as well?
And then William Weeks at Arizona State University—how much does China’s influence encourage authoritarian rule and discourage democracy in Latin America?
DUDDY: I’m not sure that—I’ll take the last question first. I’m not sure that China’s activity in the region discourages democracy but it has permitted certain strongmen figures like Nicolás Maduro to survive by serving as an alternative source of sometimes funding markets for locally produced goods and also the source of technology, et cetera, to the United States and the rest of what is euphemistically called the West, right. So China has, effectively, provided a lifeline. The lifeline, in my experience, is not particularly ideological.
Now, you know, Russians in the region frequently seem interested in—to be a little bit flip, in sticking their finger in our eye and reminding the United States that they can project power and influence into the Western Hemisphere just as we can into Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
But the Chinese are a little bit different. I think their interests are mostly commercial and they are uninterested in Latin American democracy, generally. So being democratic is not a condition for doing business with China.
More generally, I think, I would refer to my earlier response. The U.S., basically, has not been supportive of the strongmen figure(s) who have arisen in Latin America in recent decades. But, you know, the tendency to embrace what many in Latin America call caciques, or strongmen figures—men on horseback—was established in Latin America, right—became evident in Latin America even in the nineteenth century.
In the twentieth century, beginning, say, in particular, after World War II, we, definitely, considered things more through the optic of the Cold War, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who recalls that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, at a certain moment in, I think it was 1947, commented on Anastasio Somoza that he was an SOB but, oh, well, he was our SOB. I think that approach to Latin America has long since been shelved.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Gary Prevost.
Q: Ambassador, I share your skepticism about sanctions and I’ll just ask a very direct question. It’s my belief that the Biden administration is, at the moment, missing real opportunities for dialogue with both Venezuela and Cuba, partly because of this bifurcation of the world into democracy and authoritarianism, something which the Obama administration really avoided and, I think, as a result, gained considerable prestige and understanding in wider Latin America.
So I’ve been very concerned that there are opportunities being missed in both of those cases right now.
DUDDY: I’ll disagree with you on one part of that, noting that I’ve already—and, actually, I wrote a piece for the Council several years ago in which I talked about the desirability of finding an off ramp for Venezuela.
But I note that the—that many of the sanctions that are—sanctions were imposed on Venezuela, in particular, over a period of time by both Republicans and Democrats, and the problem for the U.S., in particular, with Venezuela is that as the country has become less productive, more authoritarian, they have pushed out 6 million refugees and imposed huge burdens on almost all of the other countries in the subregion.
I’m not sure that the U.S. is, at the moment, missing an opportunity there and, for that matter, the changes that were brought into Cuba or to Cuba policy by the Obama administration, which I endorsed, were for the most part left in place by the Trump administration, interestingly enough. There were some changes but they were not as dramatic as many who opposed those—the Obama reforms—often hoped and who wanted to reverse them.
So these are both tough nuts to crack. I think that it is at least worth noting that the combination of incompetence, corruption, authoritarianism, in particular, in Venezuela, which has transformed what was at one point the most successful democracy in the region into a basket case or a near basket case, I’m not sure, you know, how we get our arms around that at the moment.
But I, certainly, endorse the idea of encouraging dialogue and looking for a formula that would promote the return of democracy. And, again, you know, having lived in Venezuela, I have a sense that many—you know, Venezuelans love their country. Most of those who have left did not do so willingly or, you know, with a happy heart, if you will. These are people who found the circumstances on the ground in the country to be unbearable.
Now, how we respond to that challenge, I haven’t seen any new thinking on it lately. But, certainly, dialogue is a part of it. Similarly, with Cuba, we have—you know, we saw fifty years of policy that didn’t work. So I would hope to, sometime in the near future, see some fresh thinking on how to proceed on that front, too.
You know, the difficult thing to get around is that these are not countries which respect human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of the press. They are, in fact, repressive, which is why we have hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans living in the United States and why we have now millions of Venezuelans living outside their own national borders. It’s a real dilemma. I wish I had a solution but I don’t.
FASKIANOS: We are almost out of time. We have many more written questions and raised hands, and I apologize that we’re not going to be able to get to them. But I am going to use my moderator power to ask you the final one.
FASKIANOS: You have served—oh, it’s a good one. You’ve served for most of your career, over thirty years, in U.S. government and now you’re teaching. What advice or what would you offer to the students on the call about pursuing a career in the Foreign Service, and what do you say to your students now and the professor, or to your colleagues about how to encourage students to pursue? We saw that it’s become less attractive—became less attractive in the Trump administration. It may be up—more on the upswing. But, of course, there is, again, the pay problem and private sector versus public. So what thoughts can you leave us with?
DUDDY: Well, first of all, there’s—in my personal experiences, there’s virtually nothing quite like being an American diplomat abroad. My personal experience is—you know, dates from the ’80s. I was actually very briefly an Air Force officer in the early ’70s. I think public service is inherently rewarding in ways that often working in the private sector is not, where you can really have an impact on relations between peoples and nations, and I think that’s very, very exciting.
I come from a family, you know, filled with, you know, lawyers, in particular, in my generation, even in the next, and I know that that can be—that kind of work or work in the private sector, the financial community, whatever, can be very exciting as well. But diplomacy is unique, and one also has the sense of doing something that benefits our own country and, one hopes, the world.
At the risk of, once again, being flip, I always felt that I was on the side of the angels. You know, I think we’ve made many mistakes but that, by and large, our engagement in the countries in which I was working was positive.
FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Well, on that note, Ambassador Patrick Duddy, thank you for your service to this country. Thank you very much for sharing your insights with us. I know this is very broad to cover the whole region and we didn’t do all the countries justice.
DUDDY: And we have yet to—and we have yet to mention Haiti, about which I worry all the time.
FASKIANOS: I know. There are so many things to cover. Not enough time, not enough hours in a day. And we appreciate everybody for your time, being with us for your great questions and comments. Again, I apologize for not getting to everybody. But we will just have to have you back.
So thank you again. For all of you, our next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday, February 23, at 1:00 p.m. (ET)with Roger Ferguson, who is at CFR, on the future of capitalism.
So, as always, please follow us on Twitter at @CFR_Academic. Go to CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for research and analysis on global issues. We will circulate a link to the Foreign Affairs edition that Ambassador Duddy mentioned so that you can take a look at that.
And thank you, again, for your time today. We appreciate it.
DUDDY: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.