35 West

By CSIS | Center for Strategic and International Studies

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The CSIS Americas Program podcast looks at the politics and policies of the 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere. It especially focuses on U.S. engagement with the region, whether on trade, diplomacy, or security issues like drugs and terrorism. Guests include top policymakers from the U.S. and other countries.

Episode Date
Maduro’s Deadline: January 10th

January 10, the date a new presidential period begins, represents an unprecedented opportunity for the international community to help halt Venezuela’s collapse. Despite the refusal of nearly 50 countries to recognize the May 2018 Venezuelan presidential elections, Nicolas Maduro plans to be sworn in. The implications of so many nations not recognizing Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate president after January 10 have yet to be determined. CSIS Senior Advisor Mark Schneider and Venezuela expert Antonio de La Cruz join CSIS’ Moises Rendon to discuss the political, diplomatic and legal implications moving forward.

Dec 18, 2018
What Will AMLO and Bolsonaro Do To Energy Markets?

New leaders in Mexico and Brazil may mean big changes to their respective energy sectors. Energy expert Lisa Viscidi of the Inter-American Dialogue says a Mexican delay on offshore bidding could have a major impact, but that Brazil is likely to maintain the status quo. Finally, Venezuela may eventually run dry, given the massive investment required to reverse declining oil output. 

Dec 13, 2018
Cryptocurrency v. Authoritarianism in Venezuela

Cryptocurrency use is increasing amongst everyday Venezuelans. The Maduro regime has been tightening controls on the economy and continues to reject humanitarian aid. However, independent cryptocurrencies (as opposed to regime-controlled petro) are enabling censorship-resistant peer-to-peer digital cash transactions. Alejandro Machado, Founder of Open Money Initiative, joins CSIS’ Moises Rendon.

Dec 06, 2018
What’s Left in Venezuela’s Policy Toolkit?

Current international pressure on the Venezuelan regime has not been enough to help restore the country’s democracy – at least, not yet. Venezuela is enduring the worst humanitarian crisis in the region, which is having an overwhelming impact on neighboring countries, including unprecedented waves of migrants and refugees. Fernando Cutz, a former National Security Council advisor at the White House, joins Moises Rendon for a discussion on what options are left for helping Venezuela.

Nov 29, 2018
Will We See More Caravans?

Caravans from Central America. They were big news for a while, now not so much. But they are sure to return to the front pages. Manuel Orozco, Director of Migration at the Inter-American Dialogue, joins Richard for a discussion on what is causing Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans to leave their countries. He argues that bad governance, not just gang violence, is a big contributor. Do U.S. policymakers have any good options?

Nov 20, 2018
Welcome to My House

Gone are hopes for a swift congressional ratification of USMCA with the House returning to the Democrats in January. Is Canada worried, and if so, why? Christopher Sands of Johns Hopkins University is back to help us empathize with our northern neighbors, as well as the changes in the post World War II global order.

Nov 14, 2018
Troika of Punditry

The Axis of Evil is out, the Troika of Tyranny is in. Are Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba the prisms through which U.S. policy in Latin America can be seen? Pedro Burelli, a former director of Venezuela’s state oil company, Moises Rendon of CSIS, and host Richard Miles talk dictators, despots, sanctions, and regional stability.

Nov 08, 2018
Free Fallin’

Bolsonaro in Brazil, migrants in Mexico, plebiscites on planes, and (assistant) Secretaries of State. Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas and host Richard Miles go down the alliterative alphabet of the atlas, inferring implications for U.S. politics and policy. Also, check out our cool new intro by producer Ribka Gemilangsari.

Oct 31, 2018
Walk This Way

Over 1,300 miles remain for a caravan of 7,000 Honduran migrants headed to the U.S. by foot. How many will peel off in Mexico, and what happens if and when they reach the U.S. border in several months? Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, explains what’s going on, what Mexico and the U.S. can do, and why it is likely to happen again.

Oct 26, 2018
Code Breaker

Has incoming Mexican president López Obrador cracked the Trump code? So far, his non-confrontational stance with the U.S. has analysts predicting a more tranquil bilateral relationship than expected. Mexico expert Pamela Starr from the University of Southern California returns to assess AMLO’s priorities, Cabinet picks, and possible friction points with the U.S. Richard vows to go NAFTA-free after this episode.

Oct 18, 2018
Brazil’s Turn

Voters in Brazil joined the trend of upending expectations by giving Jair Bolsonaro 46% in the first round of the presidential elections. Is this jolt part of the global antiestablishment movement, or is it uniquely Brazilian? Gabrielle Trebat, a former Treasury Department official and a Brazil expert at McLarty Associates, provides details on the political landscape and insights on Bolsonero’s potential policies, including his almost complete lack of knowledge of the U.S.

Oct 09, 2018
Louisiana Purchase

Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) talks about his recent trip to Guatemala and Mexico, and discusses U.S. efforts to help fight corruption, strengthen borders, and to go after narcotics traffickers. The real hope, he believes, is in  strengthening the regional economies through trade and development, a trend that also delivers economic benefits to states like Louisiana.  

Oct 04, 2018
How Bad is Venezuela’s exodus?

Once South America’s richest country has now collapsed. About 2.5 million Venezuelans have fled their country in the last few years, putting unprecedented pressure on overwhelmed neighbors like Colombia and Brazil. Francisco Santos, Colombian Ambassador to the U.S., and David Smolansky, Chair of an Organization of American States Working Group, give their take. 

Sep 20, 2018
Blame Canada

Has everything gone wrong since Trump came along? Regardless of whether Canada stays, walks or sprints away from a NAFTA deal, the experience has forced Canada to look at its entire relationship with the U.S. Christopher Sands of SAIS is back to talk about the effects on trade, travel, defense, Canadian nationalism, and his consumption of Molson. 

Sep 13, 2018
Auto Destruct

How will the enhanced “rule of origin” content requirements affect the North American automotive industry, especially in Mexico? Dr. Luz Maria de la Mora, a former Mexican trade negotiator, explains what Mexico got and what it gave up on autos, dispute resolution, and other proposed changes to NAFTA. Finally, what does this do to Mexico’s relationship with Canada?

Aug 31, 2018
Venezuela Adds More Money and Loses More People

Venezuela is currently experiencing 44 million percent (not a typo) annual inflation. Apart from forcing everyone to do more math, what is the Maduro regime doing about it? Unfortunately, nothing that matters, according to Professor Ricardo Hausmann from Harvard’s JFK School of Government. Moises Rendon of CSIS joins us to describe the human cost, including Venezuelans fleeing their country, starvation, and misery. Both predict that nothing will improve without a new government, but even then, it will take at least a decade to put Venezuela back together.

Aug 27, 2018
Coming Clean in Argentina

Crisis, scandal, and politics in Argentina. Does bad news for Cristina Kirchner equal good times for Mauricio Macri? Benjamin Gedan of the Wilson Center argues that Argentina’s very own Car Wash scandal – complete with couriers carrying cash to the Kirchners - gives President Macri a short reprieve, but that voters will hold him accountable for a tumbling economy in next year’s presidential elections.

Aug 20, 2018

Will Andrés Manuel López Obrador the “leftwing firebrand” or the “realistic pragmatist” show up for work on December 1?   Mexico expert Duncan Wood of the Wilson Center helps sort out Mexican president-elect AMLO’s mandate and governing philosophy, and predicts that renewed Central American migration will trigger AMLO’s first bilateral crisis with the U.S. 

Aug 16, 2018
Continental Divide: What’s Up With NAFTA?

Once again, a NAFTA deal may be close – or not.  Tossing in tariffs, our experts Scott Miller and Chris Sands return to tell us why the Mexicans are up, the Canadians are down, and why farmers and car manufacturers are out of luck. Do we have a deal or no deal before the U.S. mid-term elections and the new Mexican government takes power, and if not, does it matter?

Aug 06, 2018
North American Work Out

What kind of workers does the North American economy need, and how will it get them?  Former U.S. diplomat Anthony Wayne points out the “alarming skills gap,” in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, the rapid technological changes, and the need for the education system, private sector, and governments to come up with a better process.  Even setting aside the national politics – which are difficult – this will not be easy. 

Aug 02, 2018
The God That Failed – Again

Nicaragua joins – again – the list of imploding socialist states in Latin America. Daniel Ortega is using increasingly brutal tactics, including paramilitary death squads, to put down protests led in part by the Catholic Church. Mark Schneider, former Peace Corps director and a long-time expert on Central America, refreshes our memory on how Nicaragua ended up where it started forty years ago.

Jul 26, 2018
Blockchain Can Help Venezuela

How low can Venezuela go?  We’ve been predicting its collapse for a year, but it’s still around.  Moises Rendon, our resident Venezuela expert, updates us on the misery resulting from the Maduro government’s policies, and explains how blockchain technology could help Venezuela rebuild once it hits bottom. More than a source of digital currency, the technology enables international aid, electoral security, the protection of property rights, and helps fight corruption.  
For more information, read Moises full report How the Blockchain Can Help Venezuela’s Future Recovery. To learn how the Venezuelan government is controlling the distribution of food through the CLAP program, read his latest article The Maduro Diet: Food v. Freedom in Venezuela.

Jul 19, 2018
AMLO Wins Big

Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s big victory in Mexico may mean changes for the U.S. Shannon O’Neil of the Council on Foreign relations returns to assess AMLO’s top priorities, his initial post-election signals, and the prospect of good relations with President Trump.  

Jul 12, 2018
Apprehensive at the Border

The former Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Alan Bersin, explains exactly how the Trump Administration policy of detaining migrants works. He and Richard discuss the steep decline over the last two decade in apprehensions on the southwest border, the spike in Central American migration, and a potential remedy for the broken asylum process.

Jun 28, 2018
Not Like a G7

President Trump got very mad at Prime Minister Trudeau at the recent G7 Summit in Canada. Christopher Sands of the School of Advanced International Studies explains how the blow up may affect Canadian politics and trade with the U.S. He also reveals what Canadians really think of Americans. Sarah Baumunk returns with Big Little News about which non-Americans to cheer on in the World Cup.    

Jun 21, 2018
Oil and Politics in Latin America

The top oil producing countries in Latin America are all having elections this year. How will political changes in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela affect their oil output, and does this matter for the United States? Most importantly, will a new government in Mexico reverse course or slow roll broader energy reforms?  Expert Lisa Viscidi of the Inter-American Dialogue explains the details. 

Jun 14, 2018
Borderline Normal

Are Mexico and the United States growing apart, or are they growing together? Mexico expert Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, discusses his new book, Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and the United States Together. He talks about counterintuitive trends such as Mexican investment in the U.S., a new attitude towards history among younger Mexicans, and border communities drawing closer for purely practical reasons.

Jun 07, 2018
Cross-Border Criminals

It’s not just drugs anymore. Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) organizations in Latin America traffic in people and money, and participate in illegal mining. Expert Evan Ellis, a professor at the U.S. Army War College, argues in his latest book for a “whole-government” approach to replace a sole focus on taking out high-value targets such as cartel leaders. Changes are needed, says Ellis, in how we partner with Latin American governments, and how we organize the U.S. government to fight crime organizations that are better connected and better strategists.

Jun 05, 2018
Post-Venezuela Elections: What Really Counts?

After one of the lowest participations in Venezuela’s Electoral history, and widely seen as fraudulent, the U.S. and other like-minded countries are not recognizing the results of May 20th Venezuela’s presidential elections. Unfortunately for the people of Venezuela, the on-the-ground humanitarian and economic crisis will only likely to exacerbate, triggering further humanitarian and security threats to the region. During this 35 West Special Spanish Episode, CSIS Associate Fellow Moises Rendon sits down with Venezuelan opposition leader Julio Borges and CSIS Senior Associate Gustavo Tarre to discuss the post-election political dynamics of the Venezuelan crisis, what the Maduro victory means for the future of Venezuela and the international community, and how the international community can best respond.

May 31, 2018
Power Couple: The Canada and US Energy Relationship

for many U.S. states and Canadian provinces. The U.S. currently gets 45% of its crude oil from Canada, about 1 ½ times more than from all of the OPEC countries combined. In a joint podcast, economic driver with Canada is now worth $95 billion annually and is a significant energy tradeOur 35 West and Energy 360 dive into the details of our cross-border energy trade, how it may or may not be affected by NAFTA turmoil, and what lies ahead. Andrew Stanley of CSIS and Christopher Sands from the School of Advanced International Studies expertly run the numbers for Richard, and he pretends to understand them.   


May 24, 2018
Getting Clean in Brazil
The Car Wash scandal triggered investigations that uncovered dirt on dozens of politicians and companies in Brazil and abroad. Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, compares Car Wash to other corruption scandals and updates us on a growing anti-corruption movement in Latin America. Sarah Baumunk lightens the mood by explaining how inflation affects every day life in Argentina.
May 17, 2018
Show Me the Money: Are Sanctions on Venezuela Working?

As Venezuela endures an upcoming presidential election on May 20th, widely seen as illegitimate, the U.S. and other like-minded countries are considering further sanctions on the Maduro regime. In a joint production of the Financial Integrity Network and CSIS, Juan Zarate sits down with Moises Rendon, Jose Luis Stein, and David Murray to discuss the effectiveness of sanctions on Venezuela and the opportunities ahead.

May 16, 2018
Unsafe Space: Mexico’s Security Problem

The security situation in Mexico remains grim, and is a major theme of Mexico’s presidential campaign. David Shedd, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, long time CIA professional, and Latin American expert, assesses the state of the drug war, the scope of US-Mexico security cooperation, and the future direction of Mexico’s war against the cartels. On Big Little News, Sarah explains how to steal over $1 million of fajitas, and in the process creates a new meme. 

May 03, 2018
How To Get to a Start-Up Continent

How do entire economies become more innovative?  Jackson Streeter, an expert on technology transfer, maps the ecosystem of innovation. Strong intellectual property rights, investments in research and development, a risk-taking mentality, and seed funding are all necessary parts. Can they be nurtured and developed in Latin America? Sarah’s Big Little News is the rise of marriage fraud in Costa Rica.  

Apr 26, 2018
Peak Form: Is the Summit of the Americas Worthwhile?

Almost all of the Western Hemisphere’s leaders recently ascended to the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru.  What did they accomplish?  Ana Quintana, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, assesses the Summit’s output, especially on Venezuela. She comments on the participation of VP Pence instead of President Trump, and the Administration’s quirky relationship with Mexico, but declines Richard’s invitation to place a bet in the NAFTA casino. And TPP? Forget it.  

Apr 19, 2018
Good Cop, Bad Cop: Are US-Mexican Relations Better Than They Seem?

Mexico expert Shannon O’Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations gives her take on the Mexican economy, NAFTA, and President Enrique Peña Nieto’s faltering reforms. She also weighs in on the good cop, bad cop routine that constitutes the current state of the US-Mexico bilateral relationship, and finally, places her bets on the upcoming presidential elections.  In Big Little News, Sarah “Unbreakable” Baumunk exudes optimism in discussing Latin America’s falling homicide rates, due in part to a surprisingly simple tool.      

Apr 12, 2018
Meddle Without a Cause

Will the Russians meddle in Latin American elections this year? Russia expert David Salvo, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, talks about possible Russian motives. Is Putin attempting a head fake to distract from his own misdeeds? Are old KGB hands making mischief in the Americans’ backyard, just because?  Salvo argues that Russia’s efforts are more profound; to undermine the very concept of democracy itself. Newly empowered, ex-intern Sarah Baumunk explains Venezuela’s currency crisis in under two minutes.  

Guest: David Salvo

Mar 29, 2018
Vivat Rex

The abrupt end of the Tillerson era may signal changes for US policy towards Latin America.  Eric Farnsworth, Vice President of the Council of the Americas, explains the inner workings of the Trump Administration’s views on NAFTA, Venezuela, and the Mexican elections. He also ponders the question of China’s increasingly assertive role in the hemisphere, and whether Mike Pompeo will take a more strategic view of the region than the President. Sarah “Be Happy” Baumunk explains why Latin Americans are relatively happier than the rest of the world, according to the UN Happiness Index.  

Guest: Eric Farnsworth

Mar 22, 2018
Mexico and the US Come to a Fork in the Road

With talk of tariffs and trade wars once again putting NAFTA in jeopardy, what lies ahead for Mexico-U.S. relations? Pamela Starr, a scholar at USC, gives her take on trade, the failure of the drug war in Mexico, and the prospect of a July 1 presidential win by leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador. She also praises the U.S. foreign policy bureaucracy for keeping the relationship from imploding, despite dismal Mexican views of the U.S., mirrored by a hostile American president.     

Guests: Pamela Starr

Mar 15, 2018
Special “Presidential” Edition: Colombia’s Former President on Peace and Venezuela

Colombia’s upcoming presidential elections have two major issues: the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the impact of Venezuela’s crisis on Colombia, with which it shares a 1,300 mile border. On this week’s special “presidential” edition of 35 West, former President of Colombia Andres Pastrana walks Moises Rendon through the challenges ahead for the agreement’s implementation, and how Venezuela’s crisis is affecting Colombia on humanitarian and security grounds. 
Guest: Andres Pastrana

Mar 08, 2018
Havana (Remix)

As Venezuela hurdles towards catastrophe, the Cuban government is making things worse through security and intelligence support. Former Bush 43 official José Cárdenas outlines several steps that the Trump Administration should be taking to thwart Cuba’s meddling, a role the country has played over and over again. Risking their career prospects, José and Richard also assess the Trump Latin America policy team. Bonus feature: Big Little News with intern Sarah Baumunk. 

Guest: José Cárdenas

Mar 01, 2018
Make Latin America Great Again

Is Latin America “moving towards a trumpista world view?” Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, says that on some issues in the region, there is a convergence of views with the White House. Winter also talks about populism, corruption, and the fact that everyone “hates their governments” as several presidential elections approach. Are swamps about to be drained in Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil? 

Guest: Brian Winter

Feb 22, 2018
Mexico Taking the Long View on Trump

We’re past the panic stage with NAFTA, and Rex Tillerson just concluded a reasonably successful visit to Mexico and Latin America. Former Mexican Deputy Foreign Minister Andrés Rozental, one of Mexico’s most respected diplomats, provides his analysis on the state of bilateral relations, and gives a preview of the Mexican presidential elections.  His conclusion: never underestimate the PRI.

Guest:  Andrés Rozental

Feb 15, 2018
Is Democracy on the Defensive in Latin America?
Polls show that support for democracy as “the best form of government” have dropped across Latin America.   Thomas Carothers, Director of the Democracy and Rule of Law program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,  explains the global context, why we shouldn’t be too pessimistic, and some of the driving factors behind enthusiasm for democracy.   We also talk about populism, and what it means for elections this year in Mexico and Brazil. 
Guest: Thomas Carothers
Feb 08, 2018
Bill Brownfield Live

Latin America has definitely gotten better over the last four decades, though Venezuela is about to crash. So says veteran former diplomat Bill Brownfield, a three time U.S. Ambassador (Chile, Venezuela, and Colombia) and most recently the Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL). Ambassador Brownfield gives Colombia a good grade for the long term, but flags increased coca production as a problem. He also discusses the future of counter narcotics cooperation with Mexico. Most importantly, the Lone Star state native explains the origins of Brownfield, Texas. 

Guest: Ambassador Bill Brownfield

Feb 01, 2018
Are the NAFTA Talks About to Break Down?

As negotiators head to Montreal for another round of talks, the political climate is getting colder.   Canada expert Christopher Sands from John Hopkins University breaks down the major issues and explains why Justin Trudeau’s government is taking a harder line.  Meanwhile, White House rhetoric continues to be confusing.   Does this signal the end of a NAFTA 2.0 deal, or does everything get put on ice until 2019? 

Guest: Christopher Sands

Jan 25, 2018
Mexico Doesn’t Know What It’s Doing

Why doesn’t Mexico have a knowledge economy? Alejandro Ruelas-Gossi from the University of Miami Business School explains Mexico’s maquiladora economy, whereby U.S.-owned plants use cheap labor to assemble sophisticated products designed and engineered somewhere else. Global competition keeps those low-skill wages perpetually low. Arguing for a “Race to the Top” strategy, Ruelas-Gossi says that until Mexico joins the countries that “know” rather than “do” it will not truly join the ranks of the developed world. We ask how Mexico intends to get there without research and development partnerships with foreign universities and business labs. Finally, Ruelas-Gossi says U.S. policies and presidents are not the most important factors driving long-term economic trends in Mexico.  

Guest: Alejandro Ruelas-Gossi

Jan 18, 2018
Will Raúl Castro Really Leave Power?

Raul Castro, Cuba’s second-hand dictator, is scheduled to step down as the country’s leader soon. But he will remain head of the Cuban Communist Party, with Miguel Díaz-Canel, a pliable bureaucrat, at the helm of government. Listen as Cuba expert and CSIS Senior Associate Eric Gettig breaks down the transition scenario, Cuba’s economy, the fruits of Obama’s “engagement” strategy, and the likely impact of President Trump’s repudiation of Obama’s policies. 

Guest: Eric Gettig

Jan 11, 2018
What’s Next for Haiti post-MINUSTAH?
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) ended last year after 13 years. On this episode of 35 West, Richard talks with CSIS Senior Associate Georges Fauriol and CSIS Senior Adviser Mark Schneider about the achievements and failures of MINUSTAH, and what’s next for Haiti with its successor operation, MINUJUSTH, and a relatively new president.
Guests: Georges Fauriol and Mark Schneider
Jan 04, 2018
Mexico and Energy

The world’s energy markets have fundamentally changed over the last several decades, and no country has made more dramatic reforms than Mexico. Energy experts Adam Sieminski and David Goldwyn break down developments in global consumption and production, Mexico’s opening up to foreign investment and competition, and the increasing reliance of Mexico on U.S. natural gas. How much of this would be affected by a U.S. exit from NAFTA? Join us to find out.  

Guests: Adam Sieminski and David Goldwyn

Dec 21, 2017